TU’s project in the Driftless Area got a huge boost last month when it was announced that $3 million in federal funding will be dedicated to conservation projects in the 24,000-square-mile area that includes sections of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
The funds, funded by the Farm Bill and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will restore streams in the Driftless Area and will help reduce erosion, manage woodlands and restore prairies for habitat. Landowners in the Driftless Area will receive over $1.5 million each year dollars to partner with TU chapters on stream restoration projects. The money will be used to stabilize eroding streambanks, install stream crossings, establish native grass plantings and habitat for fish and non-game species. Depending on when and how the new Farm Bill is resolved and how much is available for special initiatives, Driftless landowners could receive as much as $6 million dollars a year for the next four years, this in addition to existing $6 to 8 million they are currently receiving.
For the last seven years, TU’s Driftless Area Restoration Project has trained over 400 TU volunteers to work with local landowners to implement stream restoration projects. Project sites are selected where there is a cooperative landowners, public access and where the fisheries has the greatest opportunity to respond. Some of the projects have seen as much as a tenfold increase in fish populations—in some cases, 2,500 to 3,000 fish per mile. Trout Unlimited has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to utilize the Farm Bill dollars in conjunction with state trout stamp dollars. Trout stamp dollars have been quite stagnant over the past 10 years, while fuel, rock and other materials have increased. Now that Department of Natural Resource (DNR) fish habitat crews have access to these federal dollars they will be able to double the amount of work and restoration efforts. Because Trout Stamp dollars are only spent where there is public access, Trout Unlimited volunteers are often called upon to build the habitat structures for the projects and generate additional funding for the project. All five Driftless Area fish habitat crews, including Minnesota’s crew, will be stretching out their projects because of the additional revenue.
The announcement was made at the annual meeting of the Driftless Area Land Conservation Initiative — a nonprofit organization of the six Resource Conservation and Development councils in the four states and other groups — at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, an 8,569-acre property co-owned by the state of Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation.