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DECORAH — With musical accompaniment provided by Pine Springs Creek tumbling over rock ledges, several speakers at a dedication ceremony last week lauded an easement that opens 4.4 miles of cold-water streams to anglers, bird watchers and other nature lovers.
The easement agreement with Seed Savers Exchange “marks our single biggest increase in trout water public access,” Mike Steuck, northeast Iowa fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources, said at the April 28 ceremony.
The Water Quality and Angler Easement on Pine Springs Creek, North Canoe Creek and West Canoe Creek “seemed like a natural progression in our relationship” with the DNR and other conservation agencies, said Seed Savers Executive Director John Torgrimson.
The DNR, Trout Unlimited and the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association have been working for several years to restore aquatic habitats in three cold-water streams on the 890-acre property of Seed Savers Exchange, which preserves heirloom plant varieties through regeneration, distribution and seed exchange. That effort includes restoration of stream habitat for native brook trout in Pine Springs Creek.
A stream-fed pond created by a previous owner had gradually silted in, warming the water by 8 degrees and making it less suitable for the native brook trout stocked by the DNR in 2003 and 2004.
The partners removed the pond and reshaped and revegetated the stream, restoring it to its original trout-friendly condition.
Pine Spring Creek is one of six Iowa streams with naturally reproducing populations of the South Pine Creek strain of brook trout, the only native species to survive settlers’ disruption of the state’s original prairie. As recently as 1995, that strain was confined to tiny South Pine Creek, where a chemical or manure spill could have wiped them out.
“It’s good to not have all our eggs in one basket,” Steuck said.
Steuck said Iowa has about 533 miles of cold water streams, of which 148 miles are open to public use.
Of those 148 miles, access to 23 miles is by a handshake agreement with the landowners, access to 15.4 miles is through a formalized easement agreement and access to the other 110 miles is through public ownership by the state or a county, he said.
The Water Quality and Angler Easement program benefits both trout anglers and landowners. The conservation easements establish a 75-foot buffer on each side of the stream, facilitating stream bank improvements and protecting the stream corridor from degradation.
Coldwater streams are valuable both as a natural resource and an economic development resource, said DNR Director Chuck Gipp, noting that people want to live and work close to beautiful scenery and outdoor recreational opportunities.
Following a legislative session that cut key DNR budgets and failed to authorize an increase in hunting, fishing and trapping license fees, Gipp said it is “great mental health therapy to be here today in this beautiful setting.”
Iowa sold a record 46,604 trout stamps last year. Linn County residents led the way with 3,891 stamps purchased, followed by Polk with 3,418, Dubuque with 2,843, Black Hawk with 2,677 and Scott with 2,119.