Stewart River

Lake County

Lake County

Implementation: To begin in 2014

Partners: Trout Unlimited, MNDNR and GLRI.

Stewart River

This is one of two projects which will enhance or restore habitat in important nursery and spawning areas of one or more major North Shore rivers.

Riparian tree planting

This project will restore long lived tree species to the riparian corridor of one or more important North Shore rivers. By planting a mix of larger potted and bare root trees the project should quickly begin providing shade along approximately one mile of stream and help reduce summer water temperatures.

Due to human alterations of their watersheds many or most these coldwater streams now experience unnaturally high water temperatures in the summer.  North Shore trout streams, unlike those in southeast Minnesota, lack significant groundwater flows and are kept cold by the shade provided by the trees along their banks.  Without cold water steelhead, trout and salmon will perish. This project will increase shade cover by planting a mixture of long lived tree species, both coniferous and deciduous, within the riparian corridor.  Tree planting in these rocky watersheds is not easy.  Little maintenance can be accomplished once Minnesota Trout Unlimited volunteers and CCM crews have hauled trees in by hand and planted them.  Consequently, tree matting must be used to keep weed growth down, and the larger trees caged to inhibit deer browsing losses.

The project will remedy the pressing threat of high summer water temperatures relatively quickly and also help sustain the coldwater fisheries by providing other benefits in the near and long term.  Longer term benefits include stabilizing the stream channel, curbing erosion and sedimentation from that point downstream, and providing a source of future in-stream cover habitat as trees naturally recruit to channel over time.

The entire stretch of river downstream from the project site will benefit in the near and long term. We will use a mix of bare root and larger potted trees, and some should pretty quickly begin providing shade and leaf litter (i.e., food energy) to drive the food chain for juvenile trout, salmon and steelhead.  The benefits of cooler water and more organic matter in the stream will extend downstream to juvenile salmonids in those reaches as well.  In the longer term, the trees will stabilize the streambanks and erosion and sedimentation rates will decrease downstream.

Site selection, initial survey work, site planning, design and permitting will begin in the summer of 2012, following a July 2012 appropriation.  Installation of woody cover, rock veining, and other fish habitat enhancement work will begin in 2013.  Tree planting and project wrap-up will take place in 2014.  This will be a collaborative effort between Minnesota Trout Unlimited and the MNDNR.  Gitche Gumee Chapter and other Minnesota Trout Unlimited members will volunteer substantial time and labor, along with volunteers from Lake County Catch & Donate, the Lake Superior Steelhead Association, and other conservation groups.  We plan to engage local residents in the project and encourage interest and involvement in broader watershed protection efforts.

In-stream cover habitat for juvenile salmonids

This project will immediately increase the amount and quality of year-round cover for juvenile steelhead, coaster brook trout and salmon.  The lack of large logs (large woody debris or “LWD”) which provide cover, especially critical overwintering cover, for juvenile steelhead and other migratory trout and salmon is a significant problem on most North Shore streams.  This project will increase the amount of cover by restoring large logs to the stream channel in a key nursery stretch accessible to wild spawning steelhead and other anadromous salmonids.  Depending upon the specific site conditions, large boulders may additionally, or alternatively, be used.   In-stream habitat will be significantly enhanced along approximately 2,000 feet of river.  Disturbed areas will be planted with trees and native riparian plant species.

The relative absence of cover and deep water habitat for juvenile steelhead and other salmonid is a limiting factor in providing a more productive, stable and resilient fishery.  Early logging activities removed logjams, large woody debris and boulders from the stream channel, and altered the hydrology. Two or more logging cycles have resulted in a young forest ecosystem which is incapable of naturally replacing this missing LWD anytime soon. Significant recruitment of LWD to the stream channel will not commence for another 50 to 75 years, since most riparian trees are far from recruitment age.  If additional logging of larger trees within the riparian zone is avoided for the next 50 years, recruitment of large limbs will eventually occur. But unless large blow downs occur, recruitment of whole trees into the stream system will not occur for another 75 years or more.

The goal of the project is to directly increase the amount of deep pool habitat and overhead cover using large woody debris and rock veining.  Approximately 75 large pine logs with intact root wads will be placed in the stream as will large boulders.  This will directly create cover for fish and wildlife, encourage channel complexity through scour and deposition, provide refugia for fish during flood events, and help reduce the erosive power of storm flows.

The precise project site will be carefully selected with MNDNR fisheries biologists and managers, but will be located in one of the important steelhead rivers in western St. Louis County or eastern Lake County.  The habitat work will be done where lack of cover is a limiting factor in the survival of juvenile steelhead through two winters, on a river which has a self-sustaining steelhead population which will immediately benefit from the increased carrying capacity for wild juvenile steelhead.  The Stewart River watershed is a strong candidate for this work.

Site selection, initial survey work, site planning, design and permitting will begin immediately following a July 2012 appropriation.  Installation of woody cover, rock veining, and other fish habitat enhancement work will begin in 2013.  Tree planting and project wrap-up will take place in 2014.  This will be a collaborative effort between Minnesota Trout Unlimited and the MNDNR.  Gitche Gumee Chapter and other Minnesota TU members will volunteer substantial time and labor, along with volunteers from Lake County Catch & Donate, the Lake Superior Steelhead Association, and other conservation groups.