Narrowing the Straight
BY Sarah smith
A habitat improvement project along the Straight River last week was an aerial spectacle.
The DNR used a helicopter to drop trees along the bank of the river that winds along southern Hubbard County, hoping to narrow the channel, deepen it and provide trout refuge.
Scotch pine, red pines and spruce were cut from adjacent strips of land and dropped into the widest sections of the channel, which meanders through several townships in the southern part of the county.
The channel has widened to 100 feet in some places and the DNR hopes that by narrowing the route, more trout will stake out the river as habitat as it flows into the Shell River. Eventually the river cuts a deeper channel and the tree structure keeps the water shaded and cooler for trout, said Fisheries Superintendent Doug Kingsley.
The tree structures are designed to catch sediment upon which cattails eventually grow. Trees dropped on the riverbanks are staked to prevent their movement downstream.
But other vegetation grows on the sediment, not just cattails, he said.
“They last quite a while,” said naturalist Heath Wilson. The trees are hooked about two-thirds of the way down the trunk and flown to the riverbank.
It’s a lot easier to airlift the trees rather than haul them through brush and weeds, Wilson added.
“Dragging them around is just too tough,” Wilson said of the 50-foot trees. “We noticed a marked improvement (in trout habitat) after they did it.”
The cattails were already there, Wilson said.
When the river widens to 100 feet, it’s only a few inches deep, Kingsley said. Forcing the stream to get narrower will also force it to cut deeper into the channel.
This is the third time in a couple decades that the DNR has dropped trees along the bank.
“It’s like a gravel bar down there,” said resident Ken Bjorn, who lives on the river off 150th Street.
“The cattails are choking off the stream,” he added, not making it deeper. The DNR has visited with Bjorn to explain the process, but he’s not buying into it. He said last year the cattail growth spread 30 feet.
“It just ruins my land,” he said. “You can’t walk down and look at the river.”
Bjorn claims the growth of the cattails has pushed one neighbor off the land. His neighbor’s place is up for sale.
But he also admitted that canoeing along the river is impossible without portaging several times in the shallower spots.
Kingsley and the DNR hope to rectify that issue by narrowing the channel and making the river cut a deeper grench.