Embargoed until: 1:00 p.m. CST, April 1, 2005
For more information: “Duke” Welter 715-579-7538
Laura Hewitt 608-250-3534
Steve Kinsella 651-647-1545


Minneapolis, MN – A wide scale restoration of the streams and rivers of the Midwest’s Driftless Area will bring enormous environmental and economic benefits to the region, according to a report released today by the national conservation organization Trout Unlimited at the second annual Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Driftless Area is considered by many to be a national treasure with its unique limestone formations, springs and small trout streams. Bypassed by the last glacier, the region lies within the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. Land use practices in the 1800s and early 1900s led to wide scale erosion, flooding and the altering of its streams and valleys. Though conditions have improved, impacts from past damage continue today in many forms.

Trout Unlimited (TU) officials said that while the plan is ambitious, it can be accomplished through partnerships between conservation groups, landowners, and local, state and federal officials.

“Taking the steps necessary to restore the Driftless Area and its streams and rivers would not only make the region an important trout fishing destination, it would ultimately provide its residents with substantial economic and social benefits,” said “Duke” Welter, a member of TU’s National Board of Trustees from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

The report, entitled The Driftless Area: A Landscape of Opportunities, discusses the history of the Driftless Area – from its beginnings to the present. It looks at past conservation practices and the challenges to the region’s environmental health that exist today. It cites examples of where restoration has been successful on a stream-by-stream basis and the economic benefits of that restoration to local communities, agricultural producers and recreation enthusiasts.

The Driftless Area has been the site of restoration activities since the 1930s, when the Works Progress Administration (WPA) implemented the first efforts. Later, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service teamed with agricultural producers to transform much of the region into a system of contoured fields, strip cropping, and terracing. Most recently, local conservation organizations and state agencies have worked together on a small scale to restore sections of trout streams throughout the region.

The report cited Wisconsin’s Kickapoo River and its neighbor stream, the Timber Coulee, as examples of the benefits of stream restoration. Restored in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the two rivers saw a remarkable increase of more than twice as many anglers and a third more canoeists per year between 1993 and 1999. Studies revealed that in 1999, anglers produced a total annual economic impact of $1.5 million, while canoeists produced $1.75 million. In a county with a per capita income at 64% of the state average, the revenue generated from these activities markedly increased the income for a number of small communities by creating 85 jobs and supporting numerous small businesses.

In addition to enhancing the economy of the region, the report noted that restoration would bring major environmental benefits including a reduction in sedimentation in the upper Mississippi River basin, which the watersheds of the Driftless Area drain into. Currently the federal government spends nearly $20 million on environmental management programs – including extensive dredging projects – in the upper Mississippi River basin alone, and millions more attempting to address problems associated with the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

“While the benefits to trout of restoring the streams of the Driftless Area are well known, there would be other important benefits. Water throughout the region would be cleaner. Agricultural producers would experience less erosion on their land. There would be less sediment and chemical runoff into the Mississippi River and the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Water treatment costs to downstream communities would be reduced. Restored prairies would contribute to improved wildlife habitat, ” said Welter.

The report also listed a series of recommendations for moving the restoration process forward, including specific ideas on how to strengthen the planning process, expand local and regional partnerships, improve outreach and to implement the steps necessary for restoration of its streams and rivers.

Trout Unlimited is the nation’s largest coldwater conservation organization dedicated to the protection of trout, salmon and steelhead populations and the watersheds upon which they depend. The organization’s 130,000 members – including more than 10,000 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois – work with landowners and state and federal resource agencies to protect and restore coldwater fisheries.

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Editors: an online version of the report can be accessed at