By Howard Meyerson
GRAND RAPIDS – The Rogue River, a popular trout fishing stream in Kent and Newaygo counties, is getting a little extra love these days. The river was selected by national Trout Unlimited in 2010 to be one of a dozen “Home River” projects nationwide. It is the only Michigan river with that designation and the only one with a full-time biologist dedicated to its betterment.
Nichol DeMol, the Rogue River project manager, recently said her first year on the job involved a lot of investigation and getting to know local community leaders. In time, she will develop a long-range restoration plan for the river. DeMol began in January 2010. She was hired by the Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited chapter which raised $315,000 to pay for her position and to set up an office.
“This past summer we found 180 road crossings on the river,” DeMol said. “We inventoried all of them. This spring we will look at the dams. Then next fall we take that road crossing and dam information and put it together and make a plan.”
The Rogue River drains 262 square miles of watershed. It is fed by many cool water tributaries which provide good spawning habitat and a cool respite for trout when summer temperatures on the Rogue River start to climb. State officials classify the Rogue as a marginal trout stream, but it is stocked annually with brown trout and rainbow trout by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources who has seen some measure of natural reproduction in the river.
Road crossings, like dams, can keep fish from moving upstream, DeMol said. Some culverts are “perched,” meaning they sit above the stream bed and fish are not able to get over the lip. That keeps cuts them off from miles of upstream habitat and cool tributaries where they might thrive.
Other culverts are too small and develop high velocity flows that also keep trout from migrating upstream. In some cases those flows also create bank erosion much like a high-pressure fire hose.
DeMol said the work ahead involves identifying all the problems. Finding solutions she said, will involve working with local municipalities and civic organizations along with riparians who live along the river.
“I think the work is progressing very well,” said Scott Hanshue, the DNR fisheries biologist that works with DeMol. “There is no way I would have time to do the road and stream inventory. And being a non-government organization, she can work closer with riparians who have distrust for state agencies.”
Case in point, according to Hanshue, involves a farmer with land on Cedar Creek, an important tributary of the Rogue. His cattle have regularly entered the river and eroded the bank, but the landowner was unwilling to apply for federal funds that would have paid for some solutions.
DeMol made progress where others had failed. She, with the farmer’s blessing, is now seeking funds for fencing, a water well for livestock, and trees to plant as a buffer zone.
“It’s a good success story,” said JR Hartman, president of Schrems West Michigan TU. “That landowner was unwilling to let ‘the man’ do anything about it. Nichol has had a lot more success and that is the Home Rivers project.”
Hartman said his chapter will be working with DeMol, doing a lot of the hands-on stream work, while she develops the watershed study.
“We’re trying to make a hit list of projects on the mainstream,” Hartman said. “Local TU will be the feet on the ground with waders on and rolling rocks.”
Warren Colyer, the watershed program director for national Trout Unlimited in Missoula Montana, said Home River projects typically take six to eight years to complete. He said “restoration is the heart of our mission and being selected is quite special.”
The Beaverkill River in New York State was national TU’s first Home River project. Today 15 are underway including the south fork of the Snake River in Idaho, the Clark Fork River in Montana and the Upper Deschutes River in Oregon.
Copyright © 2012 Howard Meyerson
It is very refreshing to see and hear project development make huge strides with riparian owners and shall soon see how beneficial these improvements can benefit multiple ecosystems. We can only hope this is one of many more projects like this for many of Michigan’s great trout streams.