A Smart Investment: Spring Creek Restoration in the Driftless Area
By: Anderson Smith
One of the greatest successes of federal Farm Bill Program work is the progress being made on the spring creeks within the Midwest’s famed “Driftless Area”. In fact, today’s model for federal landscape-scale conservation management is embodied in the cooperative restoration of this 24,000 square mile section of the Upper Mississippi basin. In cooperation with private, state and federal programs, Trout Unlimited’s Driftless Area Restoration program (DARE) has leveraged millions of dollars and included countless hours of volunteer work for the repair of 500 miles of streams. The result of this effort is a woven network of water with great fishing, supporting the farthest western native range of brook trout.
These clean and cold spring creeks are splendid features of an area untouched by glaciers that receded 12,000 years ago across the northern U.S. and Canada. In the absence of glaciers, the limestone ridges were not ground into boulders and gravel, which early archeologists referred to as “drift”. The remaining structures of the calcium rich rock formations channel the cold mineral-laced water that supports a diverse aquatic food chain.
However, historic land use practices since the settlement of the region damaged these streams and the surrounding uplands. Millions of tons of sediment washed down onto valley floors and created a thick layer of soil which continues to actively erode today, smothering trout habitat. But in recent decades, watershed restoration techniques have been developed to control streambank sedimentation, buffer streams from harmful land use, and restore habitat for wild brook and brown trout – as well as the insects they eat.
Conservation and the Economy
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has made Driftless Area restoration a priority since 1933 throughout Wisconsin’s Coon Creek Watershed as its first demonstration project for soil conservation practices. Currently, Trout Unlimited is working with state Departments of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NRCS, and the Driftless Area Initiative in order to restore local fisheries and improve water quality. In addition, DARE is one of the certified Partnership sites for the emerging National Fish Habitat Action Plan – a program initiated in 2001 by state, federal, and NGOs to enhance and restore the nation’s aquatic resources.
As the nation’s fiscal crisis continues to headline newspapers and control congressional hearings, it is necessary to recognize modestly funded federal programs demonstrating great levels of success, and at the same time generating massive revenue for local economies. In fact, an impact study released in 2008 from Northstar Economics found that restoration efforts in the Driftless Area have an economic impact of over $1.1 billion a year across the region. The improved fishing draws more anglers, and as a result, there is more money spent on guides, hotels, fly shops, restaurants, bars, and fishing licenses – all of which supports around 100,000 local jobs.
TU’s work in the Driftless Area is far from over, but it is leading the way for the nation as a model landscape-scale restoration effort.