Don Pluemer Is The 2021 Land Conservationist of the Year

A middle aged man and woman standing shoulder to shoulder outside.

In the small Wisconsin community of Montfort, straddling the Military Ridge where a web of cold-water streams run north to the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, you’ll find Don Pluemer, Wisconsin’s 2021 Land Conservationist of the Year.

Alongside other members of the Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Don has worked tirelessly to improve and restore trout habitat in southwest Wisconsin.

“I don’t feel comfortable with individual awards,” Don admits. “I want to make sure Trout Unlimited gets its due, including other past and present ‘hyper-active’ members of the chapter like Brian Larson, Peter Esser, Dave Fritz, and David Canny.”

During his 17 years as a volunteer with Trout Unlimited (TU), Don, who is the project coordinator and committee chair for his local chapter, has spent hundreds of hours each year working to improve nearly 18 miles of trout streams in the Blue River watershed. Don’s stream restoration projects have included streambank shaping, improvement of adjacent wetlands that reconnect streams to their floodplains, and installation of habitat features that improve life not only for trout, but also for the other creatures that inhabit cold-water streams and the surrounding landscape. As a volunteer, he wears many hats and coordinates with donors, grant-makers, landowners, and contractors, to protect these precious streams.

Trout streams became Don’s passion after he decided to try his hand at fly fishing. One day as he was “flailing around in the stream,” he ran into his fourth-grade teacher, Dave Fritz, who also happened to be one of the original founders of the local Trout Unlimited chapter. A teacher at heart, Dave offered to help Don master the art of casting a fly rod. That day proved fortuitous—Don not only committed to perfecting his fly-fishing skills, but also decided to join TU.

At the time, the local TU chapter was on the verge of starting ambitious stream restoration work. Instead of hopscotching from project to project, the group was determined to focus on improving the entire length of a cold-water watershed, from headwater springs continuing down to where it ceases to be viable trout habitat. As Don learned more about the fragile cold-water streams that trout need to thrive and the many issues they face—like bank erosion, agricultural runoff, and climate change—he became determined to do his part.

When asked when he had his “aha” moment, Don said, “Growing up here in the Driftless area, you can take for granted that you’re living in a really, really beautiful part of the state. Through Trout Unlimited, I gained a better appreciation of the area and realized it needed help. Rather than worry about work 24/7, I decided to give some volunteer time.”

Don is also a member of the local Prairie Enthusiasts chapter. He hopes to become more involved with their workdays to restore acres of prairie and savanna to pre-settlement condition. Don enjoys visiting a tiny sliver of remnant prairie near his home and watching the local flora and fauna. In the spring, he often sees yellow lady slipper orchids on the hillside along with other rare prairie plants.

“Sometimes, when I’m fishing, I try to imagine what this area looked like 150 years ago,” Don says. “When I see the end result of our work—just 16 to 18 miles of streams in all of Wisconsin – I feel like we’re making a difference, one stream at a time.”

Don Pluemer received the 2021 Land Conservationist of the Year on May 6, 2022 at the Trout Unlimited Annual Meeting. The presentation of the award had been delayed due to the pandemic.