Robins, pussy willows, bloodroot, blooming round-lobed hepatica, drumming yellowbellied sapsuckers, fresh-cut alfalfa, dandelions, screaming—oweeEEEK!—wood ducks , busy chipmunks and gobbling turkeys. All sights, sounds and a few familiar smells of spring, and all signs of hope in the world after a long, grey winter and what seems like years of dealing with coronavirus. Spring is here and happening in our very midst! But first, here are a few important items since our last in-person chapter meeting.
Board Elections: Since we had to cancel our April Chapter Meeting (which serves as our annual business meeting) we weren’t able to have board elections. This year, we had two board members (Perry Palin and Maria Manion) who completed their board terms and two chapter members (Dustin Wing and Scot Stewart) who were nominated for three-year terms. Our chapter bylaws allow the board to appoint new board members to fill spots that are vacated between annual business meetings, and given these circumstances, the Kiap-TU-Wish board elected Dustin Wing and Scot Stewart to serve one-year terms. This will fill the vacant board seats for now and give chapter members the opportunity to vote on extending the terms for these candidates at the first available opportunity, which will be next year’s Annual Business Meeting. Welcome to the Board, Dustin and Scot!
Departing Board Members: New board members joining also means prior board members leaving. This is always a bittersweet occurrence for me after having worked, played and gotten to know departing board members over the previous three to six years. We’re a pretty close board. We meet every month and members communicate frequently between board meetings. Sure, we don’t agree about everything and occasionally have long, spirited discussions, but we all share a common love for our coldwater resources and normally, with the support of and input from chapter members like yourself, we come to a consensus on most things. Departing board members this year are Maria Manion (who was RipRap’s editor and wrote grants for the Kinni’s Red Cabin project) and Perry Palin (who served as our Polk County outreach coordinator and seat of wit and wisdom). Maria is a design professional, a dedicated volunteer, an ardent fly fisher, and a good person who is simply a pleasure to work with. As editor of RipRap for the past six years, Maria’s finished product each month IS Kiap-TUWish for 70% of our nearly 400 members who can’t attend chapter meetings or other chapter activities. And what does one say about Perry? In addition to being a tireless advocate for his beloved Trout Free Zone, or TFZ as Perry refers to it, he is probably one of the most experienced and talented fly fishers and fly tiers in the chapter, if not in the state. For at least 10-12 years, Perry has tied boxes of flies that are given out as door prizes in honor of his friend, Dry-Fly Dick Frantes. Perry has also made use of his career in human resources and labor negotiations to give the board the long view on dealing with issues we face from time to time. Perry helped organize our annual chapter meetings in Polk County for our “northern” members, and even helped teach a few of us how to fish. But most of all, we will miss Perry’s dry wit, his gift for story-telling and his dogged insistence that there aren’t any trout north of Highway 8, in his beloved TFZ! Thank you Maria and Perry for your service. Our chapter is better because of it.
Spring Appeal: By now you’ve probably noticed that you didn’t receive your annual Spring Appeal donation request. The Spring Appeal Committee had everything ready to go when the coronavirus stay-at-home orders hit. The committee recommended, and the board agreed, that it just wasn’t appropriate for us to be asking for money when some members were without work, others were watching their retirement savings plummet and still others might have been sick. You’ve all been very generous with your donations in the past and will be again in the future. So for right now we’re going to rely on your past generosity to carry forward our shared coldwater conservation mission.
May Chapter Meeting with WIDNR via ZOOM: Last but not least is our May chapter meeting with the WIDNR. This is normally the best-attended chapter meeting of the year, because Nate Anderson talks about past and future habitat projects AND Kasey Yallaly shares her trout survey data from the past year. Nothing gets our membership to chapter meetings like the possibility of finding new places to fish! We just couldn’t forgo this meeting, so we’re going to have a virtual meeting via Zoom. In case you haven’t heard of it, Zoom is a free app that allows for group meetings of up to 100 participants to take place from your computer or smartphone. You can even dial in and participate in a Zoom meeting from an analog phone. It really isn’t that hard to do. Believe it or not, even I can Zoom! Social media professional and chapter member Chad Borenz will set up the meeting and make sure it is secure. He will also send us a Zoom meeting link; the first 100 people who click on the link can enter the meeting. Kasey Yallaly and Nate Anderson will present over Zoom and you will be able to see their screens on your computer or smartphone. I’m also guessing Kasey and Nate will be willing to email you their presentations after the Zoom meeting. PLEASE NOTE: In order to attend the Zoom meeting, you will need to (1) DOWNLOAD AND (2) INSTALL ZOOM BEFORE YOU (3) CLICK ON CHAD’S ZOOM MEETING LINK.
And now back to the first robin, pussy willows, spring wild flowers, noisy wood ducks and gobbling turkeys. All of these remind us that SPRING IS REALLY HERE! We really did make it through the long, grey winter and the world around us really is
springing to new life again. In some ways, the coldwater resources we’ve worked so hard on for so long are doing better than
some of us are doing this spring. My dad used to say, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast!” He would say it partly in jest, with an Irish twinkle in his eye, but he was partly serious, too. He said it to encourage us to take heart and to have some hope, when we were discouraged about something going on with friends or at school. I believe we can all take heart in the natural signs of spring happening around us right now.
And in the meantime, get out there and fish!
We’ve made a lot of progress! When you think about it, we’ve made a lot of progress environmentally in the past 40-50 years. When I was a kid, I was sick with asthma and had to stay at home a lot. I was inside all day. It drove me nuts. I had to do something, so I hammered together birdfeeders and set them up all over the yard. Then I could at least watch something wild outside from inside. In the summer, I hunted butterflies unceasingly, or at least until flower and ragweed pollen sent me home sneezing and short of breath. I joined the Audubon Society so I could get Audubon Magazine and read about far-off natural places, and also to get the mimeographed paper newsletter telling about the wild things going on locally in St. Paul. One January, our local Audubon Society leaders announced that on Christmas Day, they had seen a Bald Eagle—a Bald Eagle!—flying over the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Nobody believed them. Eagles simply didn’t exist any more in the countryside surrounding the Twin Cities, or even up north for that matter. Sure, there were a few in the mountains out West and more in Alaska, but in the Twin Cities? The Audubon Society leaders should have known better than to start rumors like that. We all knew by that time that widespread usage of DDT in the U.S. to control mosquito populations after the Korean Conflict had killed off all the hawks and eagles and other raptors. We later learned that DDT, ingested into female raptors, caused them to lay soft eggs that were crushed during incubation. So, there weren’t any more Bald Eagles in St. Paul, or anywhere else within reach of a 10-year-old kid on a bike. There was about as much chance of seeing a live eagle then, as there was of seeing a live Triceratops in the lobby of St. Paul’s Science Museum.
Then there were the Canada Geese, the giant sub-species—or whatever they called them— that were also going extinct, presumably for the same reason. One cold winter morning, my parents stuffed the four then-existing Wagner children into their green Plymouth Country Squire station wagon and headed for Rochester, Minnesota. The destination was the warm water discharge of a power plant in Rochester where, supposedly, 25-30 of these big honkers were hanging out for the winter. We got there and sure enough, there they were there, 25-30 giant Canada Geese. We stood outside the car and stared at them until we got cold, then we all piled back in the station wagon and headed back home. My parents wanted us to see these giant honkers before they went extinct. They had read somewhere that even if the DDT situation got corrected, there wouldn’t be enough of the geese left to sustain a viable population. So, the big geese were as good as extinct, even though there were still a few hanging around power plants and such. And then there were other things that weren’t extinct, but were gone from our area for good, as the old timers used to say. In all our wanderings, we NEVER even heard of anyone seeing a wild Turkey, a Sandhill Crane, or a Pelican, let alone seeing completely extirpated (locally extinct) species like Trumpeter Swans and Peregrine Falcons.
Then along came Rachel Carson who wrote Silent Spring which started a grassroots movement that resulted in federal legislation banning the use of DDT. Other grass-roots movements of conservationminded individuals sprang up, and existing organizations like the Audubon Society grew in membership and influence, and teachers started teaching about conservation. The states got involved with Aldo Leopold from UW-Madison writing A Sand County Almanac and Carrol Henderson from the MNDNR Non-Game Wildlife Fund heading up programs to help restore nongame wildlife, including Trumpeter Swans and Peregrine Falcons. Ordinary citizens got involved and teamed up with federal and state conservation workers, universities, teachers, and for-profit and not-for-profit sectors to bring back the environment and wildlife that we had lost through DDT, water pollution and air pollution. Now, you can’t drive anywhere without seeing large flocks of Canada Geese. There are probably scores of grounds keepers at city parks and golf courses that would be a lot happier today if we had been a little less successful in our Canada Goose restoration efforts.
But it doesn’t end there. I regularly see half a dozen Bald Eagles on my way to work in the morning. (Sometimes I even see them flying over the Mississippi River in St. Paul!) Spring, summer and fall, I see Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, Wild Turkey and all manner of hawks and falcons, as I drive between customers’ locations in the East Metro and Western Wisconsin. We REALLY HAVE made a lot of progress in the last 40-50 years.
But what happened to all the amphibians that used to be around? I remember so many frogs coming out on roads between swamps up north that the roads would actually get greasy from dead frogs. Gross, I know. I thought it was gross then, too. The point is that there was an abundance of frogs then.
I also remember that there was a certain night or two each summer when all the female snapping turtles somehow knew that this was the night to crawl out of their ponds to lay their eggs. How did they all seem to know what night to come out on? I remember more painted turtles being around lakes and streams, and tiger salamanders being in just about every pond, roadside ditch or anywhere else that was wet for part of the summer. Where are they all now? Sure, there are still some of the above species around, but there are not anywhere near the numbers that were around when I was a kid. Where did they go? What happened to them? Last summer, I saw a lone tiger salamander marching across our driveway. Its skin was dry and dusty and it looked completely out of place. It looked like a member of the French Foreign Legion that tried to escape by walking across the desert and got so dried out and miserable that it decided to go back to camp again.
Something is happening to our amphibians, to the butterflies I used to hunt and to the songbirds I used to watch when I was a kid. Something is happening to them, but I’m not exactly sure what. There isn’t as clear of a smoking gun today as there was back then. There aren’t tons of DDT being sprayed over our swamps and low lying areas. There isn’t nearly raw sewage, or lightly treated industrial wastes, being drained into our rivers and estuaries. Even the air seems cleaner now than it did then. I can remember seeing a brown haze hanging over the Twin Cities when we came back from up north, and that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. But if amphibians, butterflies and songbirds are all in decline, something still isn’t right.
Something still isn’t right and I believe it’s up to our generation to focus our energy, our intelligence and our cooperative spirits on determining what the root causes of these declines are, as we did 50 years ago. Then, as grass-roots organizations, as educators and concerned citizens, as local, state and national governments, we need to address those causes and correct them, making the same incredible progress in the next 50 years that we’ve made in the past 50 years. We’ve done this before and we can do it again. The why is all around us as we see certain parts of our ecosystem slowly shriveling up and dying. The time is now. The who is you and me and every one of us. The question is when will each of us begin?
In the meantime, we’ve also made an incredible amount of progress in the past 40-50 years in restoring coldwater habitat for coldwater species like TROUT! We are coming upon the best and most productive part of our trout fishing season. So, while you are all contemplating what the little and big things you can do to address the environmental concerns that are before us now, GET OUT THERE AND FISH!
Happy Fishing! —Scott Wagner
Bright, sunny and 22 degrees. Much warmer than the previous two days. Randy Arnold and his merry band of volunteers are clearing an impassible stretch of the upper Kinnickinnic in St. Croix county. Fifteen volunteers showed up this morning, ten of which show up almost every Saturday morning. Four or five other volunteers show up whenever they can, and then there are always one or two new faces. I know my math doesn’t quite add up, but I can’t help it. I’m a banker. The volunteers include both men and women, young and old (I mean “more mature,” of course) and folks from all walks of life. Some drive less than five miles every Saturday to clear brush. Some drive more than 50 miles. Some are certified chainsaw operators. Some are certified in first aid. Some are certified in herbicide application. Pretty much all of them hate European buckthorn and the way this invasive species has turned our streambanks into impenetrable jungles. I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t very fond of box elder trees either and the way this native tree grows up and out of both sides of stream banks and then falls across the water, causing coldwater streams to meander and warm, thereby becoming uninhabitable for trout.
As it turns out there are many, many miles of coldwater trout streams in Polk, St. Croix and Pierce counties in Wisconsin, that have had habitat work done on them in the past and that hold trout, but that are just plain inaccessible because of these two aggressive plant species. Imagine that. We have some of the most productive spring creeks in the world right in our own backyard and we can’t get to them to fish!
That’s where Randy and his merry band of brush-clearing volunteers comes in. Nobody told them that it was an impossible task to clear the many miles of buckthorn and box elder jungles we have here. Or if they told them, they just didn’t listen. Instead, they put on their gloves and pick up their loppers on Saturday mornings, show up at a designated spot and start clearing brush together. Some cut trees and brush. Some cut up downed trees. Some drag brush to the fires. Some start the fires and keep them going. At the end of the morning, all gather around one of the fires to roast hot dogs, eat cookies, and take a look at what they’ve accomplished together. A new, formerly unfishable section of trout stream is now fishable again. What an accomplishment! Regardless of whether the volunteers were able to clear 100 feet or 500 feet in a given morning, they know they’ve made a positive difference. They know they’ve worked together with a group of like-minded individuals to help the environment, to help each other and to help people they don’t even know. One branch, one tree at a time, these volunteers have cleared miles and miles of coldwater stream banks over the years in our area. In their own quite way, they have made huge contributions to our coldwater ecology and trout fishing. And over the years, many of these volunteers have become lifelong friends.
No experience is necessary to join Randy Arnold’s merry band of brush-clearing volunteers. Just a warm pair of work gloves and a pair of boots. Email Randy at randyca999@ gmail.com if you would like to be added to his volunteer workday email list.
Happy Fishing! —Scott Wagner
There’s something comforting about watching birds come to a bird feeder on a cold, snowy winter’s day. Several house finches have taken up permanent residence on one side of the bird feeder, while an equal number of slate-colored juncos are pecking the ground beneath it. A red-bellied woodpecker grasps the edge of feeder, opposite the finches. His body hangs off the edge with only his head above it to grab a sunflower seed. Black-capped chickadees (they’re my favorite) flit back and forth, taking seeds and eating them in their perches amongst nearby bushes and trees. An occasional white-breasted nuthatch or downy woodpecker ventures onto the feeder, opposite the finches who continue to eat seeds and rebuff a female cardinal that then waits in a nearby bush for her turn. The juncos patiently keep looking for seeds in the snow below. Medium-sized fluffy snowflakes gently float down from the sky amidst a backdrop of grey branches and the grayish green leaves of cedar trees. All is at peace. Suddenly, a grey squirrel runs past, no doubt being chased by something. Two noisy, raucous blue jays swoop in from behind the squirrel and swerve towards the feeder; birds feeding there scatter in all directions. The jays sound out their loud, wintry dominance before starting to consume seeds. The peace of the snowy winter’s day has been temporarily broken by the blue jays’ noisy, aggressive presence. Or has it? Blue jays used to really bother me. When I was a kid and out grouse hunting with my father, blue jays’ noisy warnings seemed to worsen our hunting. I guess I really don’t know if grouse listened to the warnings and said something like, “Hmm, a man with a brown coat, carrying a Remington 12 gauge and a kid with a pea shooter just entered the woods after sneaking across old man McCarthy’s pasture. That kid could be dangerous. We had better clear out, Mable.” I can’t say for certain what goes through the brain of a ruffed grouse, or how they process a blue jay’s warning call, but the grouse seemed to listen because we often saw fewer of them after the blue jays had sounded their alarm. So, even though the kid with the pea shooter didn’t appreciate the fact that the blue jays appeared to be warning the grouse, the adult he grew into did and had to begrudgingly admit that the blue jays’ warnings were beneficial to the grouse he was seeking.
(A sharpie—sharp-shinned hawk—just shot through our yard at about head level and landed in the lower branches of a nearby tree. In less than two seconds every other living thing in our yard, including the squirrels, vanished. Talk about breaking the peace of a snowy winter’s day!)
What are the warning sounds that we hear in our lives and how should we respond to them? The threat of global warming is one that has certainly been sounded, but it’s a challenging one for me to get my arms around. If you listen to the people in one camp, it’s all doom and gloom. We’re about to experience the greatest mass extinction of species the world has ever seen, which is ultimately going to result in our own extinction. It might already be too late to change the effects of global warming, and only the most drastic of measures, applied across the globe, can prevent a disaster of enormous proportions. If you listen to the people in the other camp, global warming has been slowly taking place for centuries and is part of the normal warming and cooling cycle of our planet. Yes, we should do whatever we can to minimize our impact on global warming, but the scientific community is overreacting and life as we know it is certainly not going to end. As seems to be happening more often in our society, both sides have turned their positions into almost religious belief systems, thereby allowing each side to infallibly pronounce their beliefs as being the correct ones and, at the same time, infallibly pronounce contradictory beliefs and people who believe in them to be somehow bad and therefore worthy of condemnation. The end effect of this approach is that both sides end up not respecting each other, not listening to each other, in some cases hating each other, and ultimately doing nothing constructive about something that should be vitally important to all of us.
I’m a banker. I’m not a scientist, politician, farmer, or captain of industry. In fact, when it comes to global warming, I can freely admit that I’m not the brightest bulb on the tree. But I’m bright enough to know that an alarm has been sounded and that unless we all start respecting each other and truly listening to each other’s points of views, we’re not going to be able to respond as thoughtfully or as well to this alarm, as the ruffed grouse responded to the blue jays’ warnings when I was a kid.
Happy Fishing! —Scott Wagner
“We don’t have funding for that anymore. We used to do more of that when we had more resources. We would really like to do that someday, but we’ll have to wait until we have more funding.”
This isn’t going to be a sermon about money. It’s going to be more of a reality check followed by a pleasant observation. Kiap-TU-Wish has been blessed with generous donors who spend money at our annual banquet and give freely to our spring appeal each year. Due to their/your generosity, we have funding to pay for eight Trout-in-the-Classroom programs in area schools, to send several youth to Trout Camp each summer, and to help the WIDNR with summer mowing costs along our streams and rivers. We also have funding to monitor the water quality and temperatures of our streams and to buy more rock to strengthen the habitat restoration projects that the WIDNR trout crew works on in our area. We have this funding because of your generosity. Thank you.
The statements at the beginning of this month’s Drift aren’t statements we hear from our chapter members. However, they are the kind of statements we are likely to hear more often from natural resource managers as time goes on. Let’s face it. We live in a fiscally conservative state with (according to the demographers) a stable, but aging population. Aging populations tend to pay less income taxes as more workers retire than enter the workforce. Unless our population suddenly increases, lower income tax collections mean that all of our statefunded agencies, like our WIDNR, are going to receive less funding and are going to be more stretched in the years ahead. They’re going to have to do more with less. Sometimes, they’re just going to have to do less. Our top-notch fisheries biologists and trout crew want to do the right thing in managing our natural resources. However, over time, they might be prevented from managing our resources in the way they want to, due to lack of resources.
So, what’s the answer?
I believe that we’re the answer! Or at least, that we’re moving in the direction of being the answer!
I believe that many of our Kiap-TU-Wish members are already helping plug gaps left by reorganizations and funding cuts. Think of the partnerships our members have built with area schools in the Trout-in-the-Classroom programs we sponsor, not to mention all the Kiap volunteers who staff the Bugs-in-the-Classroom sessions and Trout Release Days. Think of the water quality and temperature data that Kiap members faithfully collect throughout the year and share with the WIDNR. Think of hours spent with WIDNR staff planning future habitat restoration project sites and putting ongoing maintenance plans together for already restored sites. Then, think of the thousands of hours Kiap members spend each winter clearing those new project sites and maintaining existing sites. And, if that isn’t enough, Kiap members spend hundreds of hours behind the scenes each year advocating for stormwater retention ponds, sound agricultural practices and dam removals that benefit and protect our coldwater resources.
We are the answer because citizen volunteers like you and me are the people who are in the best position to plug funding gaps, simply by volunteering in places where we can make a difference. In particular, Kiap-TU-Wish volunteers are already making a substantial difference in the heath of our local coldwater streams and riparian corridors. And we’ll have the opportunity to make more of a difference as time goes on. In fact, something tells me that Randy, Loren, Pete and their merry winter brushing crew will offer us plenty of opportunities to get outside, get some fresh air and have fun making a difference over this winter. Come out and join the fun for a time or two, or volunteer with the Trout-in-the-Classroom programs, or with the chapter’s new Veteran Services Partnership. Wherever you fit in, volunteer and make a difference!
Happy Fishing! Scott
Reader Alert! My mind is “drifting” all over the place as I attempt to write the Drift this evening. A damp, grey weekend, being in between book club books, and not fishing for over a month (!) have all combined to produce a writing state I am calling “Uninspired.” So, I went to my fishing journal to find Inspiration.
Before you start dreaming of a pristine, well-organized, faithfully-kept fishing journal, tastefully decorated with artsy sketches of streamside flora and fauna, let me introduce you to my fishing journal. I started it in 2012 to record water temperatures, weather conditions, numbers of fish caught, flies that caught said numbers of fish, and other notes that I felt would be appropriate for an aspiring fly angler. Things didn’t end up quite where they began. I quickly discovered that recording water temperatures and weather conditions were a lot easier than catching trout. Instead of catching trout, I recorded things like how many flies I lost, or how much tippet I had gone through. It was probably a good thing that early on I had decided my journal would record facts and not feelings. Otherwise, the feelings expressed in my first few years of fly angling would have needed an expanded version of the English language, and probably would have caused a Marine Corps Drill Sergeant to blush. Instead of catching fish, I recorded the different spring wild flowers I had seen and the variety of migrating warblers I had encountered. One time, I waded underneath a willow bush that overhung a stream I was fishing in and watched a whole flock of warblers work their way through the bushes upstream. The warblers went right through the bush I was hiding under! I noticed that raccoons, deer and foxes didn’t seem as scared of me when I was in the middle of the stream, half submerged in my waders. I wanted to record caught fish in my journal so badly, that I started recording refusals and misses with as much rigor and detail as I would have recorded caught fish had I caught them.
Then I started meeting people on the stream. Trout anglers, of all types, and some of the nicest people I had met anywhere. They were from all walks of life, all ages, occupations and, I’m sure, of all political parties and religious beliefs. The one thing they all had in common was a great love, almost a reverence, for the outdoors and the streams they fished. They noticed the spring wildflowers and migrating warblers, too. They lost flies in trees and bushes, too. They didn’t all catch fish every time they went out and the word “skunked” appeared in their journals, too. (Maybe just not as often as it appeared in mine.) They didn’t have it all figured out, but they loved the outdoors, they loved angling for trout, and they made it OK for me to be out there losing flies, counting refusals, trying to figure out how on earth to catch fish, because that was exactly what they were doing, too.
These people didn’t just make me feel OK with where I was at in my angling journey; they enriched my life. They have become acquaintances, mentors and fellow conservation volunteers. A few have become close friends —which brings my “drifting” to a happy end.
This Thanksgiving, one of the things I am most grateful for is all of the farmers, land owners, conservation volunteers, trout anglers and just plain nice people, who have become a part of my life through fly angling. Thank you. Thank you all. — Scott Wagner