Concern about the potential loss of key fish habitat if current patterns of land use in the Upper Mississippi River Basin continue unchanged in the coming years was expressed in a news release from the Fishers & Farmers Partnership for the Upper Mississippi River Basin and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The news release was the result of a report released under the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.

The report stirred the belief by many in agriculture that good is never good enough or whenever the bar is reached the bar is placed higher. It wasn’t many years ago that reduction in pollution and agricultural land runoff was being touted as headed toward success, but this report indicates the progress has not been good enough.    

The Fishers & Farmers Partnership for the basin works with rural landowners to voluntarily develop and implement science-based solutions to local water quality issues, with the support of conservationists, according to the Wildlife Service. Measurably improving the health of land and streams in the altered landscape of the Mississippi Basin is the group’s stated goal.

Mike Weimer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Regional Director, Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Program, said, “This report is an unprecedented tool that will help inform on-the-ground restoration work and strategically guide decision-making at the watershed scale.  It will be of tremendous value for natural resource managers among both the service and our conservation partners.”

The question by ag retailers and farmers is how big a stick is the Wildlife Service going to be allowed to carry. Although urban development is blamed to a degree, livestock grazing and “other” agriculture activities, or point source pollution are being blamed for putting aquatic habitat at risk.

In a secondary position, the news release recognizes active mines, hydroelectric dams and “other impediments to fish migration” are a concern, too.

The report “Through a Fish’s Eye” highlights areas where fish habitat is most likely still intact and should be protected, as well as locations where conservation or restoration efforts are most needed to restore altered systems. “It was developed to bring strategic focus to conservation actions and aid measurement of results using a science-based approach,” the Wildlife Service notes.

To further habitat protection and improvement in the Midwest, an online fish habitat assessment tool will become available in January 2012. The assessment, released by Fishers & Farmers Partnership for the Upper Mississippi River Basin and five other fish habitat partnerships, is part of the Wildlife Service’s larger effort to advance aquatic habitat conservation in the Midwest.