Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Tag

Native “Coaster” Brook Trout in Milwaukee River   5 comments

I checked the Mequon-Thiensville Fishway Camera website this morning and got a big surprise. A picture of a native Coaster Brook Trout swimming upstream in the Milwaukee River.

This would not be so shocking to find in a tributary of Lake Superior, but I never imagined a Brook Trout would be swimming up the Milwaukee River. It goes to show that tearing down dams really does allow a river to support more wildlife.

If Grafton and West Bend would tear down their decrepit dams these Coasters would have a true shot at making their way up to Brook Trout spawning habitat in the Northern Kettle Moraine headwaters. Can you imagine the Milwaukee River being home to the only native anadromous salmonid? How cool would that be? Could West Bend become the Coaster Capital of the Midwest?


A Coaster Brook Trout swimming past the fishway camera in the Milwaukee River in Thiensville, WI

A Coaster Brook Trout swimming past the fishway camera in the Milwaukee River in Thiensville, WI



Menomonee River Fish Habitat   7 comments

The wrecking ball has started swinging in the Menomonee River in Milwaukee this week, removing a 1,100 foot concrete channel that prevented fish from passing upstream. This work follows in the footsteps of major dam removal projects up and down the Milwaukee River that have allowed for fish and wildlife habitat restoration.

There are salmon and steelhead runs in the Menomonee River, but they’re stopped short upon reaching the concrete channel because the currents are too swift for them to swim through successfully. Restoration of the channel back to a more natural state will allow fish to explore 17 miles of water upstream, all the way up to another man made barrier, the Lepper Dam, in Menomonee Falls.


The flow of water has been redirected and is being pumped around it. The Wisconsin Ave. bridge is in the background. The pipes carrying the water around this section are at right and left. - Image credit: Michael Sears

The flow of water has been redirected and is being pumped around it. The Wisconsin Ave. bridge is in the background. The pipes carrying the water around this section are at right and left. – Image credit: Michael Sears

The next step is for communities like Menomonee Falls and Grafton to recognize that removing obsolete dams and restoring natural rapids and falls can enhance their communities in many ways, including tourism dollars from fisherman chasing migrating fish.

Erik Helm, the Fishing Manager at Orvis in Glendale, Wisconsin has eloquently written about what could happen in either of these towns if only their residents would look back to what existed before the mill ponds.

Imagine a place like West Bend becoming a spawning habitat for steelhead. Imagine the reinvigorated riverway, no longer smelly and stale but clear-running and full of wild things. East and West, communities are working to tear down old dams, restoring beautiful, historic rivers for the enjoyment of all. Milwaukee is doing it, and yeah, Grafton and Menomonee Falls can do it too.



Black Earth Creek Water Monitoring Stations   4 comments

I stopped in at On the Creek Fly Shop yesterday to pick up a new leader and some pliers from Todd Opsal, and when I pulled on the handle to open the door to the shop, it was locked. A sign on the door said “I’m upstream of the bridge watching the stream survey crew. If you need me, holler.”

I walked upstream and found Todd talking with fellow fisherman Zach (nice meeting you Zach!), who was heading up to Avalanche on the West Fork of the Kickapoo to spend a few days fishing with his two brothers. Lucky bastard. Anyway, Todd and I got to talking and he mentioned that the fine for harvesting fish in the early season is something like $100 per fish along with another general fine and suspension of your license. This got us to talking about how much a land owner could be charged for triggering a fish kill (say, a farmer spreads manure right before a heavy rain).

2001 Black Earth Creek Fish Kill Report

In 2009, four “Real-Time Water Quality Monitors” were installed at various locations between Cross Plains and Black Earth to monitor water temp, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, turbidity, and pH. These parameters are monitored and if thresholds are met, fisheries managers can be alerted to conditions that may induce a fish kill. The monitoring stations can also collect water samples that allow analysis of pollutants in the water during such an event.


BEC Stream Monitor

BEC Stream Monitor


BEC Stream Monitor Sites

BEC Stream Monitor Sites


If the source of pollutants (fertilizer, manure, etc) responsible for the fish kill is pinpointed to a particular location, the fine for the landowner is as much as $25 per fish. If a mile of stream has experienced a fish kill, and the estimated fish density is 3,000 fish per mile, the fine would be in the neighborhood of $75,000!

A few things about all this are intriguing to me…

  1. Each fish I catch has a value of $25 to the state of Wisconsin. That’s a measure of the money that goes in to our fisheries, but it is also a measure of the economic value of high-quality trout streams, the money that having this resource brings to our state through tourism.
  2. I told Todd that being a landowner along a trout stream now seems like a liability. He countered that streamside landowners get tax breaks for being responsible landowners and adhering to practices that keep the stream healthy.
  3. I’ve heard it said by some that the DNR has an unbalanced amount of power in Wisconsin. That argument could certainly be made when you consider a $75,000 fine against a landowner. But, that waterway is a public resource and if it wasn’t managed by an agency with some teeth behind it, the resource probably wouldn’t be worth a damn anyway. My barber is from Thailand and he told me that people fish with explosives in Thailand because the enforcement of regulations there is weak. So now the fisheries there are in big trouble.

To bring this all back around, Todd mentioned that fish numbers in Black Earth Creek have been steadily rising since the introduction of these Water Quality Monitoring Stations. Point and Non-Point pollutants have decreased significantly since 2009, likely because of the ability for fisheries managers to determine the source of pollutants. I imagine it has also “inspired” property owners to implement stream-friendly practices like crop planting buffers and such.

If I owned a farm along a trout stream I would be motivated to “get it right”, both for the sake of the stream and to avoid the fines. Farming is not easy, and regulations enforced by a powerful government agency don’t make it any easier. I suppose it’s a matter of your view of your place in the broader community. Water is a resource that we all depend on for life and well-being, and it is something we share. It should be protected, and I for one am glad to see that efforts to protect Black Earth Creek are paying off.