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Duluth's urban trout streams hanging on, but need help

John Myers, Duluth News Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

"It's not saying that by 2030 or even 2050 everything is going to be fine. But it's identifying the issues and offering a plan on how to improve," said Karen Evens, who is leading the effort for the PCA. "And it gives us a way to measure the progress along the way."

There are no trout police to enforce the effort.

"It's not prescriptive. We can't order the community to do these things," Evens noted. "It has to be collaborative."

Fixes included more and better street sweeping by cities to keep polluted sediment from flushing into the streams with each rain; better stormwater storage and management; cleaning sediment traps in storm sewers; protecting small, cold-water tributaries that keep the bigger streams cold and oxygenated enough for trout; limiting or at least better planning for development near streams; and preserving vegetation along the waterways.

E.coli bacteria in streams washes in not just from humans, but also pets and wild animals. On the human side, fixing leaking sewer pipes and replacing failing septic systems are key. Adding more and better restrooms in city parks would help. Reducing pet waste remains a huge issue. There may be areas where nuisance wild animal populations -- raccoons, deer, beaver, etc. need to be reduced or where birds like geese and ducks need to be encouraged to stay away.

While many people perceive brook trout to be a hyper-sensitive species that needs pristine waters to survive, Jasperson says Duluth brook trout have adapted over the last century of intense development, with the strongest fish passing on their genes.

 

"The surviving fish know where the cold water springs and tributaries are; I've seen fish really packed around those. They also know where to go in August, or in a drought year like right now, to hang out when the flows are really low," he said.

That's how Miller Creek can flow right through the uber-developed Miller Hill Mall district and still have a viable population of wild brook trout. But fluctuations in the creek's population -- from as high as 448 trout per 1,000 feet in 1993 to just 34 in 2005 -- show problems remain: Salt, sediment, a lack of cold-water hiding places and runoff from the massive parking lots and ribbons of road in the area.

"When people realize that these aren't just drainage ditches running through town. When you show them they are a functioning, living systems with real fish -- maybe not functioning as well as they could be -- most people are willing to help," Jasperson said. "But a lot of people don't know. I've talked to landowners who didn't even know they had a cold-water stream on their land, let alone a population of wild brook trout. Some of them are just floored when I tell them."

Over 30 years, to do all the suggested work in the PCA plan could cost the community between $100 and $130 million to save its trout streams, Evens said. But it's not an all-or-nothing proposition.

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