DNR holds meeting in Wittenberg
By Greg Seubert
A stream protection program that has been successful in southwestern Wisconsin is coming to the northeastern part of the state.
Several people showed up Aug. 27 at the Wittenberg Community Center in Wittenberg for the state Department of Natural Resources’ informational meeting on Wisconsin’s Stream Bank Protection Program.
Under the program, the DNR acquires conservation easements; provides public access to high-quality trout and smallmouth bass streams; and assists with stream rehabilitation projects to improve fish habitat and water quality.
Tom Lager of Appleton, president of Fox Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, attended the meeting and said the program would be a good fit for an area that includes portions of Waupaca, Portage, Shawano, Marathon, Lincoln and Langlade counties.
“I think we’ve had good success with this program in the west and southwest,” he said. “We have good history with landowners and other conservation groups. This program works.”
Jonathan Pyatskowit, a DNR fisheries biologist based in Shawano, is overseeing the project locally.
“The information from the public meeting will allow us to help prioritize how to schedule and focus our outreach,” he said.
Those attending the meeting used play money to indicate which streams they’d like to see added to the program. Large maps listed area streams and rivers that could become part of the program.
“The map tables will tell us what watersheds have the most interest,” Pyatskowit said. “The first policy question was to get information on whether to focus on waters that provide mostly fishing access or waters in the headwaters that would have primarily a habitat benefit with limited fishing. The other policy question will help us determine if we should work in new areas, fill in the middle – less than 40 percent access – or fill in the gaps – greater than 40 percent access.”
“We would really like to see it developed well in the northeastern part of the state,” Lager said. “It’s not just the angler that benefits from this. The communities also benefit through increased tourism. For example, they did an economic study in southwestern Wisconsin to measure the benefit of investing in stream habitat improvement.
“Not to say that that economic value would be exactly repeated up here in the northeast, but in the southwest, $1 invested in streambank improvement and other improvement projects in streams brought back about $24 in value annually to the communities in tourism and other activities,” he said. “It’s a good economic driver for the area as well.”
Trout fishing is popular in western and southwestern Wisconsin. Lager would like to see northeastern Wisconsin’s trout streams have that reputation as well.
Northeastern Wisconsin has several Class 1 trout streams, such as stretches of the Tomorrow River in Portage County, Peterson Creek in Waupaca County and the Embarrass River in Shawano County.
Class 1 streams are high-quality trout waters that have sufficient natural reproduction to sustain populations of wild trout. These streams require no stocking of hatchery trout and These streams are often small and may contain small or slow-growing trout.
“There’s a lot of good trout water here,” Lager said. “The area probably isn’t as well-known as it could be, but I think that will come with time.”
Under the Stream Bank Protection Program, the DNR uses Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program funds to purchase streambank easements from willing landowners. Each easement conveys the right of public access and the right to manage vegetation within a 66-foot corridor on each side of the stream.
Steambank easements are voluntary legal agreements between a landowner and the DNR that provides for public angling while protecting fisheries, water quality and riparian areas for the future.
The DNR has used easements for several years to provide anglers with access and engage in stream improvements on private property. DNR fisheries biologists work with several conservation groups – including Trout Unlimited – to assist in the effort.
“It’s not something that’s going to be accomplished in just a short time,” Lager said. “It’s going to take a lot of work working with landowners and other conservation groups. What organizations like Trout Unlimited can do is we can help raise funds and help cover some of the costs of some of these programs.”
Real estate appraisers calculate land values for each stream parcel and the easement rights are perpetual. Hunting and trapping rights are not included within the easements and remain under landowner control.
The program benefits landowners as well as anglers, according to Lager.
“We’ve found that landowners take a lot of pride in the land,” he said. “There are some things that have occurred to the land that maybe even goes back as far as logging. It’s expensive to rehabilitate a stream. It’s expensive to fence cattle out of a stream. It’s expensive to make crossings to streams for equipment and cattle.
“These are some of the things we can help the landowner achieve on their land,” he added. “We pick up the cost for it and help arrange the labor to get it done. It’s very much a collaborative enterprise between conservation groups, the DNR and landowners.”
More than 3,000 miles of streams in 44 counties are eligible for the program, according to the DNR.
“It goes beyond trout anglers,” Lager said. “As we work to help protect the riparian habitat along streams, the birds, amphibians, reptiles also benefit from the work that’s being done. It’s a win-win for so many groups and so many people.”