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June 10, 2014

FERRYVILLE, Wis. - Work is expected to begin again this week on a massive project near here to recreate habitat in the Upper Mississippi River to benefit fish and wildlife. Biologists conducting fish surveys this spring found that similar habitat projects completed along the river in past years helped fish survive the harsh winter of 2014.

A new video shows federal and multi-state efforts to rebuild islands in Capoli Slough using sand and other material dredged from the river's main navigation channel and adjacent backwaters.

The island-building portion of the project wrapped up last year and re-created more than 30 acres of islands that once existed in this part of the Mississippi River. Capoli Slough is the eighteenth Mississippi River habitat project completed in Wisconsin since 1986 under authority of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Environmental Management Program.

This year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and partners, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge and the Iowa Natural Resources Department, will be putting the finishing touches on the Islands

"Everything should be finished up by September and then it's going to take a while, seven to 10 years, for the over winter fishery to become established," says Jeff Janvrin, DNR's Mississippi River habitat specialist. "The islands are designed to provide overwintering habitat for bluegills, crappie, largemouth bass and other backwater fish species and to support a wide variety of wildlife the rest of the year."

The overwintering benefits of such large-scale habitat projects for fish and anglers were seen this spring. While fish biologists in much of the state worried that the extended ice cover on some lakes would lead to more fish kills than normal fish biologists were marveling at the fish populations upstream of past habitat projects.

"Two of our five nets emptied the first day of sampling (on Lake Onalaska) contained hundreds of pounds of fish, including 546 northern pike and yellow perch - a huge catch," says David Heath, DNR fish biologist stationed in La Crosse. "Not only were the number of these two species very high, there where hundreds of pounds of other fish, primarily bluegill and crappie.

"There were so many fish in these nets that the crew had to abandon these as netting locations on subsequent days since there were too many fish to process and the weight of fish was too much to safely handle."

The locations where they set the nets were immediately upstream of a habitat project designed to include overwintering habitat. That project was completed in 2000 by the U.S. Corps of Engineers and other partners.

"In addition, in spite of a hard winter, with thick ice and heavy snow cover, we did not receive any reports of dying fish in these two overwintering projects as well as several others, while at the same time, other locations throughout Wisconsin, including the Mississippi River reported winterkilled fish."

One of the reported fish kills on the Mississippi River this past winter is in a location that is planned for rehabilitation. "Hopefully, once this project is completed, there will be no more fish kills there," Heath says.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeff Janvrin, 608-785-9005 or 608-386-0341; Dave Heath, 608-785-9993

Last Revised: Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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