Driftless brown trout. (Jake Dahlke)
The unique 24,000 square-mile unglaciated Driftless Area in the heart of the Upper Mississippi River basin is a natural resource treasure. The scenic landscape, with its steep hills and rocky bluffs, is home to one of the country’s most remarkable freshwater resources: more than 600 coldwater limestone spring-fed creeks supporting world-class trout fisheries. Over 5,700 miles of mineral-rich spring creeks weave across the landscape. These streams support abundant populations of trout, which in turn attract tens of thousands of anglers to the region each year. Studies commissioned by TU have shown that trout fishing in the Driftless Area provides an annual economic benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars to economies in the four states. TU’s work in the Driftless is a true partnership endeavor, working with counties, state and federal agencies, conservation districts, nonprofit and community organizations and businesses. We have collectively brought more than $65 million to the region and restored over 350 miles of stream since 2006.
Getting to work in a Driftless creek. (Trout Unlimited)
Kinnickinnic Creek. (Trout Unlimited)
Stihl hosted a volunteer workday on the Little Pickwick in 2023. (Trout Unlimited)
Reconnecting Floodplains and Reducing Sedimentation
TU is reconnecting and restoring floodplains and their hydrologic function, protecting wild and native trout habitat while reducing the risk of flood damage. We’ve completed more than 100 significant projects addressing entrenched stream channels, promoting regenerative agriculture, and installing practices that slow flows and reduce sedimentation.
Protecting Cold Water
We’re evaluating protections for the springs and groundwater seeps that feed the trout streams of the Driftless Area, working with landowners to protect springs on their properties, supporting monitoring to measure flow and discharge, and using vegetation and tree planting to keep streams cool.
Collaborating on Conservation
The Driftless Area Restoration Effort is one of 20 partnerships comprising the National Fish Habitat Partnership. Since 2022 TU has been the lead coordinator, developing and implementing a strategic plan, conducting education and outreach, managing partnership governance, and conducting a grant proposal process for projects funded by DARE. Additionally, TU has enlisted a robust cohort of volunteers, both anglers and everyday citizens, to conduct water quality testing throughout the Driftless using the WiseH20 platform. Results will inform restoration priorities throughout the Driftless Area. Volunteers have also played key roles in fundraising for projects. Additionally, we are working with state fish and wildlife agencies to ensure best management practices for trout fisheries.