Sunken Treasure: Fish Attractor Program at Pomme de Terre Lake Benefits Environment and Recreators Alike

On an unseasonably warm day in February, the sun was shining and hardly a cloud could be found in the sky. Staff at Pomme de Terre Lake, along with staff from the Missouri Department of Conservation, were hard at work. The task? Sinking piles of cedar trees into the lake to create fish habitat.

Attracting anglers from across the state and region, Pomme de Terre Lake’s partnership with MDC is vital to maintaining a healthy fish population. For the last 32 years, the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and MDC have been working together to provide habitats for fish at Pomme de Terre Lake through its Fish Attractor Program.

A park ranger with the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, picks up cedar trees to load onto a barge, which will drop the trees in Pomme de Terre Lake to create fish habitats as part of the Fish Attractor Program on February 13, 2024, in Hermitage, Missouri. USACE PHOTO BY CHRISTINE E. PAUL

Every year in January or February, USACE and MDC team up to cut down cedar trees, anchor them with concrete blocks and sink them into the water to create fish habitats. There are about 400 cedar tree brush piles that have been sunk in Pomme de Terre Lake.

According to MDC, each brush pile lasts about ten to 12 years. So, every eight to ten years, the team will add new brush to existing brush piles, which are mapped via GPS, in addition to creating about 40 to 50 new piles each year. All of this takes about a week, but the program has long-lasting benefits for the environment and recreators alike.

Small but mighty

Located in southwestern Missouri, Pomme de Terre Lake is not as sprawling as some of its neighboring lakes like Harry S. Truman Lake, Stockton Lake and Lake of the Ozarks. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in popularity. The lake might be relatively small as far as Missouri’s lakes go, but it boasts over one million visitors annually. Many of these visitors are avid anglers, enjoying the plentiful fish that can be found in the waters of Pomme de Terre Lake.

Missouri Department of Conservation employees drive cedar trees to an identified location in Pomme de Terre Lake on February 13, 2024, in Hermitage, Missouri. The trees will be used to create fish habitats as part of the Fish Attractor Program. USACE PHOTO BY CHRISTINE E. PAUL

“We are small compared to surrounding lakes in the area in land, but we get over a million visitors a year,” said Shannon Henry, natural resource manager at Pomme de Terre Lake. “The whole goal [of the Fish Attractor Program] is to provide habitat for fish … so they can grow and sustain the fish populations that MDC manages here.”

USACE owns and operates Pomme de Terre Lake, while MDC manages the fish population through sampling, stocking and implementing fishing regulations. Sinking cedar trees into the water to create fish habitat might sound strange or unorthodox, but there is strategy behind the method.

“The benefit of these [cedar tree] brush piles are twofold,” said Craig Fuller, fisheries biologist with MDC. “One, it concentrates fish and gives a place for anglers to target and go fishing and two, the habitat that we are placing is fairly shallow and that gives a place for fish to get in and hide from predators, but it also provides a food source for young fish.”

Cedar trees are sunk in Pomme de Terre Lake to create fish habitats as part of the Fish Attractor program on February 13, 2024, in Hermitage, Missouri. USACE PHOTO BY CHRISTINE E. PAUL

According to Fuller, the cedar tree piles attract small fish, which attract large fish, which attract the anglers who travel near and far to fish at Pomme de Terre Lake.
Growing appreciation

Using cedar trees to create the fish habitats has benefits above the water, too. According to Henry, cedar trees, while plentiful in southwestern Missouri, are an invasive species.

“Cedar trees can be invasive,” said Henry. “They can kill out native species and if you are trying to reestablish a glade or an open area for resource management, they will come in and take over.”
Every year, USACE staff at Pomme de Terre Lake identify natural resource areas around the lake that have been taken over by the invasive cedar trees. They cut down the trees to clear the area so that native plants can thrive once again. The cedar trees are then used for brush piles for the Fish Attractor Program. For the park rangers at the lake, this is an important part of the USACE natural resource mission.

“[MDC] provides options for the public to be able to get out and use their natural resources and to grow an appreciation for that,” said Henry. “That’s what we do with our natural resource program here at [USACE], so marrying that with MDC and what opportunities they provide to the public is important.”

The Fish Attractor Program at Pomme de Terre Lake is an example of the impact that interagency partnership can have, benefitting the land, wildlife and public for the last 32 years, and for many more years to come.

It’s just a way to give back to the taxpayers,” said Henry. “We are the stewards of their money and lands [so we are] giving them options to fish, hunt and recreate in a very beautiful part of Missouri.”

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