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Trout Habitat Improvement Projects

by Terry Lyons

Recently at the Au Sable North Branch Area Foundation (ASNBAF) annual meeting I reported on the Anglers of the Au Sable work on the North Branch - where I have my cabin and have enjoyed fishing for decades.

In the early years after the Anglers founding in 1987, it relied on other organizations to manage and carry out its habitat restoration projects. Prior to Rusty’s passing we implemented a new system of managing all of our activities. As part of this reorganization we created several committees with different areas of responsibility, including a Habitat Committee that was charged with coordinating all of Anglers stream work and developing new projects.

Around 2010 the committee decided that it would implement methods for using volunteers to do the mapping, design work, and permitting for our Habitat projects. By doing this the cost of these projects would be reduced and we could use the savings to do more projects.

Three long time North Branch conservationists helped us create the techniques that we are still using today. Glen Eberly, Steve Johnson and Gerry Lake were all instrumental in developing methods for mapping and designing our North Branch restoration projects.

About this same time Steve Sendek retired as the Michigan DNR’s fisheries biologist for the Au Sable River, who in that role had been involved in all of our previous work and was interested in continuing these efforts. So he formed his own fisheries management company, hiring students during the summer to construct our projects.

With this final piece of the puzzle, we were able to accelerate the development and constructing our own habitat projects. In 2012 we began to organize our North Branch Habitat Restoration project.

We have made significant progress as you can see by this list of the North Branch projects that Anglers have accomplished and the cost involved.

2013 Sheep Ranch to below Twin Bridge; $31,600, 77 structures, DNR grant funding

2014 Above the Powerline to above the Tavern; $41,200, 55 structures, DNR grant funding

2015-16 Ford to County Line; $100,400, 200 structures, DNR grant funding

2017 CR 612 to Burchi’s; $40,400, 44 structures, DNR leftover funds

2018 Burchi’s to Meades; $51,000, 110 structures, Anglers’ funds and donations

2019 North Branch maintenance; $5,200, repair 40 structures damaged by ice, Patagonia grant monies

2020 Ochs’s above Dam 4; In progress-$61,000 (total to be determined), 100 structures, Anglers’ funds

2021 Ochs’s below Dam 4; $61,000 estimated, grant to be applied for, 100 structures, Anglers has agreed to pay for this project if no grant is obtained

Total Structures: 2013-2021, 686

Total cost, estimated thru 2021; $438,600, Grants $213,600, Anglers plus private donations thru 2020, $117,500 (2021, estimated $60,000, funding source to be determined) V-Log Trout Structure place by Anglers volunteers

During this time period Anglers, with volunteers from the ASNBAF, have also conducted annual North Branch studies to collect important data that helps guide both our habitat work and fisheries management. In the spring we conduct a quantitative insect survey at six different locations on the North Branch.

2018 Insect Study volunteers:

Terry Lyons, Tom Wessels, Bill Anderson, Jason Stentoumis and Joyce Haxton

These samples are analyzed by Dr. Mark Luttenton of Grand Valley State University (GVSU). This gives us an annual snapshot of the health of the insect populations in the North Branch. In the fall we do spawning redd surveys at sites from the Ford to Kellogg Bridge. The data from this survey gives us an estimate of the health of the brown trout population.

2019 Redd Survey volunteers: Tom Wessels and Neil Wallace

Both of these surveys are conducted entirely by volunteers. We also monitor the water temperature throughout the watershed. This project is in partnership with Mason Griffiths Founders Chapter of Trout Unlimted (MGFCTU). Temperature loggers collect temperature data throughout the summer. Starting next year we will begin to collect this data in March and continue through early September. We will also have several loggers that collect temperature data year around. David Smith and Marie Harrington are responsible for managing the loggers and collecting the data.

The Anglers have also sponsored research projects conducted by State Universities. There were two telemetry projects conducted by GVSU that were in part done on the North Branch. One monitored the movement of brook trout and the other tracked brown trout.

Anglers has also sponsored a groundwater baseline data project that was conducted by Michigan State University. This project collected data from stream reaches throughout the upper Au Sable and Manistee watersheds to determine how ground water withdrawals effect stream flows. This project led to the discovery that the North Branch of the Manistee River was almost completely de-watered by a fracking operation nearby.

The data will also be used as the states groundwater withdrawal tool is reviewed and modified. DNR grants and the Anglers funded these projects. Approximate total cost for these projects was $208,000.

Representatives from Anglers of the Au Sable, Au Sable North Branch Area Foundation and Mason Griffith Chapter of TU meet with officials from Michigan DNR to wade the river and establish possible conservation and improvement projects.

The Anglers also guaranteed the funding for the currently ongoing North Branch habitat and invertebrate studies being conducted by GVSU. Our partners, including ASNBAF, stepped up as soon as they learned about these projects and are now contributing to the cost of these projects. A Juvenile trout population assessment has also been added to these ongoing projects. The total cost for these projects is expected to be less than $40,000 and will be split among the Anglers, ASNBAF, and MGFCTU. On behalf of the ASNBAF, Glen Eberly has been coordinating volunteers to help collect the data for these projects.

2020 Juvenile Trout Study by Grand Valley State University

As we have progressed with our habitat projects through the years we are using much more complex fish habitat structures. In the beginning we were restricted to using mostly single log structures. We have also developed new techniques for anchoring our structures. We no longer use jetted in posts and duckbills. These old anchoring techniques required maintenance that we had to do in 2019.

We now use helical earth anchors and 3/8’ chain to secure our structures in place. Both the Anglers and MGFCTU have used these techniques for several years now and out of hundreds of structures installed there have only been a few failures. This method takes more time to install and the materials cost more but the end result is a much more durable product that we and the fish can depend on.

While preparing for the 2017-18 project, the estimated volunteer hours used for designing, mapping, and permitting totaled over 300 hours. Volunteer hours are used as matching funds when grants are obtained. If no grant is given these hours are just a part of the project preparation. So volunteers are key to all these efforts.

Partnerships with organizations like ASNBAF and MGFCTU are critical to the success of both our habitat projects and our advocacy efforts. We are fortunate to have three local organizations striving for the same objectives and coordinating their efforts for the common good.

Terry Lyons is the Habitat Chairman at Anglers of the Au Sabler

(In the past, your Foundation has worked very closely with Anglers of the Au Sable by providing financing, volunteers and recommendations for North Branch habitat projects. We are committed to maintaining this excellent working relationship in the future.)


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