Historically, the West Branch of the Wolf River in Northeastern Wisconsin supported a healthy population of native brook trout while also providing wild rice and other food for the residents of the Menominee Indian Reservation. A sawmill was operated along the Wolf River for several decades until flood events in the mid 1900s carried logs a mile downstream from the mill where the logs came to rest in a logjam that altered the natural flow of the river. Instead of the naturally swift flowing trout stream it had been, the West Branch of the Wolf River was transformed into a slow, wide, shallow stretch characterized by sedimentation and warm water – no longer suitable for native populations of trout. Reconfiguring the Wolf River to once again support a healthy trout fishery is one of many projects that the Trustee Council has chosen to restore healthy fish populations in the Fox River/Green Bay watershed to compensate the public for injured fish populations and several years of diminished recreational fishing activities.

Rivere ditch

The Fox River/Green Bay Natural Resource Trustee Council enlisted contractor support to assist the Menominee Nation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff in implementing this restoration project. Tribal environmental specialists and FWS biologists working on the restoration project described the process of river restoration as a unique interface of science and art. First, the river was surveyed to determine flow rates, the structure and composition of the river bottom, existing water quality, and presence of fish species. During the next phase, the contractor used specialized construction equipment that ran on biodegradable vegetable oil to ensure safe use in the water and on the stream banks. The contractor recycled many of the logs removed from the logjam to stabilize the banks and trap sediment to form natural bends in the stream. In addition, the new stream design included boulders placed to create pools and resting areas in the narrowed channel.

Staff from the Menominee Nation and the FWS will continue to monitor the river for the next two years. Among the key attributes they will assess are water temperature and quality, fish species composition, the status of wild rice beds and other wetland vegetation along the stream banks, and physical characteristics of the stream and the bottom of the river.