Fisheries - Improvement Projects

Watershed Restoration Partnerships

The Huron-Manistee National Forests in northern Michigan are located within a day's drive of a quarter of the nation's population. Among the prized features of the National Forests are its northwoods rivers and lakes. These waters support a tremendous amount of recreation including world class fishing as well as providing habitat for a variety of endangered, threatened, and sensitive species.

Pere Marquette RiverPere Marquette River Watershed

There are a number of ongoing watershed restoration partnerships on the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Most notably is the Pere Marquette (PM) River Restoration, first formed in 1987. The PM watershed drains 755 square miles on west-central Michigan into Lake Michigan. Since the late 1980s, over 170 erosion sites along 40+ miles of river have been stabilized. This partnership has evolved into a landscape approach as other problems such as poorly designed road-stream crossings and damaged recreational access sites within the entire watershed are being treated. The six principal partners are the Pere Marquette Watershed Council, Mason-Lake Conservation District, Conservation Resource Alliance, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MI-DNRE), Trout Unlimited, and the U.S. Forest Service. In 1999, the Pere Marquette Watershed Council has initiated a habitat improvement program in the Big South PM sub-watershed through the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust. The Pere Marquette Partnership serves as a model for success as numerous other watershed restoration partnerships have since been initiated on the Huron-Manistee National Forests.

For more information, please visit the Pere Marquette Watershed Council's website.

Au Sable RiverAu Sable River Watershed

The Au Sable River drains 1,932 square miles of northeastern lower Michigan into Lake Huron. It is noted for its premier fisheries, including the "Holy Waters". Formed in the late 1980s, the Au Sable River Watershed Restoration Partnership has addressed eroding streambanks, instream structures, eroding road-stream crossings, and recreational access sites within this watershed to restore aquatic habitat. Most recently, placement of whole trees in the river by helicopter has been initiated to restore aquatic ecosystems. This innovative technique was the first of its kind in the upper Midwest. Principal partners include the Huron-Pines Resource Conservation and Development Council, Trout Unlimited, Anglers of the Au Sable (FFF), MI-DNRE, U.S. Forest Service, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Pine RiverPine River Watershed

The Pine River is approximately 50 miles in length. This stream and its tributaries drain about 169,000 acres. Since the early 1990s, the Pine River Watershed Restoration Partnership has addressed eroding streambanks and road-stream crossings within this watershed in northwestern Michigan. Over 100 sites have been stabilized, restoring habitat supporting this "Blue ribbon" fishery. Partners include the Pine River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Mackinaw Flyfishers (FFF), Michigan DNR and DEQ, U.S. Forest Service, Pine River Association, Pine River Watershed Coalition, and Conservation Resource Alliance.

Little Manistee RiverLittle Manistee River Watershed

The Little Manistee River has approximately 70 miles of mainstreams with numerous miles of tributaries. The watershed drains approximately 145,000 acres. Formed in 1996, the Little Manistee River Watershed Restoration Partnership has been addressing eroding streambanks and road-stream crossings within this watershed in northwestern Michigan. The Little Manistee is the primary source of spawn-taking for the Michigan DNR's salmon and steelhead management program for the stocking of the Great Lakes. It also supports a very popular steelhead fishery as well as a quality resident trout fishery. Members include the Little Manistee Watershed Conservation Council, Conservation Resource Alliance, MI-DNRE, U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, and the Mason-Lake Conservation District.

Manistee RiverManistee River Watershed

The Big Manistee River, coursing nearly 200 mainstream miles and capturing over 100 tributaries drains approximately 1,800 square miles in northern lower Michigan. Since 1989, the Upper Manistee River Restoration Committee has expended over $1 million on addressing sedimentation through streambank stabilization, improving road-stream crossings, and constructing instream sand traps. It has also restored hundreds of fish cover structures. Partners include Huron-Pine RC&D Council, MI-DNRE, Trout Unlimited, and the Kalkaska County Conservation District. In turn, the upper Manistee system trout production has improved measurably. Just recently, the Lower Manistee River Watershed Restoration Partnership has been formed to complement the work of the Upper Manistee River project. The Lower Manistee River supports premier fisheries for salmon and steelhead and provides habitat for the lake sturgeon, a State threatened species.


A road near a small lake.Watershed Health (Roads)

In 1998, the U.S. Forest Service was given a unique opportunity to address erosion problems associated with roads and trails to improve aquatic habitat as part of watershed restoration programs. Congress passed a law in 1913 that directed 10% of all moneys received on the National Forests could be spent on the construction and maintenance of roads and trails within those National Forests. In the annual budget direction from 1913 through 1995, though, Congress chose to re-direct those receipts into the general treasury of the United States. However, in 1998, Congress made these "10%" funds available to the National Forests with emphasis being placed on projects that correct road and trail problems that are adversely affecting watershed health.

Road-stream crossings have the potential to adversely affect watershed health, especially when viewed from a cumulative perspective across the landscape. The Forest Service, Conservation Resource Alliance, and Huron-Pines RC&D Council have cooperatively conducted systematic inventories of all the stream crossings within the Au Sable, Manistee, Little Manistee, Pine and Pere Marquette River Watersheds. These inventories include a "Severity Ranking" in terms of sediment delivery potential as well as recommended best management practices to improve the crossings. For instance, there are over 190 crossings within the Pere Marquette River watershed, the majority of which are in the severe or moderate category in terms of sediment delivery. Total costs to upgrade these crossings exceed $2 million. Thus, a partnership approach is necessary to address these high costs of restoration as no one agency or organization has the financial resources to address problems of such a magnitude.

Since 1998, 19 road-stream crossings have been upgraded in partnership with county road commissions using the 10% program to address erosion problems associated with roads and trails on the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Fourteen more are currently being improved. The Forest Service has worked in partnership with the county road commissions of Alcona, Iosco, Lake, Manistee, Oceana, Oscoda, Newaygo, and Wexford Counties to upgrade crossings within the Au Sable, Silver Creek, Clam River, Pine River, Little Manistee, Manistee, Pere Marquette, and White River watersheds.


A helicopter placing a tree.Helicopter Placement of Whole Trees

An innovative approach was used for aquatic ecosystem restoration on the Au Sable River in late 1998. One hundred whole trees were placed using a helicopter to enhance large woody placemnt in six miles of stream below Mio Dam. Principal partners were the Huron-Pines RC&D Council, MI-DNRE, and the U.S. Forest Service. In addition to these principal partners, many other local organizations contributed toward successful implementation. Total cost of the project was approximately $40,000 ($400 per tree). All trees remain in place two years later. Thus, it was demonstrated that this is a viable technique for restoring aquatic habitat within forested ecosystems in the upper Midwest. It is cost-effective (comparable to traditional techniques), mimics natural disturbances (e.g., wind-throw), and introduces an efficiency of operation whereby large-scale restoration can be done across the landscape (e.g., entire river systems).

Given the success of the 1998 project on the Au Sable River, large-scale restoration projects were initiated on other sections of the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers in 2000. A total of 470 trees were placed in the Au Sable River below Alcona Dam, and 170 trees were placed in the Manistee River below Hodenpyl Dam. These are multi-year projects with objectives of 1,500 and 1,000 trees, respectively, to be placed in these rivers for large woody restoration. Our partners are the Michigan DNR, Huron-Pines RC&D Council, and the Conservation Resource Alliance.


A hydroelectric dam on the AuSable River.Hydro-Electric Re-licensing

The U.S. Forest Service entered into a Settlement Agreement with Consumers Energy, MI-DNRE, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Michigan Hydro Coalition in 1992 for the re-licensing of the eleven Consumers' hydro-electric projects on the Au Sable, Manistee, and Muskegon Rivers. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) accepted this agreement and issued new 40-year operational licenses to Consumers Energy in 1994.


A fish.Threatened, Endangered and Sensitive Species Recovery

The rivers of the Huron-Manistee National Forests provide valuable habitat for a number of threatened, endangered, and sensitive species, most notably the lake sturgeon. Central Michigan University is currently assessing the lake sturgeon population in the Manistee River. The U.S. Forest Service and MI-DNRE are also cooperators in this study. The objectives are to obtain an annual spawning population estimate and to determine the age structure of spawning fish. An annual spawning population of approximately 100 fish was estimated in 1999. Approximately one-third of the fish captured were juveniles, indicating that the actual number of spawning adults is probably much less. Although the number of spawning adults appears to be precariously low, the presence of juvenile fish suggests that some natural reproduction is still occurring. This information will serve as a baseline to measure rehabilitation efforts against. This study is also examining reproduction success of this particular population of lake sturgeon.


A boy with a fish.Recreational Fisheries

Managing people is as big a challenge as managing aquatic habitat on the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Our rivers and lakes support first-class fisheries which attract a great deal of use. Improving recreational fishing access and addressing effects of this use are important components of our recreational fisheries management program. The vast majority of this work is done through partnerships.

Some highlights are:

A river access site.Access: numerous angler access projects have been undertaken in recent years. River access has been improved at Rainbow Rapids and Upper Branch Bridge on the Pere Marquette River, Red Bridge, High Bridge, Bear Creek, and Rainbow Bend on the Manistee River, and Whirlpool Access on the Au Sable River. All of these access points receive high use associated with salmon and steelhead fishing. Inland lakes boat launches have been improved on the Au Sable River and Manistee River hydro-electric project impoundments in partnership with Consumers Energy. The Forest Service has also improved the boat launches at smaller northwoods lakes such as Nichols and Twinwood Lakes.

Accessible fishing piers have been constructed and are available for use at Nichols Lake, O'Brien Lake, Mio Pond, and Foote Pond. Similar facilities are also available on the Manistee River (Tippy Dam) and the Au Sable River (Mio Dam, Whirlpool Access below Foote Dam). Many of these projects have been done through partnerships with the Northeastern Michigan Sportsmen Club, Consumers Energy, and the MI-DNRE.

Large Woody Placement Management: information signs which explain the importance of large woody debris in aquatic ecosystems have been developed and posted at all public access points along navigable rivers within the Huron-Manistee National Forests. This was done through a partnership with Trout Unlimited (Pine River Chapter), Pere Marquette Watershed Council, Federation of Flyfishers (Mackinaw Trails Flyfishers), MI-DNRE, and the Pine River Association.

The Forest Service has also developed recommended clearing widths for removal of large woody debris on navigable streams when watercraft cannot go under, over, or around fallen trees. Generally, clearing widths are limited to eight feet or less. We are working with the primary river users such as liveries and river guides to implement these guidelines.

A fishing line recycling box.Monofilament Recycling Boxes: litter in the form of monofilament line plagues our heavily fished streams. We have installed monofilament fishing line recycling boxes at our more popular fishing sites. This project is a partnership between Trout Unlimited, Federation of Flyfishers (Anglers of the Au Sable, Mackinaw Trails Flyfishers), Pere Marquette Watershed Council, and MI-DNRE.

Sanitation: sanitary facilities (toilets) have been installed at popular fishing sites such as the Tunk Hole Access on the Manistee River. New fully accessible toilets have been installed at all our river and lake access sites when the overall site is upgraded. These improvements will help protect water quality in our rivers and lakes.