Management Problems

The following perspectives on problems and opportunities for watershed management will guide MDC management priorities and activities for the foreseeable future. We realize we are only one of many partners whose joint efforts will be needed to protect and restore stream ecosystem integrity in the North River watershed.

Managing MDC Riparian Ownerships

Stream Access Acquisition

MDC has purchased small tracts of land along streams in order to provide public access for recreation and to establish an ownership stake that may strengthen our position in resisting system-wide threats to riparian habitat integrity. In the past, statewide planners have assumed that a desirable spacing was approximately ten stream miles between access areas. Experience suggests that it takes much longer to float and/or fish a typical reach of prairie stream than an equivalent length of Ozark stream. Because of slower currents and more frequent channel obstructions in the prairie region, we should seek to shorten the distance between access areas to 5-7 miles on floatable, unchannelized prairie streams with high public use potential.

In order to provide a stream access system with optimal one-day trip distances, MDC should acquire at least two additional access sites in the North River watershed; one located on the North River downstream from Callaghan Mound Access (near T58N, R 8W, S 24), and one near highway Z (T58N, R7W, S32).

Stream Access Development

Because of fiscal restraints, planned developments have not been completed on all existing stream access areas in the Northeast Region. Developments must be completed so citizens can experience the quality recreational opportunities that will build their individual commitment to helping preserve and restore streams in this and other watersheds. As a matter of strategic priority, MDC will complete planned developments on existing areas before acquiring many additional areas.

Development of parking lots at Callaghan Mound Access is complete. The area is not suitable for construction of a boat ramp; however, the river is easily accessible by foot on the northeast portion of the area. A wide foot path from the parking lot to the river edge should be constructed and maintained to facilitate launching canoes or small boats.

Site-Specific Stream Restoration

Although stream ecosystem health is almost entirely dependent upon processes occurring upstream and downstream of any given ownership, Department of Conservation riparian areas should serve as model of good stream stewardship. In the North River watershed, streambank erosion and forested corridor deficiencies are minor at the two, MDC owned, access areas. In areas where the forested corridor is narrow, passive restoration is being used to establish increase corridor width.

Public Use Information

Public use of North River watershed streams is generally low, partially because most people are unaware of the high-quality fishing/floating opportunities that exist there. People who enjoy Ozark streams may have stereotyped northern Missouri streams as turbid, unattractive ditches that contain primarily non-game fish. While this may be true of some highly altered channels in the prairie region, several reaches of the North River and its' tributaries resemble Ozarks streams. Many reaches support diverse aquatic communities that provide good fishing or an even greater variety of sport fish than exist in many Ozark streams.

MDC could increase public use and appreciation of the North River watershed streams by developing a brochure describing stream recreational opportunities. Such a brochure would include colored pictures, simple stream maps with mileages, access sites and camping areas clearly marked, descriptions of other local attractions, and fishing opportunities/regulations. Statewide news releases and an article in the Conservationist magazine would inform potential users of the opportunities awaiting them in the North River watershed.

Conservation of Aquatic Communities

Statewide, the Department of Conservation has developed a long-term Resource Assessment and Monitoring program (RAM). The objective is to establish standardized sampling methods for several stream ecosystem attributes, especially biotic communities, that will allow scientists to provide an accurate, legally defensible portrayal of conditions and trends. Sampling is occurring at random and fixed sites to allow statewide or individual watershed assessments. Information gathered from this effort may be used to prioritize watersheds for conservation.

Long-Term Fish Community Monitoring

Long-term monitoring to assess stream fish community trends has not been conducted in the North River watershed. Although some sites within the basin may be included in the statewide RAM program, extensive sampling within that framework is not likely to occur for several years. In the meantime, in order to monitor trends in fish community composition and population levels, the Department of Conservation should conduct fish community surveys at sites randomly selected from among those surveyed during 1990 at least every ten years. Eleven sites were randomly selected and resurveyed during 2000.

Fishery Management and Research Needs

As in most northeastern Missouri streams, fish communities in the North River watershed seem to be imbalanced. Recognizing that our sampling methods may under represent large fishes, surveys still suggests the existence of relatively few fish-eating predators (flathead catfish, black bass or walleye/sauger), but large numbers of insect-eating bottom feeders (channel catfish, river carpsuckers, freshwater drum, common carp, and a variety of minnow species). Non-game fishes are represented mostly by species tolerant of the shallow depths and shifting substrates caused by excessive watershed erosion and subsequent stream channel sedimentation. Shifting substrates dramatically reduce biological productivity, so in channelized streams the large populations of insect-eating fish are almost entirely dependent upon terrestrial inputs or whatever invertebrate production occurs on in-channel woody debris. There are not enough predatory fish to control the abundant insect-eating fish. Degraded habitat may be the main factor limiting predator abundance and thereby preventing ecosystem balance.

We know very little about the migration patterns and minimum habitat requirements of the key-predator - flathead catfish. Also, we do not know if the relative scarcity of flathead catfish is due to overharvest under liberal regulations, illegal harvest, habitat deficiencies, or some combination of factors. We need basic research, starting with studies of flathead catfish movement and exploitation rate, to begin developing a broad range of strategies for effectively managing sport fishes in streams (e.g., regulation, stocking, and information/education in addition to habitat protection/restoration).

There is also a high priority need for information on the movement and habitat use patterns of reintroduced lake sturgeon. These endangered fish were stocked by the Department of Conservation into Pool 24 of the Upper Mississippi River starting in the late 1980s and continuing well into the 1990s. We do not know the extent to which reintroduced lake sturgeon will pass through navigation locks or seasonally migrate upstream in systems like the North River. A radiotelemetry study to identify movements and key habitats used by lake sturgeon would aid in restoring a viable population of this state endangered species.

Monitoring Contaminants in Fish

Fish contaminant monitoring has been conducted in the most downstream reach of the North River. The entire basin was included in a limited consumption advisory issued by the Missouri Department of Health for fish species with a high proportion of fat in their edible tissues (catfish, carp, buffalo, drum, suckers). Levels of concern for chlordane were reported in the early 1990s for catfish in neighboring watersheds and the Mississippi River. This advisory was lifted in 2001 due to declining chlordane levels. However, another consumption advisory was added in 2001. This new advisory, issued due to mercury contamination, recommends that pregnant or nursing women, women of childbearing age, and children 12 years of age or younger not eat largemouth bass 12 inches long or longer from anywhere in Missouri.

Long-Term Mussel Community Monitoring

Extensive, basin-wide surveys have not been conducted. The Department of Conservation needs to assess species diversity and abundance by conducting a carefully designed, system-wide survey. Survey sites and sampling periodicities should be consistent with RAM and other fish survey protocols.

Supporting Other Agencies and Organizations

The Missouri Department of Conservation works with many other governmental agencies and private conservation organizations in the process of managing stream resources. The following formal or traditional interactions are among the most significant in frequency and scope, and they should be continued.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

MDC assists DNR by periodically nominating pristine or otherwise valuable stream reaches for "Outstanding State Resource Water" status; recommending water quality standard classifications for stream reaches of special concern; and assisting in water pollution investigations whenever an event results in the loss of aquatic life. In such cases, MDC's role is to document the number of dead fish and other aquatic organisms and report to DNR the estimated value of animals lost according to formulas established by the American Fisheries Society. MDC should continue its coordination efforts with DNR to ensure efficient use of state government resources in the conservation of streams in the North River watershed.

Missouri Department of Health (DOH)

MDC assists DOH by periodically collecting fish from select streams and preparing tissue samples for analysis of pesticide and heavy metal contaminants. We cooperate with DOH in advising anglers about precautions to take in the consumption of fish. MDC should proceed with plans to collect tissue samples from carp and bass in the lower reach of North River approximately every three years.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE)

MDC joins several other agencies in commenting to COE and DNR about activities in streams that require permit under Sections 404 and 401, respectively, of the federal Clean Water Act. COE requires a Section 404 permit for operators who propose to deposit or stockpile material in stream channels; and DNR requires a Section 401 permit for any activity that could significantly degrade water quality. MDC biologists help to disseminate information about stream-friendly sand and gravel removal practices to county commissions, contractors, and landowners.

MDC personnel are often the first agency representatives contacted by neighbors when individuals or public entities engage in what appears to be unpermitted and destructive practices in and along streams. Several violations of Section 404, primarily associated with gravel mining, have occurred in the North River watershed. MDC biologists should remain vigilant advocates for the interests on all riparian residents, upstream and downstream, who may be adversely affected by the activities of those few who knowingly violate Sections 404 or 401 of the Clean Water Act.

Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM)

MDC facilitates and promotes Stream Team, a program initiated by CFM that seeks to enlist volunteers in the stream conservation effort. As of May 2003, no Teams had adopted streams within the North River watershed. Far more citizen interest and volunteer effort will be needed for any significant stream improvements to occur within the North River watershed. Current or future Stream Teams based within or near the watershed that have not adopted a stream should be directed to the North River.

Assisting Citizen-Led Watershed Conservation Efforts

We are convinced that the watershed conservation approach will work only if there is widespread recognition that social, economic, and environmental values associated with streams are compatible. If that can be achieved, success will depend upon local initiatives to form diverse partnerships of committed groups and individuals under the leadership of landowners and other local interests.

Watershed restoration is essential to restoring the primary processes that create and maintain fish habitat in healthy stream ecosystems. The most critical and affordable first step in watershed restoration is passive restoration - the cessation of human activities that are causing degradation or preventing recovery (e.g., channelization, riparian corridor clearing, indiscriminate gravel dredging, and streamside livestock grazing). Active restoration (e.g., tree revetments and riparian corridor plantings) should be considered only if recovery fails to occur over a reasonable period of time while using passive techniques (e.g., livestock exclusion and natural regeneration of woody plants). Because restoring degraded stream ecosystems is more costly and risky than simply protecting fully functional sites, we suggest that protecting and preserving intact riparian ecosystems be the highest priority of watershed-scale restoration efforts.

Protecting Healthy Riparian Corridors/Stream Stewardship

A program aimed at conserving healthy forested stream corridors by placing them into permanent easements using Stream Stewardship Agreements (SSA) was piloted in Marion County between 1992 and 1995. That effort resulted in the permanent conservation of 88 acres of 100- to 200-foot-wide forested corridor on four ownerships along 2.4 miles of the South Fabius River. Although there are no SSA in the North River watershed, the infrastructure now exists for MDC to facilitate the permanent conservation of healthy stream corridors, but measurable impact will require funding from a variety of sources. Enrollment of streamside lands in continuous CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) will not substitute for enrollment in SSA or other permanent easement programs because healthy forested corridors cannot be enrolled in CRP, and land enrolled in CRP buffers may be converted back to crop production at the end of the short-term contract periods (10 to 15 years). However, CRP may provide viable first step for landowners on the long path toward converting eroding floodplain crop fields or pastures into functional riparian corridors.

Passively Restoring Mildly Degraded Riparian Corridors' Livestock Exclusion

The activity of livestock can degrade physical aspects of water quality by causing streambank erosion, resulting in turbidity and stream channel sedimentation. Chemical aspects of water quality can be degraded by livestock waste products. In some situations, streambank healing, corridor reforestation, and improved water quality can be achieved simply by excluding livestock from stream corridors. For fencing to be attractive to landowners, an alternative source of livestock water must be available (e.g., upland ponds, or shallow floodplain wells tapped by nose pumps or solar-powered pumps). Some landowners may have potential alternative water sources on their property, but may not have the money or the technical support to adopt new technology. Cost-share money for fencing and alternative watering may be available through a variety of federal and state programs. Department of Conservation biologists are available to assist landowners in selecting a practical alternative to instream watering of livestock.

Actively Restoring Moderately to Severely Degraded Corridors

A 75% cost-share program for stream restoration practices (e.g., tree revetments and riparian corridor tree plantings) was piloted by MDC in Sullivan County between 1990 and 1993. The program had no participants, despite the fact that 41% of county landowners were aware of monetary incentives. The program lacked many elements critical to the adoption of innovation in agricultural communities, including relative economic advantage and value compatibility. The problems and their solutions were often complex, and MDC assistance had stipulations (ten-year forested corridors 50 to 100 feet wide) which many landowners were unwilling to accept. The lesson learned' Some rural northeastern Missouri landowners may not be prepared to make the personal sacrifices in time, money, and values needed to restore moderately to severely degraded stream habitats on their property.

Educating Future Watershed Stewards

Educating our youth about the complexities of watershed processes and problems will be critically important in advancing the science and art of watershed conservation. Today's youth are more technologically oriented and therefore more likely than their predecessors to enbrace complex information systems. And because of changes in classroom teaching strategy, they are more likely to work effectively in problem-solving teams once they become adults.

MDC has found that students in and around the 6th grade are particularly receptive to messages about stream conservation because they can understand most concepts and evaluate new ideas with relatively little social or cultural bias. Classroom teachers may find helpful lesson-planning materials in Missouri's Stream Team Curriculum, a watershed-based curriculum developed by teachers, for teachers, that will help students to meet environmental education goals in the Missouri Performance Standards.

Junior high and high school students in vocational agricultural programs may also be prime candidates for watershed conservation education because they are more likely than others to become landowners and other important members of rural communities. Involving these students in hand-on stream conservation activities may contribute to the creation of a new generation of landowners committed to stream ecosystem integrity.

Citizen Primer to Leadership in Watershed Conservation

This section is included as a starting point for citizens who wish to lead or contribute significantly to watershed-based stream conservation efforts. The proliferation of information about watershed planning can be intimidating to individuals or groups who have decided that they have a problem they wish to fix. To facilitate that process, we recommend that potential leaders and contributors to watershed conservation efforts first familiarize themselves with a summary of lessons learned over the past decade about what works and what does not. The list in Table Mp01 combines the Top 10 Watershed Lessons Learned published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (1997) with the ten principles for effectively coordinating watershed-based programs listed by Turner (1997). These documents are highly recommended reading.

Citizens determined to develop and implement watershed conservation plans can also obtain critically important information about organizing and funding such projects by visiting the Internet websites listed in Table Mp02. These sites contain convenient links to many other sites that, in the aggregate, provide enough information about the watershed conservation process to help any individual or group get started in an informed and effective manner.

Table Mp01: Ten useful watershed conservation principles

Ten useful watershed conservation principles.

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Table Mp02: Internet websites containing important information for Missouri watershed planners

Internet websites containing important information for Missouri watershed planners

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