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Outdoors 3-13

Contracted loggers brave icy conditions in an air boat to complete the first stage of the Beaver Island HREP across from the Albany public boat ramp.

The Beaver Island Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Project (HREP) is in full swing, even during this harsh winter.

The project will dramatically improve the habitat and environmental health of this massive Mississippi River island. The project is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Upper Mississippi River Restoration program, and will ultimately cost around $10 million. This program addresses ecological needs on the Upper Mississippi River System to improve its environmental health.

The HREP program began in 1986 and has funded 56 habitat restoration projects benefiting approximately 106,000 acres. One historical HREP project anglers may identify with is Spring Lake, near Savanna. Nearly every bass angler is aware of the productivity of those waters. Hopefully Beaver Island will be able to produce similar results for all species of fish and the anglers that pursue them.

Beaver Island is one of the largest islands on the Upper Mississippi River and was once known as a sportsmen’s paradise. High water levels flooded out much of the permanent residents when the lock and dam system was put into place. The higher water levels also drastically altered the natural habitats throughout the island. The interior lakes silted in over time and its ecological productivity diminished with it. The higher water levels significantly impacted forest diversity, resulting in most hardwood species disappearing in the lower areas. They were eventually, by silver maple.

The primary goal of the Beaver Island project is the restoration of year-round aquatic habitat within the interior lakes, diversification of the forest community, and improving habitat for fish and mussels. The project includes 1,678 acres, all owned by the US Fish and Wildlife or USACE.

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The project will take up to two years, with the first stage of tree clearing along the interior shoreline already being conducted. Tree cutting must be completed by March 31 because of endangered bat conservation guidelines. Excavated material will later be placed in these areas to produce higher land topography. This will allow for the planting of several species of mast producing hardwood trees.

Another project is to protect Beaver Island’s interior lakes from future sedimentation. The primary source of silt is the Upper Cut inlet in Beaver Slough. A rock structure will close off the Upper Cut entrance to ensure long-term benefits within the island’s interior. Once completed, sediment will then be excavated from the interior access channel and four interior lakes. The areas will be dredged to an average depth of eight feet which will benefit fish and other aquatic species.

Albany Island is adjacent to Beaver Island and it, too, is part of the project. Shoreline erosion is a major problem, so a rock chevron and other bank protection will be placed at the head of island. Rock substrate will be added along the northeast bank to enhance the existing mussel bed, and rock protection will be added to the southwest shoreline to help reduce erosion. All rocking activities are fish and wildlife focused, not navigation aids.

There have been several other HREP projects in the Quad-Cities area over the years. Another project currently in the planning stage is Steamboat Island, or maybe better known as Princeton Beach Island. It is scheduled, if all goes well, to begin shortly after the completion of the Beaver Island Project. Additional information about Beaver Island or other USACE HREP projects can be found on the USACE website.

World Outdoors columnist Jeremiah Haas can be reached at nukefishguy@gmail.com

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