Naturalists up in arms over downed trees along Chester CreekGary Meier, with the Lake Superior Coldwater Coalition, and others are worried about the future of the trout stream that passes through Chester Park.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Gary Meier looked into a pool on Chester Creek Monday afternoon and saw four brook trout, each 8 to 10 inches long, finning slowly. But Meier, with the Lake Superior Coldwater Coalition, is worried about the future for those fish after seeing what happened to the banks of the trout stream where it passes through Chester Park.
More than 100 trees with diameters of 10 inches or more were cut in the park during clean-up efforts after the June 19-20 flooding, said Deserae Hendrickson, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Anyone who knows trout streams knows they need shade,” Meier said. “Now we have another big source of warming that didn’t need to be done, in fact, that was appalling.”
The cutting was so extreme that it will take the stream two to three decades to recover, Hendrickson said. She said the city didn’t consult the DNR before contracting with Amberjack Tree Service and Rick’s Tree and Stump Removal to have the trees along Chester Creek removed. The stream is a designated trout stream that supports a population of brook trout.
Tom Kasper, building and grounds supervisor for the city, said he ordered the tree service companies to remove the trees and that the removal went largely as assigned.
“We put the wheels in motion to start removing some of those trees that had come down or were uprooted and tipping or had parts broken off and hanging in the water, things we perceived as dangerous or potentially dangerous as an obstruction in the creek,” he said.
“I believe most of those trees that we dealt with in the park were a concern,” Kasper said. “I believe a couple of trees were removed that shouldn’t have been, and that was addressed.”
Feedback late last week about the cutting has prompted the city to cease debris-clearing along all streams citywide, said Kelly Fleissner, the city’s manager of maintenance operations.
“We talked to several folks about Chester Bowl,” Fleissner said Monday. “We put the brakes on everything. We need to get folks to the table from other agencies — county, state, federal — and local user groups from the Chester Bowl Improvement Club to the Ikes (Izaak Walton League) and the clean-water folks.
“We need to take a team approach.”
Shortly after the June flood, the city wanted to get debris cleared from streams before another major rain could push that debris downstream, clogging culverts and bridges, Fleissner said. But that’s now on hold.
“We have stopped all debris-clearing out of all the streams unless there’s potential for plugging an important culvert or a threat to property and people,” Fleissner said.
Hendrickson said she assessed the cutting at Chester Park last week and found 108 stumps 10 inches or more in diameter from trees that had been removed.
“I was pretty devastated,” Hendrickson said, “because I know what the impacts of that are going to be. … It’s going to take 20 to 30 years to recover. I’m very disappointed with the city’s actions, contracting this and not making sure it was done in a limited fashion, where it’s only necessary to address threats to infrastructure and not taking into consideration habitat needs of the stream.”
Trees along streams are important not only for providing shade and keeping water cool, she said. Large pieces of wood in the water improve fish habitat by providing deeper pools. In addition, leaves from overhanging trees provide nutrients for invertebrates such as caddis flies and stoneflies, which are important in the food chain for trout, Hendrickson said.
Kasper said the city worked with volunteers to plant six red oaks along Chester Creek as a way of mitigating damage caused by cutting trees that shouldn’t have been cut.
“I take responsibility for anything that was cut, whether it was a miscommunication or what,” Kasper said.
The DNR stocks about 325 brook trout in Chester Creek each spring to provide an angling opportunity aimed primarily at kids. Hendrickson said that program could be in jeopardy now.
“It’s extreme enough we may have to stop managing (Chester Creek) for trout,” she said. “If we have a reach of stream that we know is no longer suitable for trout survival, we have no choice. We won’t know that until we assess the stream temperatures next year.”
Brook trout downstream from Chester Park have been under stress in the past because of two man-made ponds in the park, Hendrickson said. Sunlight warmed the water in those ponds, putting downstream trout in stress about 20 percent of the time and under lethal stress 2 percent of the time, she said.
One of the two dams in the park was partially washed out by the flood event, allowing the larger upper pond in the park to drain away. Now the creek flows unobstructed through most of the park. Hendrickson has said the DNR will not issue the city a permit to repair the dam. DNR and city officials met earlier this month to work out a way to continue Chester Bowl’s youth downhill skiing program while allowing the creek to flow unimpeded through the park.