Southeast trout habitat to benefit from federal grant

By Tori J. McCormickt

Contributing Writer

Madison, Wis. – A federal grant has been awarded for restoration
efforts of the Driftless Area.

The $192,500 Multistate Conservation Grant will help with
planning and other activities in restoring the watersheds of the
four-state region as part of the Trout Unlimited Driftless Area
Restoration Effort (TUDARE), said Laura Hewitt, Midwest
conservation director for Trout Unlimited in Madison.

The grant money came from the Sport Fish Restoration Fund, which
is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and derived
from federal excise taxes on fishing equipment.

‘This grant will help us get a good start on developing a
strategy for Driftless restoration activities,’ Hewitt said. ‘It’s
a very good start.’

The Driftless Area is considered by many to be a national
treasure with its unique limestone bluffs, gurgling springs and
coldwater streams. For anglers, the region is loaded with trout and
smallmouth bass fisheries.

Missed by the last glacier, the 13,000-square-mile Driftless
Area includes southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin and portions
of Illinois and Iowa. Poor land-use practices in the 1800s and
early 1900s led to wide-scale erosion and poorer overall water
quality in the region. As a result, fish populations plummeted.
Beginning in the 1930s, the Driftless Area has been the site of
numerous conservation efforts by the federal government. In recent
years, local conservation groups, with the help of state and
federal natural resource agencies, have worked on small-scale trout
stream restoration projects throughout the region.

While conditions have improved, the Driftless Area, natural
resource officials say, is still threatened by risky agricultural
practices, increased development, wetland and grassland loss, and
pollution of its groundwater.

Earlier this year, Trout Unlimited, a leading conservation
organization in the Driftless, released a report, The Driftless
Area: A Landscape of Opportunities, calling for the wide-scale
restoration of the region’s streams and rivers. TU officials
believe that such restoration efforts would be an environmental and
economic boon to the region.

TU currently is working with state and federal natural resource
agencies, as well as local conservation partners to establish a
regional model in the Midwest for coordinating Driftless Area
stream restoration efforts. The collaboration is part of the new
National Fish Habitat Initiative. ‘The Driftless is one of only
four pilot programs happening throughout the country,’ Hewitt said
of the new Initiative.

According to Hewitt, the grant money will be used in several
areas. One priority is to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
technology to ‘map’ streams, rivers and habitat projects in the
Driftless. The computerized mapping system, a common tool used by
natural resource agencies, will, among other uses, help officials
prioritize streams for restoration, Hewitt said.

Other priorities outlined in the grant include:

Developing a common framework between state natural resource
agencies and other partners for fish habitat planning, priority
setting and evaluations of restoration activities.

Hosting a regular ‘learning’ forum for Driftless researchers
and managers.

Conducting an economic impact analysis of the likely benefits
(economic and environmental) of continued Driftless Area
restoration projects.

Developing a public outreach strategy to demonstrate the
benefits of restoring watersheds in the Driftless Area.

Hewitt also said it is a priority to hire a full-time Driftless
coordinator by spring 2006, and that part of the grant will be used
to fund part of that position. ‘To fully fund that job, we need to
find some additional dollars,’ she said.

Hewitt said she’s working on a number of grant proposals. The
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, she said, is interested in
Driftless restoration and may contribute for on-the-ground
restoration work.

Another possible revenue source for Driftless restoration in
Wisconsin and Minnesota is a federal appropriation that’s part of
Congress’ budget reconciliation bill, which is currently being
worked out in conference committee. The appropriation has been
trimmed from $350,000 to $263,000, Hewitt said.

To contribute to the Driftless Area Restoration Effort, contact
Laura Hewitt at (605) 250-3534 or at lhewitt@tu.org.

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