Farmer ‘Devastated’ As Drainage Board Removes Trout Habitat

Portage County Drainage District Dredged Isherwood Lateral On Wednesday

Portage County Drainage District dredged Isherwood Lateral.
On Wednesday, the Portage County Drainage District dredged Isherwood Lateral. Photo courtesy of George Kraft

A central Wisconsin farmer says he is “devastated” by the removal of his brook trout habitat before a judge could hear his arguments to save it.

Donald Justin Isherwood had worked for years creating the habitat in Isherwood Lateral, a drainage ditch that runs through his property. He added woody vegetation for cover, increased the flow of the spring fed water, and moved the streambed.

“It was a spectacle,” Isherwood said. “Literally we’re talking of tens of thousands of trout at spawning season, and now it is absolutely barren.”

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Donald Justin Isherwood sitting in front of the Isherwood Lateral and trout habitat. Glen Moberg/WPR

On Wednesday, the Portage County Drainage District dredged Isherwood Lateral, using a backhoe to pull out the trout habitat, and cut down the trees on both banks. What once looked like a meandering trout stream, is once again a straight, featureless drainage ditch.

“I’m devastated,” Isherwood said. “It’s been nuked. Obviously the fish are gone. There aren’t any trees. It’s all gone.”

Isherwood has a court date set on June 28, in which he planned to ask a judge for a restraining order to stop the dredging. He says he has spent thousands of dollars on attorneys preparing for the appearance.

The Drainage District got a permit from the DNR to do the work early, before the normal July 1 start date.

Drainage Board chair Paul Cieslewicz said heavy spring rains posed an immediate flood risk.

“Woody vegetation that was placed in that lateral as fish habitat was moving,” Cieslewicz said. “And when they let us have the go ahead to go, we cleaned it.”

Isherwood’s project was controversial, drawing praise from environmentalists, but scorn from some area farmers who worried about tampering with the drainage system.

In December, Isherwood got a permit from the DNR for his trout habitat, but Cieslewicz said it was not valid without approval from the Drainage District. Cieslewicz said state law mandates that the drainage ditches be kept clear.

“We’re a drainage district. We take an oath of office from the Portage County judges to provide drainage. We followed the law and did what we had to do,” he said.

Isherwood accused the Drainage Board of using the wet spring as an excuse to do the dredging before his day in court. The case is being heard in Clark County.

The DNR refused to comment for this story because of the litigation.

Isherwood Lateral and the half-mile stretch Donald Justin Isherwood has converted into a trout habitat. Glen Moberg/WPR

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