As one of the members of the Wilson and Annis Creek Watershed Partnership group, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, along with other members of the group, has been able to complete many projects that work to conserve our natural resources—while helping local landowners.
Two local streams will be restored this summer: Wilson Creek and Tiffany Creek, both in Dunn County.
In that Dunn County partnership, the DNR focuses on restoring trout habitat while reducing erosion and protecting agricultural fields and other valuable resources.
Much of the watershed has been affected by poor land management practices and suffers from erosion, in-stream sedimentation and high phosphorus loads, which ultimately impacts Lake Menomin.
Also, most of the stream corridors, which were historically prairie habitats, have grown up in invasive species, such as box elders and buckthorn. Those act as a poor buffer for streams.
Because of these factors, the habitat available within trout streams is reduced and severely degraded.
Despite that, brook trout, the only inland native trout species, are still present.
In order to thrive, brook trout require at a minimum clean, cold, spring-fed water, cover from predators and areas to spawn.
In most areas of Wilson Creek, the creek banks are steep and raw, which causes siltation in the streambed and reduces the number of deep pools and spawning habitat which are required by brook trout to survive. Stable cover that offers protection from predators is also lacking.
In order to improve trout habitat, the DNR maintains a fleet of heavy equipment and specialized heavy equipment operators that have completed miles of trout habitat restoration projects across the county and throughout the state.
Streams within Dunn County that previously hosted trout projects include Gilbert, Wilson, Hay, Tiffany, Sand, 18 Mile and Elk creeks.
Projects generally begin in the winter with invasive tree and brush removal usually completed by Trout Unlimited chapters, Dunn County Fish and Game and other volunteers.
Bank and instream work occurs the following summer. Steep banks are sloped back to a more gradual slope with heavy equipment, which reconnects the stream with its natural floodplain and will reduce impacts from future floods.
The banks are then armored with rock. The rock is then covered up with dirt and seeded and mulched in native prairie species and other cool season grasses.
The rock is not visible after the project is completed and the site is left with a very natural look.
Within the stream, habitat structures including rootwads, instream boulders and spawning riffles are placed using the heavy equipment. The rootwads provide cover and protection from predators and force the current to scour out deeper pools and pockets, while instream boulders provide areas for trout to rest out of the current and to ambush prey.
Spawning riffles are created by placing specific-sized gravel and cobble on the streambed, which trout then lay their eggs in.
Spawning occurs in the fall, and the eggs remain in the gravel, where they require well-oxygenated water to survive and then hatch out the following spring.
Spawning riffles are extremely important, especially in streams like Wilson Creek that have extensive siltation within the streambed from erosion. That siltation covers up spawning habitats and can lead to decreased fish populations.
The DNR monitors the response of the fish community in the project site by surveying the fish population before and after each restoration project. DNR staff have been conducting these trout habitat projects in the area for over 25 years with proven results.
Fish populations respond favorably with number of fish in the project site sometimes increasing four-fold, and individual fish survival also increasing allows fish to grow to larger sizes.
Besides the fish population, DNR trout habitat projects have held up extremely well to floods and require relatively no maintenance of project sites other than mowing.
The trout benefit from the habitat improvements and the landowners benefit from erosion control and the subsequent protection of their land. These projects come at no cost to the landowners after they sign up for a DNR streambank easement.
The easement allows for public fishing access and the DNR maintains the right to manage the vegetation within the easement and to conduct trout habitat projects.
Landowner are paid per acre for the easement based on fair market value of land within the area.
If landowners are interested in a trout habitat project on their land or exploring their options, they can contact Kasey Yallaly at 715-977-7354 or Nate Anderson at 715-590-4742.