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Guest commentary: Stewart River Watershed Project aims to help landowners in conservation efforts

From Forrest Johnson, project coordinator

Hello to the land owners and many friends of the Stewart River watershed.

Spring, yes spring, is finally upon us. The 130-plus inches of snow and below zero temps have finally disappeared and the time for tree planting and tending gardens is just around the corner.

Since last fall I’ve been able to visit with many of you about our Stewart River Watershed Project and get your support and participation in this unique conservation effort within the 32.1 square mile basin.

Minnesota Trout Unlimited received funding from several sources aimed at involving as many landowners in helping care for the resources on both public and private lands. Trout Unlimited is involved because of the cold water fisheries resources found in the system and the understanding that a healthy North Shore watershed means healthy trout and salmon.

It’s all about the watershed.

There is an ambitious plan to directly enhance and restore in-stream and riparian habitat along more than 2,000 feet of stream damaged in the June 2012 flood and restore trees to more than a mile of riparian corridor that currently lacks forest canopy cover. That’s where all of you can get involved.

We’ll have trees for landowners within the watershed. We also hope to hear from you about your stretch of the river and get a better understanding about those areas impacted by the June 2012 floods. We also hope folks might be willing to allow access for habitat and restoration work on the stream or be willing to monitor stream temps or turbidity. We also hope to engage youth in outdoor education projects.

Landowners can have a positive impact on watershed health through sound conservation practices on your own lands. The Stewart River project will help you plan and carry out habitat enhancement projects such as tree plantings, the removal of invasive vegetation bank stabilization and in-stream habitat work. Increasing your understanding of how land usage can impact the water resource is an essential part of increasing the overall conservation capacity of the area.

As landowners, you also share ownership in the thousands of acres of public lands within the basin and can help direct land management decisions that affect the health of the river. We all have that voice for a shared resource and when that voice is backed by knowledge of the resource and sound habitat work, that’s when our words and actions become an effective conservation tool.

Over the next several seasons I plan to gather and share as much information about the watershed as I can through public gatherings, site visits and through this newsletter I’m calling the Riverkeeper. I’ve been tramping around the river and watershed for over 40 years but a lot of you folks know more about your part of the river than I do. I’m all ears to your input. Everybody will have the chance to get involved.

We’ll be hosting a project open house Tuesday May 20, 5-7 p.m., at the Two Harbors Curling Club. Come out and enjoy a beverage and some Alaska smoked sockeye salmon and meet fellow landowners. We’ll also be hosting a tree planting effort along a stretch of the Little Stewart River on Saturday May 31, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. We need volunteers so please call me at 830-0166 for details. I really feel we can have a positive impact on the health of the Stewart River watershed.