Climate change has halted the annual spawning run of steelhead in Minnesota’s Knife River. Low water from lack of snowfall in the spring of 2012 means these annually migrating fish (anadramous) can not leap the falls and pass to the traditional nesting area (redds) they have used for over one hundred and twenty years. Originally planted by settlers after the Civil War, they are a species of rainbow trout that, while born in the headwaters of the cleanest and coolest streams, soon travel to open waters such as the ocean or Great Lakes. There they grow large, sometimes over twelve pounds in Lake Superior.
Knife River is the absolute zenith of steelhead waters in Minnesota and state records are broken there. While many north shore streams measure their migrating trout waters in yards, Knife River has twenty-six miles of oportunity, but only if the fish can pass the waterfalls of these rushing rivers Historically the DNR-fisheries did stream improvement, often blasting out falls and deepening plunge pools which fish need to achieve the mighty leaps upstream. The last effort to improve our rivers was an attempt to put a tunnel under the falls of Lester River twenty years ago, but a new head of Lake Superior waters had other uses for the allocated funds. The size of present staff precludes any significant efforts and a recent news article in the Duluth paper announced eight fish had been moved above the current barrier on the Knife. It is hoped they were not all males.
It is sad the ethics and outlook is changing on the north shore. We must embrace environmental degradation and other scat for our new national priorities. When Lutsen Resort is allowed to take the critical water of a designated trout stream for their golf course simply because they are the largest employer of minimum wage jobs in the county, the vision of what the wilderness is about and why people want to be on the north shore has been lost. Why worry, you can’t eat the fish anymore, might as well mine copper.