Keep Our Northwoods Waters Clean and Clear

Mar 25, 2019

When you think of the benefits of living up north, do you include tall trees and clear water? The Masked Biologist does, and that is the topic of this week’s Wildlife Matters.

When my wife and I decided to move our young family from the wide-open prairie to Wisconsin’s great Northwoods, we would always tell people it was for “tall trees and clear water.” If you have never driven through the prairie pothole region, it is basically square mile after square mile of row crops, with a smattering of grasslands and wetlands here and there. The closest you come to a forest is probably looking down a row of telephone poles. The water was cloudy, with poor visibility often less than one foot. When we brought our first child to the north, we went to a beach and he marched right in until he was deep enough that you could see the breath from his nostrils making waves in the water. Then he stared at his toes as he raised and lowered first one leg, then the other. He had never seen his legs in lake water before and he was mystified. It was clear that we had made the right decision.

If I were to guess, I would say you probably value clear lakes and rivers as well. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone living up here that doesn’t care if our lakes and rivers stay clear and clean. Additionally, we have a lot of lakeshore owners who take genuine pride in their particular lake. I have never lived anywhere else where so many people buy personalized vehicle license plates that include the name of their lake! I know many lakeshore owners who are active in their lake association, participate in citizen monitoring programs, and help out with the clean boats clean waters monitoring effort at boat landings.

For those of you who are interested in taking your interest in clear lakes and clean water to the next level, there is a conference coming up that you should check out. Coming up April 10-12 in Stevens Point is the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership Convention and Water Action Volunteers Symposium. It’s quite a mouthful. The conference is as big as the title suggests; they will have 50 concurrent educational sessions, and educational poster session, and lots of professional and educational exhibits. If you are interested in learning more about topics like lakescaping, rain gardens, pollinators, fish, wildlife, and forestry, you can find it at this conference. For example, one of my recurring topics every winter is my concern over how much salt from our wintertime roads ends up in our lakes and rivers. Well, Hilary Dugan, assistant professor for the UW Madison center for limnology will be giving a presentation on that very topic.

Of additional note is one of their keynote speakers, Dr. Douglas Tellamy. He literally wrote the book, two books actually, on gardening for beneficial insects and designing home gardens for both beauty and biodiversity. I borrowed a copy of both of his books, Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, and they are brimming with excellent information for the home gardener or nature enthusiast. They would make a great addition to any reference library for home gardeners and landscapers.

If you want to learn more about this great conference, you can go to their website at

We are very fortunate to live in an area with so many excellent lakes and rivers. It is easy to start to take them for granted, especially when you live your whole life here, but take it from me—if you travel to a number of other states, you will be surprised at the relative lack of lakes, especially the kind with deep clear water. In fact, you can actually see that by simply travelling further south here in Wisconsin. I grew up in Outagamie County, who’s biggest lake is actually an impoundment of Black Otter Creek. We had to drive into Shawano County when we actually wanted to take a boat out on a lake to fish. Or, a couple times a summer, we might be lucky enough to travel to the state forest right here in our backyard and go camping, boating and fishing for a long weekend. In addition to our state’s environmental quality and enforcement standards, we owe a lot to our concerned citizens, lakeshore owners and volunteers for continuing to help keep them healthy.

Striving to make new things familiar and familiar things new, this is the Masked Biologist coming to you from the heart of Wisconsin’s great Northwoods.