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FJR- Jordan River Proposal

2021 June 3
by Brian Kozminski

It is a sad state of affairs we are currently in. Everyone is taking sides, to vaccinate/or not, mask/no mask, Democrat/Republican, Fly/Bait. I hate to encourage you to do so, but I am going to ask you to take a stand on another issue that is even closer to my heart than those red/blue issues. There is a proposal to move much of the Jordan River from Type IV Lake Charlevoix to Graves Crossing to Type III from Lake Charlevoix to Jordan River Road, and Type I upstream from Graves to Type II from Jordan River Road to headwaters. These proposals come from the FJR- Friends of the Jordan and are requested to add protection for resident brown trout & brook trout, and also add more year round angling opportunities for salmon and steelhead. At the risk of being served a false ‘Cease & Desist’ from the organization’s president, (another guide was served) I feel compelled to present full disclosure on both sides of this issue so that you make a better informed decision, and not just one based on a Change.org petition.

ARE YOU A MEMBER?

First, you must know who the ‘Friends of the Jordan‘ are. I was a member of the group for many years(since 2009), assisting with calendar photo contests, river cleanups, macroinvert monitoring and sediment surveys. I am no longer a member. It seems things have changed. I had to do some digging to find out exactly why/what had changed with the ecosystem centered watershed group. After some searching, I found in 2019, the group was changed from a ‘Membership’ to a ‘Directorship’ status by new president, Ethan Winchester. This was not beneficial to the organization because now the membership group had no voice. Decisions for action were made by the Board of Directors. I encourage you to go to their homepage and look up the Board. The domain has expired. When I had done research looking for board members who had proposed and passed the proposal, there were no notes or record. The only board members are Ethan Winchester and Adrienne Winchester- his sister. So it would appear that the non-profit group has been taken over by a family with a personal agenda. That is not slander, it is fact. I don’t see evidence showing otherwise.

The original proposal from FJR was requesting a ‘FLIES ONLY’ section in upper Jordan River. Why is a watershed group pushing for regulation change simply for the sake of change? This smells fishy. It reeks of something underhanded and sneaky going on, but what? What is end goal? Better fishery? Grayling introduction? Perhaps a conflict of interest, and the reason why we have lost board members and membership in general? Has the group lost direction? Lost a voice For the RIVER/because it is one persons agenda and directive? Why would this be a conflict of interest you ask? The original proposal calls for “FLIES ONLY”- and even though I am 95% fly guy, I enjoy throwing a Panther Martin or Rapala on occasion and don’t think changing the regulation on the Jordan River would make it a better fishery. It only limits who can fish where. Improving the habitat will make a better fishery. We seem to catch plenty of big fish all year long. I would also find it difficult to explain to my child when he/she catches a 12″ trout they have to throw it back because it isn’t 15″- we are losing future conservationists with this mind set- we will lose anglers coming to this fishery. Captain Winchester is also Director of Operations at Boyne Mountain. Boyne Outfitters. Who would benefit from having a “Flies Only” stretch of water? Perhaps the only fly shop within 45 miles. Boyne Outfitters. Only conjecture, but the director of FJR seems to be making proposals not based on science, but rather financial/personal benefit. 

It FEELS like the FJR is attempting to make the Jordan River a more ‘commercialized’ fishery, mostly due to the repeated mention of the Au Sable, Manistee and Pere Marquette Rivers, which it is not. It couldn’t be further from any of those rivers. That is why it was designated first Natural Rivers Act in 1972. It is much shorter, colder, northern flowing, lacking man made impoundments and has a natural reproducing coho population which feeds other trout in the river before they decide to swim the twenty some miles to  Lake Charlevoix to continue their life cycle. The anglers/hikers/paddlers/campers who enjoy the Jordan Valley for its wild and scenic characteristics would like to see it left that way and protected, not stripped away, by a Watershed group that should be doing exactly that.

This area once had 4-5′ deep run with many trout along its woody depths. No longer.

This is just downstream from former beaver dam, one of many locations that look this way.

The SCIENCE:

Let’s talk about where this comes from. The regulations would suggest that a minimum size of 15″ for harvest of brook and brown trout will increase average size of the brook trout fishery. These studies are based on Hunt Creek studies that often get brought up in conversation on social media. Brook trout’s average lifespan is 3 years, they usually attain a maximum length of 12″. This proposal would actually encourage harvesting the few fish that have good genes to get that big. Not to mention allowing year round fishing and wading through waters that have been spawning brook and brown trout in the fall while the salmon are running. The reality is, Hunt Creek is a tributary closed to fishing(located on the grounds of a DNR research facility) that feeds into a river that is 100% managed for brook trout. There is little wonder how and why they consistently see larger than average brook trout recruitment in surveys. A) it’s private B) it’s only brook trout. The Jordan River is neither of these things. To make the Jordan River a better fishery, perhaps improving habitat would be a good start. That angle was also approached by the FJR. They applied for permits through the DNR to remove 70+ beaver dams on the upper stretches including Cascade and Landslide creeks. This was denied by both Fisheries and Wildlife Division of the DNR, but they mutually agreed upon a more reasonable number- 20-22 structures could be removed, sediment monitored and slow drawn if over 8″, and not removing more than 12″ per day between May 15- September 15. In less than a year, 60+ dams were removed by FJR and Huron Pines. What does this do to a river? It does a few things. This could be a primary cause of major flooding October 23, 2020 when the Jordan went to a record setting 1452cfs (normal flow around 192cfs, previous record high was 1100cfs) and washed out many trees and eroded riparian zones all the way to Rogers Road. This also has me concerned as we approach a low water season with 4 feet under average snowfall and we are currently in a 4″ deficit of spring rainfall to help restore the areas groundwater levels. This means low water in the upper stretches- skinny water, made even skinnier by removal of deep water to hold trout in thermal stress and now imminent heat headed our way, we may see lethal water temperatures in the Jordan, previously unheard of. Not to mention the metric tons of silt & sediment that has washed downstream and filled many favorite fishing runs and holes. This has caused much grief and dismay to myself as I bring clients up there for wade trips and others have asked me WHY would someone do this? The answer from FJR regarding beaver dam removal is “Because the brook trout need connectivity to spawn.” Brook trout and beavers somehow managed to survive a millennia without the assistance of mankind. Yes we need to monitor and control populations- but removing that much structure now has many trout exposed to overhead predation and in a low water season could prove detrimental to the fishery. Here is the kicker- the FJR has requested permits and applied for grant monies to put large woody debris IN THE RIVER- isn’t that EXACTLY what you just removed?? Remember, the Jordan River is the first designated Natural Rivers act of 1972, how much human manipulation can be permitted? The DNR is partly to blame- it was a Covid year and nobody from the Department was allowed to do fieldwork and oversee or monitor the progress of a rogue non profit group. Someone needs to be held accountable. Now the anglers and the fishery suffer.  FJR/Boyne Outfitters won’t feel the financial pinch of losing a wade fishery like myself and others would- they have their very own well stocked private waters above the degraded Boyne Hydro facilty that they can cater to “well-to-do” clients. I encourage you to write the DNR and NRC in regard to this great fishery that is being ripped apart for one persons agenda. Oh, it will come back, in a few years, rivers always do. But where do I go for an evening of casting dry flies to rising brook trout 15 minutes from my back door? Where do I take clients who want to learn how to read water and catch a brook trout- not the upper Jordan. It is really sad. I fish the river a minimum 20 times a year, I also float it another 50 times, I and a few others enjoy and recreate on this resource multiple times per year- not so much this year.

The SOCIAL Aspects:

Most people only see the feed that they subscribe to. I am the other side showing that there are anglers out there who enjoy eating a trout once in a while. Much of the East Jordan/Mancelona angling community would be of this mentality. Problem is, they are not on Boyne Outfitters’ mailing list or social media feed. Most anglers do not even know this proposal is on the docket at Natural Resources Commission level. I was the only angler/guide in attendance for the DNR Coffee & Conversations zoom held on April 15 to discuss this proposal. Many of the names that support the Change.Org petition that circulated on Facebook by FJR/Boyne Outfitters might not even fish, or at least not in the Jordan River.  Do they even fish the Jordan?

What does the future look like? I can’t predict, but I know I won’t be taking clients in to fish the upper Jordan for some time, definitely not this year, perhaps not even next year. I hope it recovers quickly. I mentioned the proposed changes to another angler former guide in the area- he said ” I have no dog in that fight, I let all my fish go.” I understood where he was coming from, because I too, release all my trout. But he was missing the point. He actually fishes the river, as opposed to someone from Maine who feels compelled to interject opinion and support changes about a resource that their Orvis Boots never set foot in. The FJR seems to be prepping the river for commercialization or future testing of reintroduction of Arctic Grayling. For the record- I am 100% for the studies and research being done to attempt having a Grayling fishery once again in Michigan. But, our species went extinct 100 years ago, you can’t travel halfway across the globe, pluck some eggs from Alaska and say we are  restoring a ‘Native Species’. I do feel we are spending a lot of money and time/research on a brown trout feeding program, but then again, what do I know- I am not a biologist. I hope they make it. I hope to take clients fishing for Grayling. The real question remains; once anglers travel and have the Grayling experience, will they book return trips for the much adorned dorsal finned opportunistic omnivore like they do for the prized brown trout fishery we currently have?  I don’t see that trend in Alaska or Montana, so I tend to doubt it.

There is also rumor from the FJR that they would like to re-install a weir to prevent salmon/steelhead species from getting into the Jordan Watershed. This would be devastating to the entire fishery. There are other species like redhorse and white suckers that migrate and utilize the river to spawn. These bottom feeders also contribute to the ecosystem by providing  additional nutrients and cleaning gravel. How much do we feel we need to mitigate in a Natural River? We just removed a lamprey weir at Alba access fifteen years ago, why would we even consider this as an option? The river needs your voice, let it be heard. I cannot be the only one who feels that the recent activity has been detrimental to the fishery and wildlife habitat. 

PLEASE Write a letter expressing your opinion on this issue. The Jordan River does not need more regulations, it needs better management. I encourage you to copy and paste these e-mails and send in your letter. NRC

PLEASE Write:     DexterJ1@michigan.gov     NRC@Michigan.gov  

you may also have in copy these interested folks:

HettingerH@michigan.gov

WesleyJ@michigan.gov

HeintzelmanS@michigan.gov

glaciergirl2@gmail.com

tombaird51@gmail.com

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