COMMUNITY NEWS: Iowa Trout Unlimited member receives national award for stream conservation efforts

Submitted by the Iowa Chapter of Trout Unlimited, an Iowa Environmental Council member organization.

Brett Lorenzen, the Chair of Trout Unlimited’s Iowa Council, received the organization’s 2012 National Distinguished Service Award for his efforts to protect and restore the trout streams of the Driftless Region in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Lorenzen, who is a member and former president of the North Bear chapter in Central Iowa, received the award at TU’s annual meeting, held September 14-16 in Asheville, NC. The award recognizes outstanding individual volunteer contributions to TU and its mission of conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.

Lorenzen, however, said the award isn’t about him. Across the Driftless Area, a dozen TU chapters in four states are actively involved in restoration efforts, and at least eight other chapters, mostly in larger urban areas, have pitched in to support and lead projects located at a distance from their home turf. This approach has brought volunteers, money and organizing support from Chicago, Milwaukee, Central Wisconsin, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Des Moines and Omaha to projects in the Driftless area. Lorenzen has served as the volunteer Chair of the steering committee that oversees the effort for the past three years.

In the past seven years, the TUDARE effort, and state efforts working in conjunction with it, have raised more than $10M to restore more than 40 miles of streams in the four state area, and leveraged an additional $10M to help farmers implement practices to reduce erosion, slow runoff to streams with buffers, and fence cattle so that they can’t linger in the water.

Lorenzen hopes the award highlights the work being done by TU members through the region, noting that this is the fourth straight year someone associated with the Driftless area chapters has brought home TU national honors. “Minnesota TU raises more than $2M and restores 5-10miles of stream every year. In Wisconsin they have an army of dedicated volunteers that complete dozens of projects and provide leadership at all levels of the organization. Illinois is short on trout streams, but their members buy thousands of fishing licenses in surrounding states and support the programs with donations and volunteers.”

“In Iowa, things move a bit slower due to our unique stream ownership laws and intensive agriculture, but things still get done,” Lorenzen said. Iowa’s trout program consists of 50 catchable rainbow and brook trout fisheries, seven special trout fisheries, seven urban trout fisheries, and 26 put-and-grow trout fisheries. To date, six of the streams have been returned to self-sustaining populations of native brook and wild brown trout, while the other seventy-four require regular stocking. “There’s no reason we can’t get back to 20 or 30 self-sustaining streams in the foreseeable future . . . and still maintain profitable farms and local growth.”

“We just need to make more people aware of what a truly unique coldwater resource we have in the Midwest, and that it’s worth the effort to restore” Lorenzen says. “I’ve met people from all over the U.S., and even from several foreign countries, while fishing in northeast Iowa. For serious fly fishers, trout fishing in the Driftless is a bucket-list item.” Economic studies have shown that trout tourism generates more than $1B for businesses in the Driftless region every year — which includes nine counties in Iowa — and that every $1 invested in stream restoration generates a return of $10 annually.

Because of Iowa’s unique laws that grant landowners ownership of many streambeds, there is a lot more footwork involved locating and building relationships with landowners to obtain easements for new public waters than in other states. “We’re always working on it – it’s an expensive and complicated process,” said Lorenzen with a smile. “Public access to the water is our number one challenge in Iowa today.”

“It really all comes together because the groups in all four states work in coordination on the streams in the region,” Lorenzen continued. “In the 1950s, people were ready to write-off our Midwestern coldwater fisheries for good. Today, we’re working in partnership with numerous federal, state and local agencies and coordinating with dozens of conservation organizations, and restoration in the Driftless area is now one of TU’s largest and most successful regional projects. On a mile-by-mile basis, the density of trout in our restored streams and the quality of the fishing is as good as it is anywhere on the planet.”

Lorenzen was nominated by Duke Welter, TU’s Western Great Lakes Conservation Coordinator and a lifetime achievement award winner himself. “Brett’s leadership has strengthened Iowa Trout Unlimited and its chapters, and helped TU’s regional Driftless Area Restoration Effort build strong restoration partnerships. His organizing efforts and his strong knowledge of Farm Bill conservation programs are keys to TU’s success here.”

Dave Rossett, president of the Central Iowa Fly Fishers, the central Iowa chapter of the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, has worked with Lorenzen through involvement in both organizations. CIFF and HFFA partnered with Iowa TU chapters on the Pine Springs Creek project at Seed Saver’s Exchange, and the organizations work together regularly on events and educational programs. “HFFA and TU share the same goals when it comes to conservation, water quality, stream improvement and education. Many of HFFA’s members are also members of TU, which further helps bond the partnership between the two organizations. Brett Lorenzen has been the glue that bonds the relationship together,” says Rossett.

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