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Landscape Restoration on Private Land: Working with Great People One Acre at a Time to Benefit Brook Trout, Migratory Birds and Other Priority Species.
Midwest Region, January 12, 2017
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Ann, Kurt and John Johnston with Service biologist Ted Koehler at their Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program habitat restoration project.
Ann, Kurt and John Johnston with Service biologist Ted Koehler at their Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program habitat restoration project. - Photo Credit: Ted Koehler

In Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Basin near the town of Port Wing lies 20 acres in the Flag River watershed owned by retired Navy Veteran John Johnston, his wife Ann and son Kurt. On this land they call their modest campsite consisting of a camper-trailer and small garage home for most of the summer and fall.  Their footprint may be small but their love of these 20 acres and their natural resources is inspiringly huge.


The family initially contacted the Bayfield County Land and Water Conservation Department in the spring of 2016 wanting to do anything they could to better the natural resources of their property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office frequently partners with the Bayfield Conservation District on restoration projects and this site happened to fall within one of our strategic brook trout restoration priority areas, so an appointment was made to assess the property. It was a beautiful summer day when we met the Johnston family and looked over the site, and it was on this day that a wonderful project to benefit fish and wildlife was spawned, but more than that, a partnership and positive message which will be carried forth to other private landowners for years to come was formed.


Our office is attempting to maximize all types of fish and wildlife habitat restoration using a strategic approach and the tools of multiple Service Programs (Partners for Fish and Wildlife, Coastal and National Fish Passage Programs) to benefit brook trout within these high priority locations. Recognizing that many types of restoration directly benefit water quality and fishery health, maximizing all types of restoration in focused priority areas will bring the best bang for our buck to benefit priority species. For this particular site, the power tool of the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program was unleashed and throughout the summer the Bayfield Conservation District and Ashland Office worked together on a fish and wildlife habitat restoration plan to benefit the watershed’s brook trout and other species such as monarch butterflies and northern long-eared bat.


When the dust cleared in the fall a small wetland restoration, pollinator planting and bat house installations were completed. In addition to benefitting migratory birds and other wildlife the wetland restoration slows the flow of sediment into the Flag River watershed, thus protecting critical brook trout spawning areas. Disturbed upland areas were reseeded with common milkweed, and red milkweed was planted in the wetland to benefit monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Finally, bat houses were installed on woodland edges and in the forest to benefit northern long-eared bat and other bat species.


The landowners were some of the most helpful the Ashland Office has ever worked with.  John, Ann and Kurt put in many hours of in-kind labor during the entire on-the-ground restoration portion of the project. Even though confined to a wheelchair, Kurt worked hard on the restoration and his overall positive attitude was truly inspirational. Kurt helped by moving rocks with a wagon attached to his tracked chair, assisted with seeding the site, and other aspects of the project which greatly contributed to the overall success of the construction.    


While not the biggest or most glamorous site on the planet, multiple species will realize strategic on-the-ground benefits and just as importantly the Service has gained the partnership and respect of some of the best landowners on the planet. Critics may argue; what difference can a few acres in the big scheme of things make? As President Theodore Roosevelt said “It is not the critic that counts…..” One becomes 10, then 10 becomes 100, One hundred becomes 1,000 and so on. Whether these thousands be acres of fish and wildlife habitat or the respect of landowners, both are arguably of equal importance to the survival of a species and the partnership led conservation efforts that protect and preserve them.


Contact Info: Ted Koehler, 715-682-6185, ted_koehler@fws.gov
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