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Wisconsin Inland Trout Management Plan - A Quick Review

Ok, relatively quick, I hope. I am sure I will not be able to refrain from getting a bit into the weeds about the plan. While this post will be specific to Wisconsin, ideas about how management plans are created, implemented, and strengths and weakness of them

Management plans are important documents for resource management agencies.

Simply put, a management plan provides direction and management priorities, prioritizes limited resources, identifies constraints, and is important in communicating to the angling public how the resource agency plans to manage the resource and why these decisions have been made.

The Process of Creating a Management Plan

Public input is vital to creating an effective management plan and one that is likely to be accepted by the public and resource users. The process to write the state's first inland trout management plan began in 2017 with the planning process. A diverse stakeholder group was assembled with statewide and local groups formed to represent a wide-range of the public. The stakeholder groups requested a vision statement to assist efforts.

The vision statement is meant to direct what is included - and not included - in the management plan and the discussions lead to the writing of the management plan. I went to a meeting or two and provided online feedback. I have to say that the WDNR did an excellent job of soliciting and incorporating feedback in the development of the inland trout management plan.

Trout Resources and Life Histories

The next two sections are largely to communicate what is known about the life histories of the state's trout species and resources of the state's six different ecoregions. These sections are important background materials so that later sections and the goals are set within context. I'm skipping and details - you can read...

Threats and Challenges

The threats and challenges section - as the name implies - identifies threats to trout and their resources (streams and ponds) as well as difficulties in addressing these threats. One thing of note in the management plan is that the plan is written by Fisheries Management and many threats are not within the scope of the Fisheries Management division but are things other DNR divisions are tasked with. Other threats, like climate change and invasive species, to a lesser effect, are global issues that the WDNR has very little ability to affect.

Threats and challenges are listed as:

  • Land Use, Water Quality, and Water Quantity

  • Climate Change

  • Invasive Species

  • Angler Participation

Land Use, Water Quality, and Water Quantity

Land use obviously has a large impact on water and habitat quality. Land use effects are both historic and current. Historically, there are significant land use changes that continue to cause streams to be less productive and different than they were historically. Most of the state was cleared of trees and some streams were even dynamited and large woody debris (LWD) was removed to allow logs to move downstream more efficiently. In the Driftless Area, removal of trees and agricultural practices not suited for the region have drastically altered the valleys and their streams. In much of the state, wetland drainage and stream straightening continue to impact streams.

Eroding stream bank
Driftless valleys have several feet of sediment that has been deposited from the uplands.

Current land use practices present similar sources of degradation. More than half the state's land is in agriculture which means that nutrient enrichment and sedimentation are important threats. However a solid piece of good news is that land use practices have certainly improved. They tend to ebb and flow with commodity prices - when corn and soy prices go up, we see more acres of these crops, two of the most important from a nutrient enrichment point of view. Threat are presented from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as the potential for large manure spills and the need to spread large amounts of manure over the landscape. Another threat associated with CAFOs are large-scale groundwater withdrawals to support their operations. Sand mining is currently posing less of a threat than it had before sand operations largely moved closer to the shale fields. Lastly, urbanization presents an important source of degradation particularly around Madison, Wisconsin cities near the Twin Cities, and a few other places in the state.

Climate Change

Climate change poses a significant threat to Wisconsin's trout streams. The report states, "In Wisconsin, the climate has become warmer and wetter since the 1950s, with annual average nighttime low temperatures increasing 33.08−35.96°F, annual average daytime high temperatures increasing 32.54−33.08°F, and average annual precipitation increasing 50−100 mm (Kucharik et al. 2010; WICCI 2011)." There is a small bit of good news in that more precipitation results in more groundwater but this is generally not enough to offset the effects of temperature increases. Native Brook Trout are more susceptible to the effects of warming stream temperatures but Brown Trout are certainly not unimpacted.

One of the most significant threats of climate change comes from the increasing intensity of storms. Anyone that fishes the West Fork and Coon Creek (Timber Coulee) systems are familiar with the changes that the 2018 floods caused. It did not help that they were followed up by flooding in 2019.

Invasive Species

Invasive species, non-indigenous species that can cause environmental problem - and we might add, are species unwanted by human or Brown Trout would certainly fall in the first part of that definition. A number of invasive species ranging from viruses (viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus), New Zealand mud snails, and terrestrial species that can alter riparian zones (buckthorn and emerald ash borers) and make the angling experience potentially a lot less enjoyable (wild parsnip).

Angler Participation

Angler participation is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that anglers fund the management of trout and trout habitats. Your $10 inland trout stamp - which hasn't seen an increase in price for a decade and a half - provides about $1.6 million a year for trout management and approximately $600,000 goes towards trout habitat projects each year (for more, read the most recent expenditure report). It will be interesting to see if 2020's increase in license sales and trout stamps are reflected in later years (for more, read COVID, Fishing, and the Future). License sales also help support trout management and stocking.

Resource agencies put a lot of thought and effort into how to draw new anglers and get anglers to buy license and stamps more often. Those reading this are certainly more into fishing than most anglers. The "average trout angler" - which doesn't really exist - buys licenses fairly sporadically. The statistic that really blows my mind his that only 4% of anglers throughout the country bought licenses in each of the last 10 years (American Sportfishing Association 2015). I could not imagine not buying a license every year but I'm by far in the minority.

I've always been a proponent of the idea that resources can't have too many friends, people that will fight to protect the resource. Anglers not only pay for the resource but they are the people that will care enough to do something when water quality is degraded, a fish kill occurs, when stream habitat projects need some boots on the ground.

The Management Plan

I'll pick through some of the management plan goals later but here is a quick cursory look that the main goals that were identified in the management plan's development.

I kept this to a 5 minute read. Hopefully it gives you a little insight into how management plans are devised. More later about the implementation of the plan.


1 Comment

David Stakston
David Stakston
Aug 09, 2022

I went to the meeting at La Crosse on Wisconsin Inland Trout Management Plan and it was a very bad turnout. One subject that I should have mentioned at the meeting was that planting and restoring one million black willow trees and eastern cottonwoods in our Driftless Area riparian zones along our Driftless Area streams would have been the greatest achievement that the Wisconsin DNR could have achieved during the existence of the Wisconsin Inland Trout Management Plan.

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