Wolf River Fishway Issue
UPDATE: October 11, 2016
Sturgeon for Tomorrow supports DNR Wolf River planning effort, but opposes Menominee Tribe’s plans to construct expensive and unnecessary fishways at Wolf River dams
October 11, 2016
Sturgeon for Tomorrow (SFT), a 3000 member non-profit sturgeon conservation advocacy organization, with 5 chapters in the Lake Winnebago-Wolf River region, strongly supports the fisheries planning effort on the upper Wolf River announced by the WI Department of Natural Resources on October 7. SFT encourages all Winnebago/Wolf River sturgeon and fisheries interests to attend one of the DNR’s meetings on this topic scheduled for from 6:30 -8:30 PM on Monday, Oct. 17, in Menasha at the Stone Toad, 1109 Oneida St.; Tuesday, Oct. 18, in Keshena at Menominee Indian High School, School Theater, N500 Wisconsin Highway 47; and Wednesday, Oct. 19, in Shawano at Shawano City Hall, Community Room, 127 S. Sawyer St.
SFT has been actively involved in addressing fisheries and sturgeon issues on the Wolf River upstream from the Shawano Paper Mill dam in Shawano since early 2015 in response to efforts by the Menominee Tribe, and two Federal agencies, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to force the construction of a $1.25 million (potentially Federal $) fishway at the Balsam Row dam 5 miles upstream of the Shawano dam, and then ultimately another fishway at the Shawano dam as well. Early in the discussions on these issues, SFT called for the development of a fisheries plan for the upper Wolf River to drive management decisions, especially the decisions on whether the highly expensive fishways being proposed by the Tribe at both dams were actually needed. Neither of the two dams in question are within the Menominee Reservation but the Menominee Tribe and its Federal agency supporters have, prior to having open public discussions or a management plan in place for the river, been aggressively pursuing the construction of fishways at both dams to provide access for sturgeon, walleye and other fish species in the lower Wolf River below Shawano upstream into the Menominee Reservation.
Since 2011, and with SFT support, the DNR has been working with the Menominee Tribe through a Memorandum of Understanding to implement a sturgeon Capture and Transfer program to restore sturgeon to the Reservation and has successfully re-established a naturally reproducing lake sturgeon population in the Wolf River within the Reservation. The DNR has also provided sturgeon eggs over the last 20 years to the USFWS and the Tribe each year to produce fingerlings for stocking into Legend Lake on the Reservation which has produced a fishable population of sturgeon in the lake for Tribal members as well.
Due to the presence of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the lower Wolf River and Lake Winnebago including common carp and VHS virus, building fishways on the Wolf River dams significantly increases the risk that AIS could spread into the upper Wolf River and other waters in northern Wisconsin. SFT strongly believes that using low risk, low cost, high reward methods such as the highly successful sturgeon Capture and Transfer Program to restore sturgeon in the upper Wolf River is the best management option for the river, and one that the public in the DNR’s proposed planning process will also support.
Sturgeon for Tomorrow’s full position on these issues at this time is detailed in the attached SFT Issue Brief.
For more information, contact:
Jim Patt, Sturgeon for Tomorrow Southwest Chapter President - firstname.lastname@example.org; 920-922-7136
ProposedFishways at Balsam Row and Shawano Paper
Mill Dams on the Wolf River
Sturgeon for Tomorrow
- The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and
the Federal US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)have been aggressively
pursuing the installation of a fish passage facility at the Balsam Row Dam on
the Wolf River (~5 miles upstream from the Shawano Paper Mill dam, and ~3 miles
below the Menominee Reservation), and have expressed an interest in pursuing
the installation of a fish passage structure also at the Shawano Paper Mill
Dam, to potentially provide a route for lake sturgeon (as well as walleye and
other migratory species) to swim upstream from Lake Winnebago to the Wolf River
within the Menominee Reservation.
- Because Carp, VHS virus, and other possible aquatic
invasive species are present in the Winnebago System and/or Shawano
Lake, state law currently requires that all fish moved upstream of the dams on
the Wolf River be examined, possibly tested for disease, and only moved upstream
after being certified healthy by a Fish Veterinarian or registered Fish Health
- At this time the WI Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) is requiring that any fish passage facilities potentially built
at either or both of the Wolf River dams would need to be Trap and Sort facilities to allow fish to be captured in the
fishway and examined (i.e. fish would not be allowed to freely swim
upstream through a ladder or by-pass channel).
- The DNRhas been Capturing and
Transferring 100 to 140 (primarily) adult lake sturgeon from Wolf River
below the Shawano paper Mill dam to the river within the Menominee Reservation
annually since 2011. Fish are very
efficiently captured using electrofishing boats and trucked upstream for
release, after being tagged, on the Reservation and above both dams.
- The Capture and Transfer program has been
exceptionally successful with transferred fish spawning below Keshena
Falls on the Reservation each year, with wild sturgeon larvae production
documented; and with a resident population of lake sturgeon also increasing
each passing year in Wolf River on the Reservation above the dams – there is no biological need to build
fish passage way(s) on the Wolf River to allow sturgeon to be restored to the
Menominee Reservation waters as this is already occurring through the Capture
and Transfer program.
- The sturgeon Capture and Transfer program is
a low cost (~$5,000 to $10,000/year), low risk, and high rewardprogramcompared to the cost of designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining
a hardened fish passage structure that may not even work.
- Designing and Constructing a fishway at the
Balsam Row dam is estimated to cost more than $1.25 million, with
annual operating costs likely to be more than $10,000 year. Constructing
and operating fish passage way(s) on the Wolf River for the purpose of
restoring sturgeon to the Menominee Reservation waters is not cost
effective nor economically feasible, and would be a waste of economic resources
regardless of the source of those resources. ($1.25
million would fund the current Capture and Transfer Program for 125-150 years)
- The USFWS has already pushed the
construction of two expensive and ineffective sturgeon fishways in
Wisconsin. The fish elevator on
the Menominee River in Marinette, and the natural bypass channel on the
Chippewa River near Winter (similar to the fishway being proposed for Balsam
Row) collectively cost over $5 million to design and construct. Neither structure has to date effectively
passed lake sturgeon upstream, but the structure on the Chippewa River has
allowed carp to move upstream within the Chippewa System.
Sturgeon for Tomorrow’s Position:
- Sturgeon for Tomorrow supportsthe Capture and Transferprogram
to restore lake sturgeon to the Wolf River within the Menominee
Reservation and above the Shawano and Balsam Row dams.
- Sturgeon for Tomorrow is opposed to
the construction and operation of fish passage ways at the Balsam Row and
Shawano Paper Mill dams on the Wolf River because:
- There is no biological need to build
fish passage way(s) on the Wolf River to allow sturgeon to be restored to the
Menominee Reservation waters as the current Capture and Transfer program is
working exceptionally well.
operating, and maintaining fish passage way(s) on the Wolf River for the
purpose of restoring sturgeon to the Menominee Reservation waters is not
cost effective nor economically feasible, and would be a waste of economic
resources regardless of the source of those resources.
and Transfer of lake sturgeon using electrofishing boats and trucks is a proven
low cost, low risk, and high reward method for restoring lake sturgeon to the
upper Wolf River; Constructing, operating, and maintaining fishways on the Wolf
River at Balsam Row and/or Shawano Paper Mill dams is a high cost, high risk,
and likely low reward method of restoring sturgeon to the upper Wolf River.
Important Public Questions related to the proposed
Wolf River Plan
Wolf River Fisheries Plan - Critical sturgeon element. DNR is
proposing to develop a Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Plan for the
river from Shawano Paper Mill dam upstream to Keshena Falls on the Menominee
Reservation. Plan will hopefully focus
on fish and aquatic resources and habitat management objectives in that section
of river, and SFT expects it to also include an element that sets objectives
for sturgeon transfers upstream of the two dams (whether there are fishways at
the dams or not).
Menominee Tribe (and USFWS)
will likely closely participate in the development of the plan for the section
of river on the Reservation below Keshena Falls.
SFT is calling for the Plan
be a State plan only and not
a multi-agency plan requiring approval by the Menominee Tribe and the Federal
agencies (USFWS, BIA) that covers the State resources and waters up to the Reservation
For the DNR:
- When will the
planning and public discussions begin for the Wolf River Plan?
- Is this plan
going to be a State DNR sponsored plan, or a plan needing to be approved by
- Who from the DNR
will lead and conduct the planning and public involvement for this plan?
- How will the
Winnebago Sturgeon Advisory Committee and the general public be involved in the
For the Menominee Tribe:
- What is your (the
Menominee Tribe’s) ultimate objective for the sturgeon restoration efforts in
the Wolf River above the Shawano Paper Mill and Balsam Row dams?
- What needs to
happen for the Tribe to consider the Wolf River sturgeon restoration a success?
- Does the Tribe
intend to harvest sturgeon someday from the Wolf River?
- If yes, how many
each year, and will this be a spring harvest during the spawning period?
Upstream Fish Passage:
Critical economic and sturgeon element.
Fishway design for Balsam Row
dam has been submitted to the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission by the Menominee
Tribe (with extensive assistance from USFWS and BIA). BIA and USFWS are trying to find funding at
this time to cover $1.5 million estimate construction costs.
Important questions for Menominee Tribe:
- Since the
Tribe already has sturgeon successfully spawning on the Reservation below
Keshena Falls through the ongoing Capture and Transfer program, why is the
Tribe so aggressively pushing the construction of this expensive fishway (that
will be required to be a trap and sort facility), and that may not even work
all that well? (fewer sturgeon may end
up at Keshena Falls with a fishway at Balsam Row than are there now through the
Capture and Transfer Program.)
can the Menominee Tribe justify spending $1.5 million dollars of mostly taxpayer’s dollars, in addition
to operating costs which will likely cost more than the current Capture and
Transfer costs each year, for a fishway at Balsam Row dam that may give the
Tribe fewer sturgeon, and might not even work?
For more information, contact:
For a printable version of this statement from October 2016, please click on the pdf link below:
PREVIOUS UPDATE: August 18, 2016
Sturgeon for Tomorrow strongly opposes proposals to construct fishways at dams on the Wolf River, Winnebago System
Sturgeon for Tomorrow (SFT), Wisconsin Chapters, are strongly opposed to proposals being aggressively pursued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, and the US Bureau of Indian Affairs to construct fishways at two dams on the Wolf River 125 miles upstream of Oshkosh on the Lake Winnebago System.
The Winnebago System is currently home to one of the largest populations of lake sturgeon in the world which since the 1970s likely experienced a full recovery from historic low levels. The recovery was fueled in large part by SFT’s support andfunding for a number of sturgeon restoration and management initiatives since the organization was founded in 1977 including: the Sturgeon Guard Program which uses
volunteers to protect spawning fish from poaching each spring; the creation and maintenance of sturgeon spawning and nursery habitat on the lower Wolf and upper Fox Rivers; numerous research projects which have helped better understand lake sturgeon life history, movement, and habitat requirements; purchase of critical sturgeon sampling equipment for the WI Dept of Natural Resources (WDNR); and active participation in the WDNR’s Winnebago Citizens Sturgeon Advisory Committee since its inception in 1993 to help write and shape regulations, harvest caps, and other management actions for the annual sustainable winter sturgeon spear fishery.
Historically lake sturgeon had access to an additional 10 miles of river spawning and nursery areas above the Shawano dam (locally known as the Shawano Paper Mill dam) prior to the construction in the late 1800s and early 1900s of this dam and the Balsam Row dam 5 miles upstream of the Shawano Paper Mill dam. About 7 miles above the Shawano Paper Mill dam is the boundary of the Menominee Indian Tribe Reservation. The Menominee people historically had a close cultural connection with lake sturgeon on the Wolf River as, prior to the installation of the two dams, migrant sturgeon would swim 2-3 miles up the Wolf River into the reservation and be available for tribal members to view and harvest below Keshena Falls. These migrations ended after the dams were put in
The State of Wisconsin, through the WDNR, has been working with the Menominee Tribe since 1993 to re-establish resident and migrant lake sturgeon in the Wolf River and other waters on thereservation through transfers of wild adult fish from the lower river below the dams, and through fingerling stocking. The stocking efforts have been very successful in establishing a fishable population of sturgeon in the chain of lakes on the Reservation known as Legend Lake. A wild fish
and Transfer Program, where the WDNR uses electrofishing to capture, and trucks to transfer fish upstream, has re-established an annual successfully spawning adult population within the Reservation in the riverbelow Keshena Falls. These adult sturgeon have not only been spawning below Keshena Falls each spring since the current program began in 2011, they were also documented to be successfully naturally producing sturgeon larvae which in turn contribute to the restoration of the species in the Wolf River on the Menominee Reservation.
The cost to collect and re-locate 100-140 lake sturgeon per year into the Reservation through the Capture and Transfer Program through 4 seasons, 2011-2014, according to WDNR records averaged approximately $5000/yr or about $50 per fish. The program is not only cost-effective, it also eliminates any risk of allowing any unwanted aquatic invasive species (AIS) such as carp, or fish diseases such as VHS virus, present in the Winnebago System below Shawano Paper Mill dam to move further up into the Wolf River watershed. All sturgeon moved are health inspected and given a fish health certificate from the state prior to truck transfer and release upstream.
Despite the cost and health benefits, and success of the Capture and Transfer Program, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs have been working aggressively with the Menominee Tribe to design, find funding for, and install fishways at the dams on the Wolf River. They have completed the design for a fishway at the Balsam Row dam with an initial construction estimate of $1.5 million, not including annual operating costs which will likely cost more than the total annual costs of the entire Capture and Transfer Program. The Federal agencies and the Tribe have made it known that once they are able to successfully install a fishway at the Balsam Row dam that they will be focusing then on forcing a fishway to be installed at the Shawano Paper Mill dam. The $1.5 million being sought by the Tribe and Federal agencies to build the Balsam Row fishway would be enough money to fund the current Capture and Transfer Program for 150-200 years. The proposed fishway, if built, although currently being required by WDNR to be a trap and sort facility, would open up a potential pathway for the movement of AIS upstream into the upper Wolf River watershed. [As a Trap and Sort facility, all fish that enter the fishway would have to be handled by workers, health inspected each day by a fish health professional at a cost of approximately $1000/day and, if certified healthy, be physically moved and released upstream of the dam.]
In light of the above information, Sturgeon for Tomorrow has the following position on the restoration of lake sturgeon to the waters of the Menominee Reservation, and the proposed installation of fishways at the dams on the Wolf River:
• Sturgeon for Tomorrow supports the Capture and Transfer program and the restoration of resident and migrant lake sturgeon to the Wolf River within the Menominee Reservation and above the Shawano and Balsam Row dams (providing the restoration has no significant negative impact on the Winnebago System lake sturgeon population or recreational spear fishery).
• Sturgeon for Tomorrow is opposed to the construction and operation of fish passage ways at the Balsam Row and/or Shawano Paper Mill dams on the Wolf River because:
1. There is no biological need to build fish passage way(s) on the Wolf River to allow sturgeon to be restored to the Menominee Reservation waters as the current Capture and Transfer program is working exceptionally well;
2. Constructing, operating, and maintaining fish passage way(s) on the Wolf River for the purpose of restoring sturgeon to the Menominee Reservation waters is not cost effective nor economically feasible, and would be a waste of economic resources regardless of the source of those resources; and
3. Capture and Transfer of lake sturgeon using electrofishing boats and trucks is a proven low cost, low risk, and high reward method for restoring lake sturgeon to the upper Wolf River; while constructing, operating, and maintaining fishways on the Wolf River at Balsam Row and/or Shawano Paper Mill dams is a high cost, high risk, and likely low reward method of restoring sturgeon to the upper Wolf River.
more information, contact:
Patt, Sturgeon for Tomorrow Southwest Chapter President
Groeschel, Sturgeon for Tomorrow Main Chapter President
Bruch, Sturgeon for Tomorrow Fisheries Representative
(images credit: WI Department of Natural
For a printable version of this statement, please click on the pdf link below: