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Illinois hunting and fishing

Water willow starts to colonize an eroding shoreline, but probably not in time to help a leaning tree. Efforts to combat shoreline erosion at Sangchris Lake should help slow down the process by making use of a plant that forms dense groups and helps absorb the energy of waves. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Rooted against the waves at Sangchris

May 01, 2010 at 08:36 PM


The oak tree near the picnic table is dangerously close to toppling into Sangchris Lake.

Over the years, waves have punished the shoreline near the oak, eating into the bank and bringing the tree and the lake closer and closer together.

It’s probably too late to save this particular oak, but Dan Stephenson has his eye on reducing erosion and preserving other trees and natural features of the shoreline.

The culprit is wave action. Pushed relentlessly by the wind — and with an assist from boat wakes — waves gnaw away at the shoreline.

Every so often, chunks of earth and turf collapse.

But for the past 20 years, Stephenson — an Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist — has been quietly and painstakingly trying to find a solution.

And he’s starting to see the fruits of his labor in the form of a carpet of green plants growing in a few inches of water at the lake’s edge.

Since 1989, Stephenson has been planting water willow. The plant has been spreading slowly, creating colonies that are stabilizing and protecting stretches of exposed shoreline.

Water willow is different. It stands up to the waves while other wetland and shoreline plants give up under the relentless assault of waves.
“It absorbs wave energy,” he says of water willow.

Stephenson has been installing cuttings and shoots, pushing them into the muddy water using a treebar to make a hole. Later, he figured out how to unroll a 180-by-4 foot stretch of mesh to hold even more plants in place.

“It’s so easy, and it’s native,” Stephenson says of water willow, a plant found growing naturally in the eastern half of the United States.

As a fisheries biologist, he also knows that man-made lakes like Sangchris sometimes get a bad rap for a lack of fish habitat.

“Bass like to sit just off the edge,” he says, “Lots of bugs can be found living in the water willow colonies, and young of the year fish hide in there.”

The plants spread by rhizomes, and Stephenson points out where the plants have filled in formerly bare places.

It’s even showing up in places where he didn’t plant it.

“I’m so excited because it has taken off and is spreading on its own,” he says.

Patience doesn’t always pay off the way we would like. In this case, bass and bass fishermen alike will benefit from a 20-year project to keep Sangchris Lake’s shoreline in place.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Thanks so much for all your work Dan! Fishing numerous tournaments a year and just fishing even more - I’ve come to love this grass. And in certain lakes in Illinois this grass HOLDS BASS big time! Excited to see what happens when the bass get really accustomed to it and use it to spawn and as cover year round. Thanks again.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/04 at 03:23 PM

Glad to see its native to the U.S. and not an evasive plant. Good job on researching.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/05 at 09:24 PM

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