TU Report: Wisconsin Sets Example for Habitat Stewardship
National Group Warns Against Threats To State's Conservation Programs
4/30/1999 -- -- Madison, Wisconsin - April 28, 1999 - Wisconsin's trout management programs set an example of habitat stewardship that other states should emulate, according to a report issued today by Trout Unlimited, the nation's largest trout and salmon conservation group. Status and Trends for Inland Trout Management in Wisconsin, which was delivered today to the state's Natural Resources Board, focuses specifically on Wisconsin's inland trout fisheries programs (the salmon and steelhead fisheries in the Great Lakes are excluded).
The report notes that Wisconsin leads the nation in stream-miles designated as "high quality" waters, and credits the state's decades-long tradition of protecting and restoring habitat for naturally-reproducing ("wild") trout. In particular, the report's authors spotlight the Wisconsin's Stewardship Program and Northern Rivers Initiative as examples of effective long-term fisheries management.
The report also cautions policy-makers against implementing changes that could undermine the exemplary performance of the agencies responsible for Wisconsin's success in putting "habitat before hatcheries". TU's analysis warns against jeopardizing that leadership position in response to short term political pressures.
"Wisconsin has invested more than three decades of work into integrating fisheries management and environmental protection," said John Welter, who serves as chairman of Chairman of Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, which has over 3,000 members in 21 chapters across the state. Nationally, TU has over 100,000 members nationwide. TU's mission is to conserve, protect and restore America's trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. This report clearly demonstrates that the current approach has worked for the fish, and for Wisconsin's anglers. Nevertheless, some in the legislature would like to undo this progress by increasing trout stocking. Our response is 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'"
"As some other states have increased their reliance on stocked fish, Wisconsin has directed its hatchery production toward waters that can't sustain wild trout, while investing in the habitat that sustains wild trout," said John Epifanio, the fisheries geneticist who co-authored the report. "This approach is consistent with the latest findings in fisheries management, and really puts Wisconsin ahead of the pack when it comes to managing for wild trout."
The second in Trout Unlimited's series of case studies of state trout hatchery and stocking programs, the report offers recommendations for maintaining and improving the state's trout management programs.
In contrast with TU's 1997 case-study of Colorado's hatchery system, which recommended re-engineering a stocking program that is widely regarded as responsible for spreading whirling disease throughout the state, today's report urges Wisconsin to "stay the course," while continuing to monitor the results of ongoing programs.
Singled out for attention is Wisconsin's Trout Stamp program. According to TU, Wisconsin is unique in dedicating virtually 100 percent of trout stamp funds to trout habitat acquisition and restoration. Other states typically use trout-stamp revenue to underwrite stocking of large, expensive "catchable" trout. TU also praises the state's experimental "wild broodstock" program, which attempts to avoid the inbreeding and other genetic problems associated with artificial propagation by using wild fish to supply eggs and sperm for hatcheries. Long-term monitoring is necessary, however, to ensure the program is not causing other problems.
This is not to say that Wisconsin's programs are perfect. TU in particular recommends eliminating so-called "politically-responsive stocking," in which hatchery fish are planted in a particular legislator's district for political gain. Political stocking threatens to undermine an otherwise excellent program for watershed and ecosystem-based management.
The State of Wisconsin routinely attracts more than a million anglers per year (resident and non-resident) to its ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers. They are attracted by Wisconsin's diversity of species and recreational types of fishing, abundant and generally high quality surface water, and abundantly productive and aesthetically pleasing fish habitats. As recently as 1991, more than 19 million days of angling effort were directed at fishes in Wisconsin waterways, of which almost one million (~5%) were directed toward "inland" trout.
Trout Unlimited's report was researched and written by University of Wisconsin biologist Stephanie Lindloff and Trout Unlimited's conservation geneticist John Epifanio, Ph.D., as part of Trout Unlimited's National Fish Hatchery Assessment, a three-year research project that focuses on artificial propagation of trout and salmon nationwide. Similar case studies are underway in California, New Hampshire, and Washington state.
Copies of the Wisconsin report may be downloaded in electronic form through Trout Unlimited's home page on the World Wide Web at http://www.tu.org/library/conservation/wisconsin.pdf. Printed copies are available upon request from Trout Unlimited's National Office, (703) 522-0200.
Founded in 1959 in Grayling, Michigan, Trout Unlimited is America's leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. TU's 100,000 members in 490 chapters nationwide are dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of North America's trout and salmon and their watersheds. TU's Wisconsin Council boasts 3000 members in 21 chapters statewide.