Fish Creek Watershed Project
Steuben County, IN

Grantee: The Nature Conservancy
Basin Program Funds: $22,000
Non-federal Funds: $100,000
Project Duration: 10/1992 - 06/1995
Status: complete

Problem Statement
Soil loss by erosion removes the most productive layer of soil first and exposes less productive layers, thereby reducing yield potential and economic benefit. Excessive soil erosion, sedimentation and subsequent pollution are the primary problems affecting the Fish Creek system. Impacts along Fish Creek occur in two ways: the acute problem of direct erosion from fields immediately adjacent to the stream (especially in the lower watershed's mussel beds); and the chronic problem of sediment pollution which originates throughout the watershed and is particularly problematic in “hot spot”areas.

Fish Creek in Ohio

The Fish Creek Watershed project (FCWP) was a bi-state effort designed to preserve the nationally significant ecological diversity in the Fish Creek Watershed by managing soil erosion on agricultural lands in Indiana and Ohio and reducing sedimentation inputs into the aquatic system. The project was a multi-partner venture including representation from federal, state and private agencies. The FCWP examined several ways to address the erosion problem: land protection and treatment, wetland restoration, reforestation of riparian corridors, conservation tillage/critical area treatment program, land acquisition, research, and public consultation and information. The Great Lakes Basin Program contributed funds to address the conservation tillage/critical area treatment program component. This program component, through incentives and information and education activities, promoted conservation tillage practices and addresses critically eroding areas along the creek and primary tributaries.

Fish Creek is 30 miles long and drains a 110 square mile agriculture watershed covering three counties, one in Ohio and two in Indiana. The watershed begins in northeast Steuben and northwest Williams counties and stretches south to northeast Dekalb county and into Williams county north of Edgerton. Fish Creek has a diverse wooded corridor that provides shade, food and shelter for fish and wildlife and is among the top ranked biodiversity sites in the Great Lakes Basin. The system harbors 31 species of mussels (it is the only known site for the White Cat's Paw Pearly Mussel)and 42 species of fish.

During the last year of the project, eight equipment purchases were completed, bringing the total of conservation tillage equipment purchased to 20. Since the beginning of the project the amount of no-till corn has doubled. Overall more than 50% of all row crops planted in the watershed are planted using no-till. Record keeping is now underway with the participants using “The Max Program.” Regionally it has been found that no-till input costs are consistently lower than conventional tillage costs due to the reduced amount of field operations. No-till yields are just slightly below conventional yields. The result is that, over the last four years, no-till has increased the profit/acre in corn and soybeans by $15/acre and $8.50/acre respectively as compared to conventional tillage.

Critically eroding areas along Fish Creek have been permanently covered through the planting of grass and trees. During the past three years more than 190 acres of land along Fish Creek have been planted with hardwood seedlings. In addition, a quarter mile of fence was built to exclude livestock from important mussel habitat. This eliminates the only livestock threat to the lower half of the watershed.

Information/education activities informed landowners of the benefits of managing soil erosion. Activities included the production and distribution of six watershed newsletters to more than 500 landowners and community leaders, a 1993 Fish Creek/Hamilton Lake Information Day, which 55 people attended, and a 1994 Information Day which demonstrated tree planting and discussed the needs (and threats) of the endangered mussels in Fish Creek. One-on-one contact with landowners continues each year and is the foundation of the information and education program.

Forested section of Fish Creek

Thirteen farmers participated in the program involving 3,946 acres now permanently under conservation tillage. An estimated 31,560 tons of soil are being saved annually as a result of the project. Approximately three acres of land, along a portion of Fish Creek that contains federally endangered mussels, have been permanently seeded saving approximately 30 tons of soil. Hundreds of landowners and community leaders have been educated about endangered mussels and conservation practices.

Contact: Larry Clemens, (317) 923-7547


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