Private Land Instream Habitat Restoration -
Iron River, Wisconsin
BY TED KOEHLER, ASHLAND FWCO
Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge and other partners install log complexes on
Iron River in northern Wisconsin. Other partners that provided funding and strong backs
included the landowner, Bayfield County Land and Water Conservation Department,
Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife
Conservation office through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Credit: Ted Koehler
In the past, poor land management practices have impaired fish habitat on the Iron River in Bayfield County, Wisconsin. Historic large woody habitat structure was removed from the stream and higher sediment loads have eliminated or degraded many brook trout spawning sites. This sediment also covers any remaining natural resting and cover structure for brook trout and other aquatic species. Over the last two years partners in northern Wisconsin have been working on one piece of the puzzle to make the Iron River a better place for fish and wildlife.
To restore the habitat for brook trout and other aquatic life at this site in the Iron River, oak and pine logs were strategically placed in 56 individual complexes to mimic natural conditions which once existed in the stream. The logs were drilled and posts driven through both ends in order to anchor them to the substrate of the stream bottom. The posts were pounded into the rocky stream bottom using good old fashioned strong backed labor and sledge hammers.
Through both seasons of field work the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge has provided the majority of hard labor on the site. The YCC crew is made up of high school students from the local area and they work on many conservation projects which benefit the public while gaining new experience and insight that will help them as they venture into the future.
Other partners that provided funding and strong backs included the landowner, Bayfield County Land and Water Conservation Department, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation office through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. The resulting benefits from the entire project include over one half mile of brook trout habitat restored, and miles of habitat beyond that are enhanced through reduced sediment and an improved fishery.
The Iron River flows into Lake Superior and one of its tributaries provides the water-source for the Service’s Iron River National Fish Hatchery. It supports a popular recreational fishery important to local anglers as well as many fishermen who travel from around the county to fish the area waters and support the local economy. The Iron River holds a strong population of native brook trout which are expected to benefit from the restored habitat. The restoration will also benefit green herons and other wading birds as well as reptiles such as wood turtles, which will use many newly created loafing sites. Mammals such as river otters also benefit through the creation of additional structural habitat in the stream within which they live and forage.