Last month the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (NRB) was presented the state’s first trout management plan. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trout coordinator Joanne Griffin presented the plan, which had its beginnings in 2017. The plan, she told the board, is a high-level strategic plan, dealing with overall stakeholder issues across the state, rather than specific regulations on specific bodies of water.
The plan covers brook, brown, rainbow and lake trout on inland waters and provides for direction in a number of areas. Griffin said those areas included a guide for the direction of resources, identifying constraints, determining locations and prioritization of where work should be done, and also to provide a communication tool, both internally within the department, and externally, for stakeholders and others in the state. The plan looked to address trout surveys, stocking efforts, restoration and habitat projects, regulations and land management and acquisition objectives.
Several stakeholder were happy to be part of the planning process. Those groups included the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, members of the tourism industry, tribal entities, trout anglers and associated conservation organizations, youth fishing organizations, the Natural Resources Board, the USDA Aphis wildlife services, members at large and lake trout anglers. Each group brought their unique perspective to the table, often finding their ideas and concerns overlapping, and at other times finding they were prioritized very differently.
The second round of meetings were held in January of 2018, and also in March. From there, the drafted plan was sent out for public review and comment. That review and comment period took place from May 15 through July. Input from those comments, as well as public meetings held across the state, also made up some of the planning decisions. The public meeting were held in LaCrosse, Wausau, Fitchburg, Spooner and Crivitz, and were attended by 70 people. The team received 34 survey responses at those meetings, as well as 250 online responses to the survey.
Overall, Griffin said, there was a great deal of support for all of the plan goals. Those goals, as she laid them out to the Board, were:
Goal 1: Protect, enhance and restore sustainable cold-water aquatic habitat and ecosystems.
Goal 2: Protect, develop, enhance and restore trout populations and trout angling opportunities for the diverse preferences and needs of (our) participants.
Goal 3: Collect, develop and use the best science to guide trout management decisions.
Goal 4: Maintain and expand partnerships, and engage diverse anglers, stakeholders and the general public on trout management and angling opportunities.
Griffith also noted stakeholders did have some concerns and wishes, but beyond the scope of the plan as it is. Those concerns included improving water quality and quantity as well as funding and staffing for DNR trout projects, and increasing attempts at recruiting. Increasing funding for projects was also on the “want” list, she said, but was also beyond the scope that with which the team was charged.
On that note, Griffin pointed out the need to work with and collaborate with other programs. Areas such as water quality and angler recruitment and retention are already addressed within the department, but working side by side with those other entities to accomplish goals for the state’s trout species would be vital moving forward, she said.
The plan looks at background on the life histories of all species of trout as well as challenges, both old and emerging. It turns an eye toward threat to the species and habitat challenges that present barriers and issues for the species. It also includes a description of current trout management and research that is ongoing. While the plan looks at goals, objectives and strategies for the next 10 years, Griffin said, the goal is to revisit the plan and revise as needed every two years.
She laid out for the board the areas of most importance to survey respondents and those who attended meetings. While 77-82% of respondents supported the four goals of the planning process overall, there were, of course, some differences in how different areas were ranked by different groups and, likely, different geographic locations.
As far as issues that are, could, and would be a cause of concern for trout species in the state, respondents listed populations, land use and climate change as the top three concerns. A total of 31% of stakeholders said population was the top concern and 21% said it came in second in their eyes. Land use was top concern for 19% and second for 24% of stakeholders. Climate change and its effects ranked first for 17% and second for 14%. Other, smaller concerns were, in order, loss of genetics (8% listed it at number one and 13% number two), loss of access (13% and 12%), disease (9% and 12%) and license sales (3% and 3%).
Priorities were also different among various stakeholder groups. The top three in this category, Griffin reported, were habitat protection, habitat enhancement and protect of wild trout. Habitat protection was top concern to 34% of respondents and second for 30%. Enhancement of habitat was the main focus of 22%, and came in second for 31% of people. Protecting the wild fish in the state was most important to 11% and second to 9%. Other concerns included improved access (11% and 9%), research (4% and 9%) and stocking (11% and 6%).
All of the comments received, not only from stakeholder groups at the table in creation of the plan, but those which came in at public meetings as well as online surveys, were all compiled, categorized in to several groups depending on which issues each comment pertained to or addressed. From there the team responded to comments and concerns, editing the plan accordingly.
Some of the bigger points were regulation reviews, simplification of regulations and creating balance as well as more urban opportunities. Board members, too, expressed their wish for simplification, as they have in many matters of department regulation, stating recruitment goals would be more attainable if would-be outdoorsmen and women had an easier time wading through the rules.
Public comment, including that from Trout Unlimited, voiced support for the plan, the first of its kind in the state. With some areas in the state, such as Langlade County, being unique resources with incredibly high densities of trout angling opportunities, being destinations for not only residents of Wisconsin, but anglers from out-of-state, creating a comprehensive, living plan such as this was seen as imperative.
With some praise and few questions, the board passed the plan.