PMTU in Action – Investing in Protecting the Pere Marquette River

PMTU in Action – Investing in Protecting the Pere Marquette River

With twenty Trout Unlimited chapters already in Michigan, one might ask why another? Although over the years other Michigan TU chapters have provided exceptional support, the Pere Marquette River, or to many the beloved “PM,” requires a specific focus and dedicated efforts. In 2016, National TU agreed and the Pere Marquette Trout Unlimited (PMTU) chapter was founded.

PMTU’s mission is to restore, protect, and preserve the PM to ensure that wild and native fish thrive in her waters. PMTU dedicates efforts to identifying, prioritizing, and completing stream restoration projects as well as other opportunities to educate and promote conservation awareness and support other conservation-minded organizations.

For the PM, the lure of a world-class, year-round trout, steelhead, and salmon fishery, along with the public desire to access nature and the overwhelming impact of social media, has fueled constantly increasing demand, pressure, and associated effects that without oversight and support from organizations like TU and PMTU will be her demise.

The PM has given much to many and PMTU’s founders felt it was time to give back, preserve, and protect this specific watershed. PMTU is not alone in this belief, joining the Pere Marquette Watershed Council, Conservation Resource Alliance, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, US National Forest Service, and many other organizations and individuals in support of this resource.

Free Flowing History

The PM is unique. The only river in the Great Lakes Basin without a single dam, she free-flows through the Huron-Manistee National Forest from source headwaters tributaries to the mainstream, and through “The Forks” in Baldwin along the mainstream to her mouth at Pere Marquette Lake and into Lake Michigan at Ludington.

In April 1884, the US Fish Commission released 4,900 German brown trout fry into the Baldwin River, a tributary of the PM. This was the first release of brown trout into U.S. waters. Today you can visit the world’s largest brown trout statue in Baldwin, which commemorates this event. In July 1978, the PM and its major tributaries were designated a Michigan Natural River by the State of Michigan. That same year the river was added as a National Wild and Scenic River, the first in Michigan. The Natural River designation includes the mainstream and its major tributaries.

The PM is a Michigan treasure, a national treasure, and now very much recognized as a worldwide treasure, being well known to the angling and trout-loving world. The watershed encompasses an area of 755 square miles and contains 380 miles of stream, including 69.4 miles of the mainstream. The watershed is comprised of five major streams including the mainstream, Baldwin River, Middle Branch, Little South Branch, and Big South Branch, and over 75 small feeder creeks.

The PM is not only important to those who fish, but to the Baldwin, Lake County, Mason County, and area locals that depend on tourism. The PM is important to the legions who visit to ply her waters, to enjoy the natural beauty of the forests and the abundance of wildlife, and to those seeking peace, quiet, and solitude to heal their souls. She is ours to protect and preserve.

Conservation Activities

In 2019, PMTU’s conservation activities shifted into high gear. After three years of fundraising and planning, the PM is benefiting from the fruits of that labor. PMTU would like to thank all of the organizations, individuals, guides, and outfitters who support these efforts. Each spring, the first weekend in May brings the PMTU 1st Brown Banquet, where anyone can gather in Baldwin for a great event to support the PM, learn about fly fishing and the special resource we have, and meet some of the best fly anglers anywhere. There is always great food, entertainment, a fantastic set of live and online auction items, along with the ever-popular StealthCraftBoats.com boat raffle.

In June, PMTU sponsored two youth campers to attend the Michigan TU Youth Camp on Higgins Lake in Roscommon sponsored by the Kalamazoo Valley Chapter. This four-day camp is designed to educate 13-16-year-old boys and girls, who will become our next generation of conservation leaders, about the importance of protecting our coldwater resources. Campers learn how land use affects the health of our streams, our trout, and ourselves. They learn stream restoration, collect and learn to identify macro-invertebrates important to trout, and learn what bugs can tell us about water quality and stream habitat. Students discover what trout need to survive, where they hide, and, with help from some of Michigan’s leading conservationists and anglers, how to catch them. In 2020, PMTU will again be sponsoring this camp so please contact PMTU if you know of a youth who would be interested.

In September, PMTU volunteers worked with TU National to install two water monitoring stations that collect real-time water conditions and temperature data on the PM, which is shared on www.pmtu.org. The stations are located near the M-37 bridge (start of the flies-only section) and near Bowman Bridge. Additional monitoring locations are being considered to provide additional coverage.

These monitors will help to protect trout in summer when temperatures are too warm and fishing for trout turns lethal by stressing fish beyond the point they can recover. For example, brook trout begin to stress at 65 degrees. When water temperatures hit 68 degrees both rainbow and brown trout will begin to get stressed and water temperature over 70 degrees could be lethal. The optimal feeding and movement water temperatures for rainbow and brown trout are 44 to 67 degrees. PMTU is working with local shops, outfitters, and other conservation groups to share its link to their websites and Facebook pages. By promoting awareness, the fishing public and fishing guides can seek out sections of cooler water or opt for warm-water species at times when temperatures are too warm.

In 2019, PMTU also partnered with the Conservation Resource Alliance on two stream restoration projects planned and approved for 2020. The CRA is staffed with wildlife biologists, fisheries biologists, engineers, and field technicians, who work with landowners to plan, locate funding options, cut through red tape, and implement programs to enhance the habitat value and beauty of the region. The CRA has been great to the PM, funding over a million dollars of habitat improvements in the last couple of years. More detail and complete improvement maps for both the Baldwin River and the PM watersheds is available.

These stream improvement projects strategically and professionally place large woody debris, fish-cover habitat, terracing, and native plantings to restore and protect the sites from further bank erosion, which deposits unwanted sediment loads into the river that cover spawning gravel. These restoration projects are crucial to the protection of the PM and her trout if we expect future generations to experience the majesty we now enjoy.

Railroad Bank Threat

Site of railroad bank erosion on Pere Marquette River. The photos above show the completed work covered in snow.

PMTU is also working in conjunction with the PM Watershed Council and other agencies to address erosion at a site where the railroad runs directly along a high- eroding streambank in the upper stretch of the flies-only section. The Pere Marquette Railroad was originally built to carry logs that were too heavy to float on the river to the Ludington mills. Today this railroad carries daily loads of environmentally toxic cargo. Left alone to degrade further, this site puts the entire river, trout, all aquatic life, the forest, the forest animals, as well as people, in danger should the erosion ultimately cause the tracks to fail and railcars and dangerous cargo are deposited into the river. This is a very important, complex, and costly project that PMTU and the other agencies are working to address.

Redd Surveys

This October PMTU is continuing with the second annual PM redd survey. Nearly 20 PMTU members, anglers, and guides have committed to this project for a minimum of three years. More involvement is always welcome, so anyone interested can participate. The redd survey is organized, supported, and conducted in conjunction with TU National. TU’s Eastern Angler Science Coordinator Jacob Lemon is working with PMTU to ensure success. Volunteers are trained in identifying brown trout redds and trained to use a GPS smartphone application to store data and pictures of the redd sites. Volunteers are assigned a stretch of river and make three passes during October to document data and upload photos to the app. The data is aggregated and mapped, with last year being the baseline.

Warrior Weekend

Finally, PMTU is again sponsoring Jac Ford’s Warrior Weekend on November 1st and 2nd. Jac continues his legacy of stewardship, volunteerism, and constant support for our men and women in uniform. Each year, Jac hosts this event, which honors the service and sacrifice that these special people and their families have made to protect and serve our country. Honorees and guests gather for
a relaxing weekend of festivities that include lodging, a thank-you dinner, great stories, and of course, a guided fly-fishing trip on the PM. PMTU wishes to thank Jac, as well as the guides and others, who come together to donate their time and resources to give back to those who serve.

As we look to 2020, there is much more for PMTU to do and accomplish. None of this would be possible without the tremendous support received from so many. If you have supported, or are interested in supporting, PMTU, rest assured the focus is on returning your donation and support directly to the river and related coldwater conservation efforts. Please visit www.pmtu.org for more information on events and activities.

Thank you for supporting PMTU’s efforts.

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