the stream

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Northwoods fishermen and women love when the fish are biting often, offering excitement with every cast.

Frequent catches mean the fish population in a lake is doing well.

Right?

Maybe not.

New research shows, in many lakes, the fishing stays good until it abruptly collapses.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

During the first week of June, a boat sprayed chemicals into the waters of Anvil Lake in Vilas County for the first time.

It was applying an herbicide called 2,4D, targeting Eurasian watermilfoil, an aquatic invasive species whose presence in the lake has grown and grown.

The decision to use chemicals in treating the problem was difficult and often controversial for lake leaders.

But it’s a decision more and more lake groups in the Northwoods are forced to consider as invasive species spread.

In many ways, Anvil Lake is where Dr. Amy Kuhns grew up.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Ron L. Zabler admits Oneida County winters have been harsh on his family’s cabin in the woods.

Some of the paint may be peeling, but that makes this place no less important to him.

“Once I’m up here, I don’t want to go back,” said Zabler, whose permanent home with his wife, Carline, is in southern Wisconsin.

A lot of his attitude has to do with his family’s history on this plot of land.

“I’ve been here since I was 14. I was here when the original owner was here,” said Zabler, who is in his 70s.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Every summer month for the last 16 years, Dick and Judi Oehler have been coming to this exact spot on the Deerskin River east of Eagle River.

Like always, Judi stands on shore, ready with a clipboard, as Dick steps into the stream. Waders cover him to his chest.

The river is about 20 feet across here, and the water comes up to his knees.

Plunging a yard stick to the sandy bottom, Dick calls out water depths as Judi records them.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Standing at Grand Traverse Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula, a look right reveals picturesque yellow-sand beaches and unassuming seasonal homes.

A look left includes nothing but a black shoreline on this part of the peninsula, which juts into Lake Superior in Upper Michigan.

Jay Parent scooped up a handful of the pebbly black sand, which stretches out of sight on the shoreline.

“It was this high stamp sand right here all the way across the harbor,” Parent says, gesturing more than head-high.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

From a few yards away, a woman and four small children watch a massive machine rumble to life.

They stand, look, and point as a boat is lifted by the Burnt Rollways Boat Hoist, carried over a road and dam, and dropped gently in the water on the other side.

“It’s a novelty,” said Scott Blado, who is operating the machine. “It’s just kind of a thing that you go and do. It’s not really a ‘we’ve got to go that way’ kind of thing. It’s more of an event.”

This week, operators fired up the hoist, the only one of its kind in the state, for the summer season.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

As the crow flies, Wildcat Falls near Watersmeet and the Upper Wisconsin River Legacy Forest near Land O’Lakes are only 15 miles apart, on opposite sides of the Michigan-Wisconsin border.

But in some ways, these protected places couldn’t be more different.

From one, water flows north to Lake Superior. From the other, it flows south, eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.

Huge old-growth trees dominate the area near Wildcat Falls, while a young forest supporting threatened species is common near the Upper Wisconsin River.

But they do have one thing in common.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Badger Minerals plans to begin drilling in eastern Oneida County in less than a month, according to documents filed with the county.

The mining exploration company’s plans were just approved by the DNR, the final hurdle to commence exploratory drilling.

The firm told Oneida County 24-hour-a-day drilling near the Wolf River will begin on June 1.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A WXPR investigation has found over a seven-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the City of Rhinelander spread almost 400 tons of sewage sludge at the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport. 

Later, the city built two municipal water wells near the place where some of the sludge was spread. Last year, those wells were found to have high levels of PFAS, a chemical with known health risks.

Now, a nationally-recognized expert on PFAS and sludge says the contamination in the city’s water could have come from sludge spread three decades ago.

Pixabay

More than 150,000 Wisconsin homes, businesses, schools, and daycares get their water through lead pipes, according to data newly compiled by the Environmental Defense Fund.

Consuming even small amounts of lead can lead to behavioral, learning, and cognitive problems in children.

Furthermore, for 300,000 water lines, Wisconsin cities don’t even know what the pipes are made of.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

On Wednesday, a mining exploration company got a step closer to drilling into the earth near the Wolf River in Oneida County.

The county’s Planning and Development committee unanimously approved a permit for Badger Minerals to drill up to ten exploration holes on a private plot of land.

The company wants to find out if the area could be a good place for a metallic mine.

But, if it wasn’t clear before, public backlash demonstrated there’s plenty of opposition in the Northwoods.

Jim Skibo

Many Wisconsin State Parks have closed along with National Forest recreation areas, leaving many to seek different ways to enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wolf River, which starts in Forest County and runs through the entire length of Langlade County, offers opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the Northwoods while practicing social distancing.

Bill Kallner has been fishing the Wolf River for decades. Each time he visits the river he enjoys the beauty and solitude.

Madeline Magee

By the middle of the century, the climate, the waters, and the species of northern Wisconsin could look like today’s southern Wisconsin.

That’s according to projections presented at a scientific conference last week.

In turn, climate change could force southern Wisconsin to look like states including Kansas and Virginia.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Are the Northwoods walleye you catch safe to eat, or do they have too much mercury?

The answer is tied to several factors, but new research shows a surprising variable might have the biggest effect.

The water level of the lake where you caught the fish could tell you more about its safety than anything else.

The realization of the connection started years ago, when lakes researcher Dr. Carl Watras found an interesting trend.

State of Michigan

A month ago, in a ballroom at a hotel conference center in a Madison suburb, social distancing wasn’t even in the vocabulary of most people.

The coronavirus wasn’t yet a threat to Wisconsin.  Hundreds of people packed into a convention to talk about, and hear about, a different threat to health--PFAS.

“It is the hot ticket issue right now,” conceded Bridget Kelly, the Wisconsin DNR’s Program Coordinator for Emerging Contaminants.

The topic is only growing hotter.

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