Minnesota - North Dakota - South Dakota

Nature Now: Fresh Water

When Rich Biske was younger, he just wanted to catch fish. Today he finds himself spending more time admiring the beauty of the landscape surrounding the rivers in southeast Minnesota than chasing trout.

Rich is The Nature Conservancy’s Southeast Minnesota Project Manager and works with farmers and other landowners to protect and restore the rivers of southeast Minnesota, one of the Conservancy’s freshwater priority areas. spoke with Rich to learn about the challenges rivers face, what the Conservancy is doing to protect them and why they are important to all of us.

What do you love most about the Root and other rivers in southeast Minnesota?

Rich Biske:

I’m a fly fisherman, and I love catching trout. In that regard, the Root River watershed is one of the state’s best kept secrets. But these days, I spend as much time gawking at the scenery—thick forests in one direction and rocky cliffs and prairies in the other—as fishing. Most of the time my cell phone doesn’t work, there are no buildings in sight and it’s just a peaceful, beautiful place to be.

Why do rivers matter to people?

Rich Biske:

Well, recreation is definitely one reason rivers matter to people. From fishing and swimming to kayaking and tubing, our rivers and lakes are where we go for fun and relaxation. And this recreational use brings income to communities along the river, whether people are using the water or just admiring it as they walk or cycle the nearby trails and roads. In the Root River watershed, we have significant flood events where property is damaged and lives are at risk. Healthy rivers can help prevent some of the worst impacts of flooding.

What are the big challenges rivers in southeast Minnesota face today?

Rich Biske:

In a region like southeast Minnesota with steep topography and thin soils, the landscape is vulnerable to heavy water runoff, soil erosion and nutrient leaching. All of these things damage our rivers and aquatic plants and animals. In this sensitive, erosion-prone landscape, we need to balance agricultural and other land uses with land and water health.

How is The Nature Conservancy working to protect rivers?

Rich Biske:

We recognize that many people make their living from the land. We’re working with landowners to find ways to hold water and nutrients on the land, which improves farmers’ bottom line and keeps our rivers clean. Some examples are constructing wetlands at the edge of fields where they’ll do the best job of capturing nutrients and runoff. We’re also promoting the use of rye, oats and other cover crops so land doesn’t lay bare after corn and soybeans have been harvested. Cover crops can also improve soil health and water absorption by putting more organic matter back in the ground.

How will a gift to the Conservancy’s Nature Now campaign protect fresh water?

Rich Biske:

When people make a gift to the Nature Now campaign for fresh water conservation, they are supporting innovation. We’re developing new “water-friendly” land management practices, testing them in one place and, if they work, putting them on the ground in other places. We’re also sharing them with partners so they can take these ideas even farther to new landowners, new communities, new watersheds. It’s a great investment in clean water.

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