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Quantifying the Ecological Condition of Stream Resources in Wisconsin: Assessment Strategy and Data Use for Resource Management

Michael A. Miller 1 and Lisa D. Helmuth 2

1 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Fisheries Management, Madison, Wisconsin
2 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Watershed Management, Madison , Wisconsin

Wisconsin has approximately 43,000 miles of perennial streams and rivers and 40,000 miles of ephemeral streams. Watershed land use varies significantly across the state, ranging from forest-dominated landscapes in the northern third of Wisconsin, to increasing agriculture in the south and significant urbanization in the southeast.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources uses a 3-tiered sampling strategy to meet the Department’s stream data needs for both environmental quality and natural resource management programs. Tier 1 monitoring employs a probabilistic sampling design, and fish, macroinvertebrate, and qualitative habitat data are used to estimate the overall quality of the state’s stream resources and to provide a coarse screening tool to determine whether individual streams warrant further evaluation. These data are primarily used to report to the public, state legislature, and Congress. Tier 2 monitoring uses targeted sampling to provide more detailed stream-specific assessment information. In addition to biotic assemblages data, quantitative habitat, water chemistry, pathogen, and contaminants data may also be collected. This information is used to better characterize individual streams’ sport fisheries, water quality standards attainment, or to determine the sources and extent of degradation for “Impaired Waters” listing and Total Maximum Daily Load development. Tier 3 monitoring is used to evaluate program or individual project effectiveness, and often employs “before and after” or “upstream – downstream” sampling designs. These data are typically used to evaluate effectiveness of fisheries regulations, polluted run-off management efforts, or compliance with point source discharge limits.

Keywords: streams, Wisconsin, monitoring, biotic assemblage, TMDL

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