Buffer Installation on Low Order Streams -- Oconto Co. WI
Oconto County, WI

Grantee: Oconto County Land Conservation Department
Basin Program Funds: $24,160
Non-federal Funds: $9,005
Project Duration: 07/2001 - 07/2003
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Fish assessment surveys and other studies have demonstrated that nonpoint source pollution, subsurface drainage and stream channelization have destroyed the biological utility of many acres of streams and wetlands within the Pensaukee River watershed. As a result of stream rechannelization, the installation of subsurface drainage and loss of vegetation in low-order streams, most streams are extremely flashy and water retention periods have decreased.

Four watersheds were impacted by this project. They are the Little River watershed, Lower Oconto watershed, Pensaukee River watershed, and Suamico/Little Suamico River watershed. Within these watersheds there are 552 miles of intermittent streams, 235 miles of perennial streams and a large but underdetermined number of miles of low-order streams that are usually classified as non-navigable. These watersheds encompass approximately 592 square miles. High nutrient loading causes algae blooms that directly interfere with fish and invertebrate reproduction by encouraging the growth of epiphytic and filamentous algae. This alga covers spawning substrate, thereby making it unusable. High sediment loading also interferes with fish and invertebrate reproduction by covering otherwise suitable substrate. Stream hydrology has also been negatively affected.

A goal of this project was to protect and restore northern pike spawning and rearing habitat through the installation of riparian vegetative buffer strips in low-order streams. The Oconto County Land Conservation Department contracted with landowners to establish 20-25 acres of vegetative buffers on low-order streams and some larger intermittent and perennial streams. Buffers were also established on connected wetlands at a rate of $1,000 per acre for grass buffers and $1,500 for buffers planted with trees

Under this project, a total of 21.25 square acres of buffer zone were installed at a cost of $24,160. The buffers ranged from 35-70 wide, depending on slope and soil type. We installed 4.7 acres of trees and 16.55 acres of grassed buffers. The payments to landowners for the buffer areas were a one-time payment to cover a 10-year period. Continuous spot checks through out the 10-year maintenance period are planned.

The project will continue landowner education efforts with newsletters, newspaper articles and one-on-one involvement. One of the most successful methods of selling the program was word of mouth from landowner to landowner.

Overall, the project was very successful. Landowners in general found this program less confusing than some of the more complicated state and federal programs. Landowners expressed a fear of losing useable land to buffers, but interest increased after they were able to observe an actual application of a buffer zone. The fact that they were allowed to harvest the grass in the buffers after July 31st (which is not allowed in most programs) was also appreciated by them. They also liked the idea of getting payment up front instead of a small payment every year.

Contact: Tom Milheiser, 920-834-5688 ex 8


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