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Buckatabon Lakes Association seeks to establish protection and rehabilitation district in fight against invasive species

Katie Thoresen

Julianne Welnetz has a lifetime of memories on Lower Buckatabon Lake.

Her grandparents bought land on the lake in the 1940s, and it’s been in her family ever since. Her children are the fourth generation to grow up on the lake.

Someday, Welnetz hopes to pass this land on to them. But she’s worried about what condition the lake will be in if it’s not conserved.

“As a generational owner, it’s really important to me, I want to leave something to my children,” she said at a public hearing Wednesday. “It’s very scary to see the Eurasian milfoil happening.”

Residents on the Buckatabon lakes have been fighting Eurasiain watermilfoil for years. But the invasive species keeps spreading and the cost to control it keeps rising.

“Right now, homeowners on the lake are putting in about $10,000 a year,” says Brain Bickner, the Buckatabon Lakes Association president. “That price is only going up and the milfoil is still increasing on our lakes unfortunately.”

The lake association wants to involve more people in combatting invasive species like Eurasian watermilfoil by establishing a lake protection and rehabilitation district.

It moved a step closer to that goal Wednesday, when the Vilas County Board’s Land and Water Conservation Committee voted in favor of the association’s petition to create the district. It will now go before the full county board for a vote next month.

If approved, the district could tax property owners on the lakes to raise funds for lake conservation efforts, like removing Eurasian watermilfoil and other aquatic invasive species.

“This would allow us to raise some additional funds,” Bickner says. “Right now, the lake association is capped on what our members can pay. We do have some members that make additional donations, but this will spread (the cost) out to everybody that has access to the lake with their property.”

Eurasian watermilfoil infested the Buckatabon lakes seven years ago and has spread to cover about 10 percent of the lake’s surface, despite efforts to remove it.

The plant grows so quickly and densely that it blocks out native aquatic plants and inhibits recreation.

Two-thirds of property owners on the lake support forming a protection and rehabilitation district.

Those opposed say they don’t want to pay more taxes, but lake association members like Bickner argue establishing a district is among the best ways to meet rising costs of aquatic invasive species control.

About a dozen other lakes in Vilas County have similarly created protection and rehabilitation districts, mainly for the same reason.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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