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Wild Side: Deepest, darkest Pierce County

White pines growing on a steep valley slope in eastern Pierce County. Dan Wilcox photo.

Most of Pierce County has been dissected by streams, leaving high rolling uplands and "coulee" valleys with steep sides. The slopes are steeper and the valleys are deeper in the eastern and southern parts of the county. I call that territory "deepest, darkest Pierce County" because the sun doesn't shine for long in winter in many of those valleys.

There are no natural lakes or seashore in the county. The trees were nearly all logged off in the last century. The high ground is mostly devoted to the cow. Nevertheless, there's a subtle beauty to the landscape of Pierce County that grows on you.

Having travelled through much of North and Central America, we have seen many spectacularly beautiful places yet we never tire of the beauty of the landscape around here.

Many of the valley slopes in Pierce County are recovering from earlier heavy grazing and logging. It's fascinating to travel around the county to see the interesting rock formations and the forest that has grown back on many of the steep valley sides.

There are remnant patches of northern vegetation communities on the north-facing slopes with yellow birch, white pines, and Canada yew. Only a few "goat prairies" remain on steep rocky south-facing slopes where it's too dry for trees to grow well and where people have maintained that type of plant community with fire for thousands of years.

The beauty of the uplands is in part due to all the conservation practices that have been applied to keep soil on the land and to slow water runoff. Sinuous strips of cropland and hay ground wind along the slopes. Former severely eroded gullies have become forested. Grassed waterways, terraces, drop structures and grade control dams stem the water and sediment flow during runoff events.

The streams in Pierce County are also recovering from earlier damage from high rates of erosion from the uplands, gully erosion, massive deposition of sediment in the valleys, mill dams that blew out during floods, and pollution from feedlots and communities. Now, the groundwater-fed streams are looking better and supporting more native brook trout and introduced brown trout.

The Kinnickinnic River, Parker Creek, the South Fork, Big River, Trimbelle River, Little Trimbelle Creek, Isabelle Creek, Lost Creek, Rush River, Cave Creek, Pine Creek, Cady Creek, Eau Galle River and Plum Creek are all flowing colder and clearer than decades ago and are all supporting trout.

The streams are receiving considerable help in recovery from the DNR, the Kinnickinnic River and West Wisconsin land trusts, local sportsman's clubs, Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. There's a growing portfolio of successful projects in this area where blown-out reaches of stream have been restored to high-quality habitat for trout and other wildlife and have been made available for public access.

It's a treat to tour Pierce County to appreciate the beauty of the landscape and the sparkling waters of its creeks and rivers. We will soon be able to fish for trout again in our local streams.

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