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Driftless Region Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin

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Old 01-03-2017, 10:35 AM
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Default Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

This is a conversation that certainly will raise some hackles as there are many ways to do stream improvements, and, invariably, feelings are going to be hurt over the projects.

I agree with iatrouter that the whole erosion conversation is messy. My point was simply that bank protection should be more of a priority. TU's approach has been to either hard armor the bejesus out of stretches of water, or to put woody debris in (which I am not a favor). Itch, this is the same tactic used on CSB, and, yes, it is all gone. It wasn't a good project, IMO, to begin with.

Soft armor does require more long-term maintenance, but when done correctly, the stuff is awesome. I think the SA approach is not on high on those who do stream design because it does require maintenance vs. hard armoring a section of water and moving on to the next spot.

Debate away...
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Old 01-09-2017, 09:54 AM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

When I'm fishing, I want to feel close to nature. Habitat improvement kills that for me. I'd rather fish a natural place with fewer and smaller trout. I know that I'm the minority, but every single stream doesn't have to look the same.
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Old 01-09-2017, 10:42 AM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

Per my response to another post about trees in the river: That's essentially what woody debris is. They also will use them to create plunge pools, which I have no issue with.

The best HI I've seen done in the Midwest is actually in Iowa. It's soft armor, it's sloped, and it's been reinforced with native prairie grass. Not one rock was placed on the project, and all wood, trees, debris, etc. have been cleared from the stream, up to several hundred yards from the stream.

The reason for this is the debris (trees) clog up the stream and limit movement and actually create more opportunity for erosion, etc. by keeping the stream free-flowing, there is no issue with debris pile ups, plus when it floods (note the when, not if), the stream rises up and flows freely over the bank side prairie grass. Once the waters recede, the grass holds the banks in place and pops back up.

It's a simple sounding process that took quite a few years of trial and error to master. The landowner actually started with sloping and woody debris and found it had a negative effect on the banks, so it was all removed in favor of prairie grass.

DR: I agree that I don't like the cookie cutter effect (Trout Run comes to mind as the gold course/cookie cutter model...but the hard armor, rock stabilization has held, even in the highest of flooding).
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Old 01-09-2017, 10:56 AM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

Glad you started this thread. I haven't been on near as many streams as most of you and I'll reserve the right to make statements that may not be correct on a widespread basis. That's fine as I am more than willing to learn. Please don't take my challenges as "aggressive". Just trying to stir up spirited conversation.

I'll start with Diamonds' comment. All natural sounds very nice. I wish it would work everywhere but it simply doesn't. At my end of the Driftless many streams run through cattle pastures or nearby corn/bean fields. There is too much soft and disturbed ground nearby. Without bank improvements and cooperation from farmers it's a complete train wreck. It's their land and I am glad the DNR has talked many of them into some cooperation. If they ignore these streams then half the IA streams go away as viable trout water. It's clearly better in WI and MN, or at least I think that is the case based on my few visits.

When I first fly fished there was a 20 year absence from when my Dad took me spin fishing on these streams as a boy. I absolutely did not recognize them. I would estimate a 20ft wide stream had moved 50ft in places. It's natural but it doesn't work too well overall. So silted in I stepped in some areas and truly wondered if I was going to die in the woods. Another popular stream I fish moves 10ft or more on an annual basis. There are areas on that stream that are heavily rocked (naturally) and seem to be fairly stable, but they are extremely shallow.

Back to the first stream, I don't know if this is soft improvement or not, but here is what the DNR did and so far so good. They straightened a couple curves, graded the stream bank 50+ ft and planted prairie grass and some juvenile hardwoods. Farmers moved their field plantings back and I see no cattle now. All is well so far. Rock work was minimal as far as I can remember. That is near the public access. It is holding so far and this is where the bait guys hang out. This is upstream from some more natural stretches (and a biiitch to fish). I'll visit them soon and see if it helped down stream.

I'll comment on the trout park hard improvements in a later post. Not that I am into trout parks but much effort was expended there and it's a good experimental site in progress.

Wood improvements are very temporary. It doesn't mater how cheap they are as the next flood will move them and potentially cause a jam downstream.

More later , this post is getting windy.

Itch, when we get a chance let's discuss some Viroqua area streams and Waterloo in Iowa because we have some common experience there.
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Old 01-09-2017, 12:51 PM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

Quote:
Originally Posted by ontheflymn View Post
This is a conversation that certainly will raise some hackles as there are many ways to do stream improvements, and, invariably, feelings are going to be hurt over the projects.

I agree with iatrouter that the whole erosion conversation is messy. My point was simply that bank protection should be more of a priority. TU's approach has been to either hard armor the bejesus out of stretches of water, or to put woody debris in (which I am not a favor). Itch, this is the same tactic used on CSB, and, yes, it is all gone. It wasn't a good project, IMO, to begin with.

Soft armor does require more long-term maintenance, but when done correctly, the stuff is awesome. I think the SA approach is not on high on those who do stream design because it does require maintenance vs. hard armoring a section of water and moving on to the next spot.

Debate away...
I tend to agree with you. One other point I would add is that much of the HI in SE MN is done on "easements". This generally limits the improvement area to a 66' corridor. In many cases, this is through livestock pasture or cultivated fields. The limitations of easements and the long-term maintenance have an impact on HI approaches.

---------- Post added at 12:51 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:35 PM ----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by diamond rush View Post
When I'm fishing, I want to feel close to nature. Habitat improvement kills that for me. I'd rather fish a natural place with fewer and smaller trout. I know that I'm the minority, but every single stream doesn't have to look the same.
Many of those trees that we may percieve as "natural" are, in fact, not that natural. The driftless area was originally much more prairie and less wooded than we might think.

Furthermore, many of the trees along the streams are invasives, such as box elders. These are generally pretty shallow rooted, don't hold the soil and eventually end up in the stream and trapping silt.

There have been studies done, including on the soft armor stream that onthe flymn mentioned, that show that taking out trees improves water temp and quality on driftless streams. This is somewhat counter intuitive, but fewer trees and more stable banks means less silt in the streams and that dark silt absorbs a lot of sunlight / heat and warms the stream. Also more sun light reaching the stream helps weed growth and insects.

Lastly, for all of those that have an interest in this topic, I'd suggest you get involved with the DNR and TU folks that are driving projects in your area. Lots of this is done by hard working volunteers. They aren't necessarily going to read this forum and call you, but they are interested in feedback and opinions if you show up for a work day, planning meeting, public forum, etc.

Last edited by guest64; 01-09-2017 at 01:40 PM.
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Old 01-09-2017, 02:06 PM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

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Originally Posted by johnstoeckel View Post
Lastly, for all of those that have an interest in this topic, I'd suggest you get involved with the DNR and TU folks that are driving projects in your area. Lots of this is done by hard working volunteers. They aren't necessarily going to read this forum and call you, but they are interested in feedback and opinions if you show up for a work day, planning meeting, public forum, etc.
I wish I could! I live in NC and only get to visit my folks back home once a year.

I think the biggest problem for the streams comes from the fact that they drain from vast tracts of farm land. That magnifies silt run-off in the feeder cricks and ditches. The smaller streams that drain almost exclusively from park land seem to do just fine. I don't know how to solve that issue while still having every acre on top of the bluffs being farmed.
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Old 01-09-2017, 02:43 PM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

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Originally Posted by diamond rush View Post
I think the biggest problem for the streams comes from the fact that they drain from vast tracts of farm land. That magnifies silt run-off in the feeder cricks and ditches. The smaller streams that drain almost exclusively from park land seem to do just fine. I don't know how to solve that issue while still having every acre on top of the bluffs being farmed.
I agree with you you that all of the agriculture, and especially row crops, in the driftless is the biggest challenge. It's not only silt, but also ag chemicals that are getting into our streams.

We had a significant fish kill on popular stream here in SE MN a couple years ago. The kill happened shortly after a heavy rain with run-off and high water. The DNR / MPCA report identified a "stew" of chemicals -- manure, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides -- in the stream, but wasn't able to identify a specific chemical or source as the cause.

I was talking with one of our DNR guys recently. He's originally from northern MI and he was contrasting the streams and challenges up there with those here. Of course, northern MI is mostly forest. He noted the diversity and consistency of hatches in MI was much better than here. He also noted that stream run-off / flooding was much less frequent and significant than in the dirftless and that streams were much more stable.

But HI work, especially when it's limited to a narrow easement corridor, isn't going to fix the fix ag problems. That's a bigger issue that demands other solutions.
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Old 01-09-2017, 03:20 PM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

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Originally Posted by diamond rush View Post
The smaller streams that drain almost exclusively from park land seem to do just fine. I don't know how to solve that issue while still having every acre on top of the bluffs being farmed.
They do seem to do better but my local stream in a park still gets beat up when there is a 5" rain. That may be unavoidable and "natural". I think the park would have to be very large to offer a true buffer.

And I believe John is correct about tall grass prairies being truly natural, rather than trees. I don't know how far north that applies.

Rock improvements do tend to withstand a flood, but I don't think it is a financially practical solution. You can harden a dozen spots on a mile of stream. The water will find a soft spot in between them within a year or two. I definitely know examples of that locally. Most of Iowa was tall grass prairie when it was settled.
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Old 01-09-2017, 03:45 PM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

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Originally Posted by ia_trouter View Post
Rock improvements do tend to withstand a flood, but I don't think it is a financially practical solution. You can harden a dozen spots on a mile of stream. The water will find a soft spot in between them within a year or two. I definitely know examples of that locally. Most of Iowa was tall grass prairie when it was settled.
Another aspect of HI, whether hard or soft armor, is proper bank sloping. Typically "high" eroding banks are lowered and sloped back at 4 or 5 to 1 ratio. Then when the water rises it spreads out and dissipates its energy across a large area (ideally covered with deep rooted prairie grass). Without proper bank sloping, the high water energy is concentrated on the banks which can get damaged eventually even if rock armored. The HI guys refer to the bank sloping as "reconnecting the flood plain".

Yes, rock and earth moving with heavy equipment for HI is not cheap. However, I think HI is one of those things where doing it well to begin with, even if the initial cost is higher, is less expensive in the long run.
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Old 01-09-2017, 05:30 PM
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Default Re: Habitat Improvement in the Driftless

I'll preface this by saying I have my PhD in entomology, and my profession is research, so I have some "skin in the game." All these HI projects really boil down to is effect size per dollar spent. If scouring a streams banks of any woody plants and reinforcing every bend with tons of field stone makes the greatest improvement to aquatic invertebrate habitat and/or trout spawning habitat, then it is a worthy endeavor from a conservation-only standpoint. And especially if these improvements reduce the reliance on hatchery fish to bolster populations, then it is especially worthwhile.

There are far too many stressors on these Driftless streams to be worried too much about whether it looks "natural" or not, in my opinion. It doesn't matter if I'm standing over a visible lunker structure or staring at submerged logs, a no-see-um bite still feels plenty "out in nature" to me. I'm fine fishing a "golf course" stream and know that the fish in it are healthy and breeding.
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