Our surface water resources face endless continuous threats from poor human land use, invasive species, natural destruction, and more. Trout streams, more than others, are especially vulnerable because of their reliance on clean, cold groundwater. Conservationists across the United States have long recognized the need for active management of these resources to ensure their future biological integrity, as well as their availability for recreation. Both aspects are critic to maintaining ongoing support for their protection from groups such as fisherman, hikers, birders, botanists, and more. In Central Wisconsin, multiple Trout Unlimited chapters pool their resources to actively support trout habitat in the region for not only trout, but varied other interests.
Somewhat unique to this area, Trout Unlimited plans and implements habitat improves shoulder to shoulder with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to protect local resources. The relationship is multifaceted, including financial support for dedicated employees who improve trout habitat year-round, as well as WDNR led improvement projects that allow conservationists, citizens, interested individuals and families, and others to physically contribute to supporting their resources. This was one of those days.
Our day began with a powerful punch of coffee, donuts, reacquainting with old friends, and sharing stories of recent outings. For some there was much to catch up on, as they hail from another corner of the Great Lakes. Lacking trout streams of their own, and recognizing their appreciation for the resources we share with them, the Elliott Donnelley Trout Unlimited chapter of Chicago claims Central Wisconsin as one of their homes away from home.
The Elliott Donnelley chapter was represented by their incoming president Dan Postelnick and multiple other members, and on top of the work they were about to put in on the stream that day, they made a sizable monetary contribution to the Central Wisconsin TU chapter to support further habitat improves to come. Their generosity will literally open up and improve miles of trout streams in the area for all to enjoy, and previous contributions have helped revolutionize the WDNR’s abilities to improve habitat and watershed connectivity for trout by aiding in strategic equipment purchases. Thank you once again, Elliott Donnelley Trout Unlimited!
After the morning meet and greet, the WDNR broke volunteers into groups to be assigned to their staff. After a safety moment, a debriefing on the day’s activities, and one last hurrah, we set to clear out a densely overgrown quarter mile of stream.
WDNR staff explained to crews how invasive shrubs such as common buckthorn and Tatarian honeysuckle not only choke out native species, suppressing biodiversity, but also impact local hydrology and geomorphic processes. Also, while native, speckled alder has similar impacts over time due to its vigorous growth. Our plan was to give this stream a one-two punch. We would open up the stream and riparian corridor for native species to grow back in, and for fishermen to more easily access and fish the stream.
We used the shrub trimmings to make brush bundles, which are placed on the inside bank seams to provide protection and cover for trout in the short term, and to help trap sediments long term. Larger logs help anchor the loose assemblages of shrubs, which are then staked in with thicker shrub poles that are hammered into the stream bottom.By trapping sediments naturally, the stream will do most of the heavy lifting over time in exposing gravel necessary for insect production and spawning habitat. Indeed, by the time we were finished, this stretch of stream dropped six inches, which demonstrates just how much water was being held back by woody debris. The increased currents will help sweep sediments out of the channels and into those brush bundles where native vegetation will grow in and stabilize indefinitely.
Large, dead trees such as this American elm are often felled to reduce human hazards, which may be placed in-stream at a later date for long term habitat structures.
Despite the cold, rainy weather, we saw smiles all day. A few families and many new faces came out to volunteer. The camaraderie throughout the day among, in some cases, complete strangers was heart-warming and lends itself to a compelling exposé on the benefits of community involvement, volunteering, and conservation.
Our work was done on a stretch of stream in a city park, on the edge of town, and behind a school. The improvements will be enjoyed by the entire community, regardless of their interest in trout fishing. Opening the floodplain is a beautification to be enjoyed from the park trails and will be enjoyed for years to come.
Occasional maintenance will be required for upkeep; alas the shrubs will continue to grow back in, but our work is an important component in ensuring our coldwater resources are protected for future generations to enjoy.
Following the habitat improvement work in the morning, we decided to scout out some local waters. The catching was poor, but the fishing was good; we saw some excellent waters to return to. Wow, take a look at that meander! We love curvy streams.
We found ourselves a little further up the watershed, actually too far. This little feeder creek isn’t even named, but trout fry were scattering everywhere, and look at that gravel! Quite impressive for the sand bottom streams that dominate the region. This trout spawning and rearing habitat is within public land, and while fishing is a futile exercise here, it is an absolutely essential contribution to the sustainability of the trout streams further down the watershed.
Of course, old friends coming together from across the region is always a reason for celebration. We enjoyed an evening of prime rib and grilled salmon catching up with our friends of the Elliott Donnelley chapter, hosted by past presidents of the Central Wisconsin chapter, the Tuckers. Yum, yum!
A community is built of leaders, workers, the creative, the implementors, and more, but together we lift each other up, and working together we build more than we could have all built alone. This is the heart of organizations such as Trout Unlimited. We come from different backgrounds, expertise, and even with different goals, but arrive to enact a common vision. Whether a trout fisherman, community activist, conservationist, historian, journalist, or curious individual, everyone is welcome to join Trout Unlimited activities, whether for a single day or a lifetime. Reach out to your local chapter and become a part of the community.
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2 Replies to “”
The stream work done in Central Wisconsin would be a disaster in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. The main objective of stream work should be to provide food and shelter for the exotic trout and food and shelter for the native fishes of the stream.
Absolutely! Very different geologies requiring drastically different solutions.