Little Bear Creek, Bear Creek Watershed (LW14)
Little Bear Creek, Bear Creek Watershed (LW14)
Little Bear Creek (1234700)
1.95 Miles
6.77 - 8.72
Natural Community
Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model results that use predicted flow and temperature based on landscape features and related assumptions. Ranges of flow and temperature associated with specific aquatic life communities (fish, macroinvertebrates) help biologists identify appropriate resource management goals. Wisconsin Natural Communities.
Cool-Cold Headwater
Year Last Monitored
This is the most recent date of monitoring data stored in SWIMS. Additional surveys for fish and habitat may be available subsequent to this date.
Trout Water 
Trout Waters are represented by Class I, Class II or Class III waters. These classes have specific ecological characteristics and management actions associated with them. For more information regarding Trout Classifications, see the Fisheries Trout Class Webpages.
Outstanding or Exceptional 
Wisconsin has designated many of the state's highest quality waters as Outstanding Resource Waters (ORWs) or Exceptional Resource Waters (ERWs). Waters designated as ORW or ERW are surface waters which provide outstanding recreational opportunities, support valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat, have good water quality, and are not significantly impacted by human activities. ORW and ERW status identifies waters that the State of Wisconsin has determined warrant additional protection from the effects of pollution. These designations are intended to meet federal Clean Water Act obligations requiring Wisconsin to adopt an 'antidegradation' policy that is designed to prevent any lowering of water quality - especially in those waters having significant ecological or cultural value.
Impaired Water 
A water is polluted or 'impaired' if it does not support full use by humans, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life and it is shown that one or more of the pollutant criteria are not met.

Fish and Aquatic Life

Current Use
The use the water currently supports. This is not a designation or classification; it is based on the current condition of the water. Information in this column is not designed for, and should not be used for, regulatory purposes.
Fish and Aquatic Life - waters that do not have a specific use designation subcategory assigned but which are considered fishable, swimmable waters.
Attainable Use
The use that the investigator believes the water could achieve through managing "controllable" sources. Beaver dams, hydroelectric dams, low gradient streams, and naturally occurring low flows are generally not considered controllable. The attainable use may be the same as the current use or it may be higher.
Fish and Aquatic Life - waters that do not have a specific use designation subcategory assigned but which are considered fishable, swimmable waters.
Designated Use
This is the water classification legally recognized by NR102 and NR104, Wis. Adm. Code. The classification determines water quality criteria and effluent limits. Waters obtain designated uses through classification procedures.
Default FAL
Fish and Aquatic Life - Default Waters do not have a specific use designation subcategory but are considered fishable, swimmable waters.


Little Bear Creek is a seepage and spring fed tributary to Bear Creek. The majority of the surrounding sub-watershed has been cleared at one time for agricultural purposes. The stream supports cold water forage fish. Streambank pasturing and close proximity to feedlots and barnyards is a threat to the creek.

From: Ripp, Coreen, Koperski, Cindy and Folstad, Jason. 2002. The State of the Lower Wisconsin River Basin. PUBL WT-559-2002. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Madison, WI

Date  2002

Author  Cynthia Koperski

Historical Description

Little Bear Creek was monitored extensively from 2007-2009, and the segment from the mouth upstream to mile 6.77 has been proposed to be added to the impaired waters list in 2010. The pollutants responsible for this proposed listing are phosphorus, sediment and water temperature, and the impairments are degraded habitat and eutrophication.

Date  2011

Author  Jean Unmuth

Historical Description

Little Bear Creek is a spring fed 8.0 mile long tributary of Bear Creek. In 2007 and 2008, three different stream stations were monitored by the WDNR. Fish, aquatic insects, water quality, and stream habitat information was collected. Results indicated the stream’s condition was poor to very poor, except for the uppermost reach near the headwaters which was rated

During the summer of 2007, stream temperatures were continuously monitored at all three segments. In July and August, 11% of 17 mean daily
samples collected exceeded 73 degrees F (22.7 C), above the acceptable temperature of 65 degrees F (18.3 degrees C), the optimal temperature for growth of brown trout. Phosphorus samples, collected over a 6 month period in 2008 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), exceeded 0.075 mg/l (75 ug/l) in 5 of 6 samples.

This level is at the upper threshold for phosphorus water quality criteria currently listed under the rule revision being proposed for small streams. The proposed criteria are intended to prevent in-stream algae and other plant growth to the extent that it is detrimental to fi sh and aquatic life.

Stream channelization and ditched wetlands have increased siltation in the lower stream reaches where low stream gradient allows silt to settle out, rather than fl ush through the system. The stream has good permanent flow from large springs in the upper stream segment. Much of the riparian stream corridor is either cropped or pastured. There are several dairy operations along the stream, causing pasturing in some wetland areas along the stream corridor. One of the larger dairy operations along the stream had a manure pit overfl ow into wetlands adjacent to the stream, but that operation was abandoned in late 2009. Non-point source pollution from agricultural sources has likely increased phosphorus, reduced water clarity in some stream segments, and increased water temperature.

Bank and stream habitat information was collected at three stations along the stream. Results indicated that fish habitat was rated fair in the ditched segment, where the stream is wide and shallow with few natural meanders. While there are some stream segments that are deep enough to support cold water game fi sh, sand and sediment overlays much of the gravel and cobble so that it reduces the available fi sh spawning habitat. The stream appears to have a lack of rock riffl es used for fi sh spawning and fi sh food or aquatic insect production. It also lacks the deeper pools necessary for fish resting and over-wintering. In the lower stream reaches, where the channel appears not to have been ditched, there are natural meanders and deeper pools, but banks are steep and in some areas eroded. In addition, some wetlands have been drained by ditching, which also increases transportation of sediment and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural lands.

Date  2011

Author  Jean Unmuth

Little Bear Creek, Bear Creek Watershed (LW14) Fish and Aquatic LifeLittle Bear Creek, Bear Creek Watershed (LW14) RecreationLittle Bear Creek, Bear Creek Watershed (LW14) Fish Consumption

Impaired Waters

Little Bear Creek (1234700), from its mouth to an unnamed tributary WBIC 5033157, was placed on the impaired waters list for total phosphorus and sediment/total suspended solids in 2010. The 2016 assessments showed continued impairment by phosphorus; total phosphorus sample data exceed 2016 WisCALM listing criteria for the Fish and Aquatic Life use and biological impairment was observed (i.e. at least one macroinvertebrate or fish Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) scored in the poor condition category). This water was also assessed for temperature and sample data did not exceed 2016 WisCALM listing criteria for the Fish and Aquatic Life use. Based on the most updated information, no change in existing impaired waters listing is needed.

Date  2015

Author  Aaron Larson

Impaired Waters

Stream was historically ditched and moved out of the original bed (channelized), starting approximately 2 miles downstream from the headwaters, for approximately ½ of its stream length or about 4 miles total channelized. Agricultural use, mainly crops in upper ½ along the stream is heavy, with very little to no vegetative buffers. Grazing may not contribute greatly to impairment, but large concentrated animal feeding operations exist close to the stream, and one specifically has been problematic due to an overflow of manure storage tank to a wetland area bordering the stream. Little Bear Creek was listed in 2010 based on narrative criteria, and reassessed in 2012 and updated based on numeric TP criteria.

Date  2011

Author   Aquatic Biologist


Wisconsin has over 84,000 miles of streams, 15,000 lakes and milllions of acres of wetlands. Assessing the condition of this vast amount of water is challenging. The state's water monitoring program uses a media-based, cross-program approach to analyze water condition. An updated monitoring strategy (2015-2020) is now available. Compliance with Clean Water Act fishable, swimmable standards are located in the Executive Summary of Water Condition in 2018. See also the 'monitoring and projects' tab.



Monitor or Propose 303(d) Listing
Collect additional data 303 d evaluation and to determine if the stream has the potential to reach the attainable use listing of Cold water. Little Bear Creek is located in Sauk and Richland Counties.
Habitat Restoration - Instream
Cooperate with Aldo Leopold and Ocooch Chapters of Trout Unlimited, Richland and Sauk County LCD and NRCS and other partners to improve fish and stream bank habitat in Bear and Little Bear Creeks and other tributaries through TRM, Stream Protection and TMDL Implementation grants.
Restore Wetlands
Reduce reed canary infestations in wet meadows and forested wetlands using wetland restoration best management practices.
Monitor Targeted Area
Monitor temperature to assess impacts of ponds in the headwaters of Little Bear Creek.
Restore Hydrology, Morphology
Encourage projects that restore stream meandering of Little Bear Creek.
Monitor Targeted Area
A stream condition assessment should be conducted on Little Bear Creek to determine if any management actions could help improve the instream habitat.
Aquatic Plant Monitoring or Survey
Two Strategies, one for IR data rollout , the other for Watershed Planning Meetings in the spring.

Management Goals

Wisconsin's Water Quality Standards provide qualitative and quantitative goals for waters that are protective of Fishable, Swimmable conditions [Learn more]. Waters that do not meet water quality standards are considered impaired and restoration actions are planned and carried out until the water is once again fishable and swimmable

Management goals can include creation or implementation of a Total Maximum Daily Load analysis, a Nine Key Element Plan, or other restoration work, education and outreach and more. If specific recommendations exist for this water, they will be displayed below online.


Monitoring the condition of a river, stream, or lake includes gathering physical, chemical, biological, and habitat data. Comprehensive studies often gather all these parameters in great detail, while lighter assessment events will involve sampling physical, chemical and biological data such as macroinvertebrates. Aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish communities integrate watershed or catchment condition, providing great insight into overall ecosystem health. Chemical and habitat parameters tell researchers more about human induced problems including contaminated runoff, point source dischargers, or habitat issues that foster or limit the potential of aquatic communities to thrive in a given area. Wisconsin's Water Monitoring Strategy was recenty updated.

Grants and Management Projects

Monitoring Projects

Watershed Characteristics

Little Bear Creek is located in the Bear Creek watershed which is 136.54 miĀ². Land use in the watershed is primarily forest (46.40%), agricultural (24.60%) and a mix of grassland (15.20%) and other uses (13.80%). This watershed has 236.07 stream miles, 119.46 lake acres and 6,798.61 wetland acres.

Nonpoint Source Characteristics

This watershed is ranked Medium for runoff impacts on streams, Not Ranked for runoff impacts on lakes and High for runoff impacts on groundwater and therefore has an overall rank of High. This value can be used in ranking the watershed or individual waterbodies for grant funding under state and county programs.However, all waters are affected by diffuse pollutant sources regardless of initial water quality. Applications for specific runoff projects under state or county grant programs may be pursued. For more information, go to surface water program grants.

Natural Community

Little Bear Creek is considered a Cool-Cold Headwater under the state's Natural Community Determinations.

Natural communities (stream and lake natural communities) represent model resultsand DNR staff valiation processes that confirm or update predicted conditions based on flow and temperature modeling from historic and current landscape features and related variables. Predicated flow and temperatures for waters are associated predicated fish assemblages (communities). Biologists evaluate the model results against current survey data to determine if the modeled results are corect and whether biological indicators show water quaity degradation. This analysis is a core component of the state's resource management framework. Wisconsin's Riverine Natural Communities.

Cool (Cold-Transition) Headwaters are small, usually perennial streams with cold to cool summer temperatures. Coldwater fishes are common to uncommon (<10 per 100 m), transitional fishes are abundant to common, and warm water fishes are uncommon to absent. Headwater species are abundant to common, mainstem species are common to absent, and river species are absent.