Saving Our Best Streams
Shortly after arriving to work in Missouri from his home state of Wisconsin, Fisheries Management Biologist Kevin Meneau took his family to explore LaBarque Creek in Jefferson County. “They fell in love with it,” says Meneau. “The stream has waterfalls, deeper pools for fishing and shallow riffles that kids love to play in.”
These stream features are lovely to look at and also provide habitat for an astonishing 44 kinds of fish within its six miles of permanent flow. Nearby streams of the same size—but of lesser quality—average just 12 fish species.
LaBarque’s surrounding 8,365-acre watershed is just as impressive, says Meneau. “There are moist box canyons, delicate sandstone cliffs, desert-like glades and a variety of forest types.” All of these natural communities support several hundred known species, from ferns to fish to birds—documented by agency biologists and volunteer botanists, birders and other naturalists. And it’s all a half-hour’s drive from the Arch.
The LaBarque Creek watershed is one of the most biologically diverse areas in eastern Missouri, but its proximity to St. Louis makes it especially vulnerable to development. Biologists are not the only ones who think this is a special place. Many of the watershed’s 1,400 landowners are working hard to preserve its beauty and biological integrity. They, along with Conservation Department staff, Jefferson County officials and many conservation groups, began working together in 2002 to find ways to protect the watershed. One of those ways turned out to be the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund managed by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation.
The Trust Fund is an in-lieu fee stream mitigation program. If a developer impacts a Missouri stream, in many cases, he or she must mitigate for that damage. One way to mitigate is to pay a fee to the Trust Fund, which in turn puts the money to work to protect Missouri’s best streams.
To date, the Trust Fund has provided nearly $1 million to protect the LaBarque Creek watershed, which has been identified by the Conservation Department and other Missouri conservation partners as a conservation opportunity area—a place where we have the most biological diversity to lose it if isn’t conserved.
“What LaBarque Creek has are the Big Three needed for high stream quality,” says Meneau: “An intact watershed with 88 percent forest coverage; a natural, unchannelized stream; and protected riparian corridor. LaBarque Creek is a shining example of why in-lieu fee stream mitigation works.”
Development, Conservation and the Clean Water Act
Missourians across the state can relate to Meneau and LaBarque Creek watershed residents—we love our streams. But we also value our homes, sidewalks, bridges, businesses, schools and roads—the construction of which can harm the creeks and rivers we care about.
With any new development project, land will be disturbed and streams could be affected. Construction site erosion, dredging or other stream engineering can clog a section of stream with sediment and impact the movement of fish, or threaten the survival of other aquatic life. The federal Clean Water Act was designed to safeguard America’s water resources from developmental impacts, or require developers to mitigate, to make amends for unavoidable stream damage by providing for the protection or restoration of a stream somewhere else.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers is the federal agency responsible for issuing permits required under the Clean Water Act’s Section 404, which regulates development activities that can impact streams and wetlands. An agreement signed in 2000 between the Corps and the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation allows the Foundation to collect mitigation fees from developers and use the funds to protect and restore streams in priority watersheds.
Paul Calvert, stream services program supervisor with the Conservation Department and Trust Fund Committee member, says, “The Trust Fund has helped developers get needed work done, and at the same time their mitigation fees have funded more than 55 projects around the state. The fees aren’t being spent randomly but very strategically in watersheds that, without protection or restoration, have the most to lose in terms of their biological diversity, fishing potential or because they provide a source of drinking water for people.”
A Voluntary and Wise Mitigation Option
Mitigation fees from developers to the Trust Fund usually range from $10,000 to $200,000, depending on the amount of damage from a project. That sounds like a lot of money, but it is often less than other mitigation options, or the future income lost by forgoing development. The fees are realistic considering the benefits that healthy streams provide to society.
“Mitigating through the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund is completely voluntary,” says Julius Wall, president of the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. “Developers have other options in meeting their Clean Water Act obligations. But paying into the Trust Fund is often easier, less expensive and does the most good for conservation of high-quality and priority streams in Missouri.” In addition, the Foundation accepts all liability for the developer to fulfill the mitigation requirements.
One developer that has taken advantage of the Trust Fund is the Missouri Department of Transportation. Buck Brooks, wetland coordinator for the Transportation Department, oversees his agency’s compliance with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. “The Trust Fund has definitely been a good option for us in terms of mitigating for small impacts, especially when we have been unable to do on-site mitigation,” says Brooks.
“For example, if a road is going to be widened, a culvert under a road at a stream crossing has to be widened as well. Extending a culvert on a small stream will have a small but definite impact and needs to be accounted for. But sometimes it has been difficult to find a landowner willing to sell a small amount of land adjacent to where we have made an impact for on-site mitigation, and even if we can find the land, we are not resource managers. Managing more land and monitoring the success of the mitigation takes staff time away from what we are tasked to do for Missourians—provide transportation.”
Putting the Fees to Work for Streams
Since 2000, the Foundation has collected more than $4 million in mitigation fees and put these funds to work restoring and protecting high priority streams like LaBarque Creek and many others around the state. Missouri Department of Conservation staff, often working with partner groups or landowners, submit proposals to request Trust Fund dollars for stream projects. These projects have included replacing low-water bridges with fish-friendly crossings, acquiring land, restoring eroded banks, fencing cattle out of streams and buying or accepting donated conservation easements in riparian areas. A committee of Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation board members and Conservation Department staff reviews projects before they are approved by the Foundation.
Each stream project done on private land requires a minimum 30-year commitment, whereby Trust Fund dollars pay a landowner for restoration, enhancement or other expenses. The commitment is backed by a binding agreement or an easement along the stream. The Conservation Department holds the easements, and staff monitor success of a project and compliance with the terms of the easement.
Land acquisition projects for public ownership to preserve unique streams must be approved by the Conservation Commission. Trust Fund dollars have added hundreds of acres of riparian forest and hundreds of feet of stream frontage throughout the state, including along LaBarque Creek, the Big Piney River and Mill Creek, a blue ribbon trout stream. These acquisition projects not only help protect streams but put more land in the public trust for the enjoyment of citizens.
Investing in Your Conservation Legacy
The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization created in 1997 to meet financial demands placed on Missouri’s natural resources. It advances the conservation and appreciation of Missouri’s forest, fish and wildlife resources by matching financial resources with the priorities of donors, the Foundation and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Foundation receives funding not only from the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund but also from Conservation Heritage license plate sales, grants and individual donations.
“Missourians are fortunate to have the conservation sales tax to help fund worthy projects and activities of the Department,” says Foundation Director Rick Thom. “But sales tax revenues are tied to the economy and cannot always keep pace with needs.”
This is why the Foundation was created—to provide an additional stream of revenue for conservation, and to provide donors with an easy way to contribute to conservation initiatives that are important to them. “If you love fishing and you want to help fund fishing opportunities for kids, you can earmark your donation for that,” says Thom. “The same goes for stream protection, hunting clinics, hiking trails, bird habitat protection and scores of other projects—we help donors invest in the kind of conservation legacy they want to leave for others.”
From all funding sources to date, the Foundation has raised more than $8 million. Conservation Department staff members apply for Foundation funding for projects they initiate or that they endorse on behalf of partner groups. These projects immediately address conservation and outdoor recreation needs. The Foundation board of directors—composed of conservation, community and business leaders—oversees funding decisions.
“The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation provides an excellent charitable option for people who are committed to conservation and outdoor recreation,” says Julius Wall, Foundation president. “People support us with individual donations or by purchasing a conservation heritage license plate. We invite all who love Missouri to leave a better conservation landscape for future generations.”
Landowner’s Love of Land Protects Stream and Drinking Water
Thomas Mohan and his wife, Rebecca, have lived on their farm in Macon County for 30 years. They love the natural beauty of Long Branch Creek, which flows through their 88 acres, and the forested corridor that flanks the stream. “We want to be sure this land is not developed—no matter who might own it in the future," says Mohan. "We want it to stay the way we have enjoyed it.”
When Mohan learned about the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund from Fisheries Management Biologist Darren Thornhill, he understood that this funding source might allow him to fulfill his conservation plans for his land. Thornhill and other conservation professionals are eager to help landowners who want to conserve their land, which helps with statewide conservation goals. Protecting Long Branch Creek is especially important because it flows into Long Branch Lake, which provides fishing opportunities and drinking water for the city of Macon and surrounding rural areas.
The project received Trust Fund dollars, which paid for a perpetual conservation easement on 22 acres of Mohan’s land and construction of a reinforced rock crossing over the creek. “Mr. Mohan might have put in a culvert to create a stream crossing,” says Thornhill, “but that would have impeded fish movement in the stream and created erosion.” Now, with his fish-friendly crossing, Mohan can access the 25 acres across the stream and manage the riparian forest there to further benefit Long Branch Creek.
Mohan told his upstream neighbor, Robert Wyatt, about the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund. “He was so enthusiastic,” says Mohan, “he nearly beat me in getting his project completed.” With assistance from Thornhill, Trust Fund dollars enabled a perpetual easement along Wyatt’s 42 acres of stream frontage, as well as two stream crossings.
Wyatt, along with his son and grandsons, uses his 151-acre property for hunting. “I don’t intend for the land to be farmed,” says Wyatt, “I maintain it for wildlife.” The protected riparian corridor, as well as his 20 acres planted with warm-season grasses, will ensure that Wyatt continues to enjoy quail, deer and turkey on his property. And all the while, he is protecting the quality of a Missouri stream that contributes to the welfare of thousands of citizens downstream.