Brule River Bank Restoration – A Presidential Fish Fix
BY TED KOEHLER, ASHLAND FWCO
If you had a cabin on “The River of Presidents”, would you not want a presidential view? The Brule River meanders its way through northern Wisconsin and eventually empties into Lake Superior. Presidents Grant, Hoover, Eisenhower, Cleveland and Coolidge all stayed and fished on the Brule. The river also hosts the most spectacular spawning runs of Lake Superior game-fish in Wisconsin. Lake-run steelhead trout and brown trout of tremendous size make their way up the Brule in various seasons. The river is also home to native brook trout and has been identified by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission as a priority water for brook trout habitat restoration and protection. In certain locations the Brule can provide excellent fishing for this beautiful native species.
The usual culprit blocking sweeping presidential Brule River views is mature forest, which also serve to stabilize the river’s highly erodible banks. When the 100 plus year old trees go, so goes the river bank, as was the case dealt with last summer by a group of restoration partners in northern Wisconsin.
It all started with a conservation mined private landowner who had just purchased some land and cabin on the Brule. The previous landowner had cut the trees on a 50 foot high river bank and created an eroding eyesore on the landscape. The soil eroding from this site was contributing to sedimentation of downstream fish spawning areas. The new landowner contacted Douglas County about the problem and from there a restoration partnership was born. A group consisting of the landowner, Douglas County Land and Water Conservation Department, Wisconsin Department of Trade and Consumer Protection, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) worked together to survey, plan, design and implement an environmentally conscious riverbank restoration.
River restoration. Credit: Douglas County LWCD
Working through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program the Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office provided funding and professional assistance to the project. The site was restored by stabilizing the toe of the bank with large rock. A geogrid of earthen lifts were then installed all the way up the 50 foot bank. Native shrub and tree species were then planted in the earth lifts. Some of the planted species included dogwood, black willow, hazelnut, white cedar and white pine. Much of this work had to be done by hand labor and small equipment because of precarious access to the steep and unstable bank. When everything was said and done, 300 feet of riverbank was positively impacted for fish and wildlife. Downstream spawning and instream habitat will also benefit from reduced sediment loads.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Flashes of water through towering pines have its own appeal, which both common fisherman and presidents can appreciate. Though we will never see towering pines grace our restoration site, our grandkids will. As will many generations of brook, trout with eyes toward flies.