by Steve Kaukola, Habitat Committee Chair
TCTU volunteers accomplished a phenomenal amount of work in the few years up to the end of 2019. There was major brush clearing along the South Branch of the Vermillion River, as well as on Hay Creek south of Red Wing. The COVID pandemic stopped everything in early 2020 as DNR policies prohibited organized activities on its Aquatic Management Areas (AMAs) for the next 18 months. As TCTU Board elections brought in several new members in January 2020, I was appointed as the new Habitat Restoration Coordinator. The former coordinator, Tony Nelson, has still been active assisting in this area.
Member surveys have consistently shown that habitat work is the most popular volunteer activity at TCTU, with over 100 willing volunteers. We were eager to get the Pandemic behind us and get back to habitat work. TCTU finally set up a small buckthorn clearing event in late April 2021 on the South Branch of the Vermillion River, consisting of 6 volunteers. We also organized a major Saturday event on December 11, 2021 to clear buckthorn and bush honeysuckle on Eagle Creek. But a last-minute, 18-inch snowfall forced its postponement. About 40 volunteers then showed up on a very cold and windy Saturday morning on March 26, 2022 to clear about a half acre on both sides of the stream over three hours. Following that, burgers were prepared and served by TCTU members to the hungry volunteers. DNR staff leading the effort were very appreciative, and called it a very successful effort.
I expect that volunteer work on the four major metro streams will ramp up between now and May of 2023, with a wider array of streamwork.
Eagle Creek in Savage: Several volunteers worked four-hour shifts on Eagle Creek on November 7th and 8th. Work entailed clearing tractor trails in preparation for the winter burning of brush piles made during TCTU’s buckthorn clearing day last March. DNR personnel will burn those piles in late December or January, whenever the snow cover accumulates to 3 inches or more. At that time, about 5-6 TCTU volunteers will be needed to assist. Volunteers will be notified when those dates are set.
At least one more buckthorn clearing day will be held this coming winter, as snow conditions make it practical. As most of you may know, TCTU cancelled such as event on December 11th of last year due to an overnight snowfall of 18 inches. That event was later rescheduled to the following March.
The upper stream is also in need of beaver dam clearing, which we are looking at for early April. A dozen beaver dams, both large and small exist in this stretch, and are expected to be enlarged over the coming winter. Clearing them by removing the intertwined logs and sticks is expected to be a significant undertaking, and we will need as many volunteers as we can get. This event is slated for April 1st or 8th.
Saturday April 22, 2023 is Earth Day, and TCTU has been discussing with DNR staff the possibility of holding a major trash removal event on lower Eagle Creek. A large amount of trash, including discarded tires, has accumulated on that stretch over many years. We are considering bringing in large dumpsters and putting out a call for a large number of volunteers.
South Branch of the Vermillion: In addition to more buckthorn clearing, the DNR is planning to install more cedar tree revetments into the banks for more stabilization. TCTU volunteers can assist.
South Branch Vermillion, Trout Brook, Hay Creeks: TCTU and DNR staff are still discussing possible buckthorn removal work on these streams. But more attention is focusing on the rising problem of wild parsnip. DNR personnel cleared a number of parsnip plants on the South Branch last summer. However, Minnesota Trout Unlimited (MNTU) has acquired spraying equipment which is available for use by TCTU. We are looking at organizing a number of 4-5 member teams (hit squads?), each headed by a trained, certified, and licensed sprayer. The South Branch is being considered as a training area for these teams. While parsnip is largely under control on that stream, there are enough plants that can be used to learn identification and removal techniques.
DNR Fish Surveys (Electroshocking): The DNR has conducted a number of fish surveys on all four major streams, along with Browns Creek in Washington County, and the Mall of America Creek. Small numbers of TCTU volunteers have been involved in them as well.
Support to Other Chapters: Since TCTU has a large number of willing volunteers, some of them have traveled to participate in work run by Win-Cress and Hiawatha chapters in southeast Minnesota. Three volunteers helped to construct lunker structures one Saturday morning last October for a project on upper Wisel Creek in Fillmore County. Last April, a few volunteers helped in a brush clearing day on Mill Creek between Rochester and Chatfield. For most TCTU volunteers, it was wrapped around a couple days of fishing. TCTU habitat people are in touch with both of those chapters to be informed of any volunteer days next year.
Kiap-TU-Wish chapter in western Wisconsin has been very busy right through the pandemic, clearing buckthorn every weekend through the winter months on the upper Kinnickinnic and Pine Creeks. Volunteers from TCTU and the Clearwater chapter out of Eau Claire have consistently helped out. If anyone is interested in helping them, contact Randy Arnold to get on their email list through Kiap-TU-Wish’s website. This year their major project will be clearing box elders on Cady Creek.
MNTU Projects: The Minnesota Trout Unlimited has completed two recent stream restoration projects in our area, which were financed by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund. Three thousand feet of the upper Trout Brook, near Miesville, was done in 2020, while another 4,200 feet stretch of lower Hay Creek was done over September and October of this year. Next year MNTU plans to contract out for projects on lower Trout Brook, and the Rebuffoni stretch of Hay Creek downstream from the 320th Avenue bridge. TCTU foresees longer-term annual volunteer maintenance work on those projects, clearing wild parsnip, buckthorn, and beaver dams as necessary, as well as monitoring stream bank erosion.
If you are interested in getting involved in Habitat work, or have any questions about our projects, please email me at email@example.com.