Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

U.S.S. Badger car ferry on Lake Michigan © Heidi Dalberg

U.S.S. Badger car ferry at the Red Arrow Beach in Manitowoc. The dune grasses are part of the city of Manitowoc’s restoration of the park to reduce sedimentation and pollution going into Lake Michigan.
© Heidi Dalberg

December 2014

Champions of conservation

DNR's Office of the Great Lakes and partners look out for Lake Michigan..

Sherrill Anderson


Recent opinion polls indicate Great Lakes protection and restoration programs are supported by approximately 75 percent of Wisconsin voters, and for nearly 10 years, members of the Lake Michigan Stakeholders (LMS) have been a coordinated "Voice for Lake Michigan" by collaborating and networking with other organizations, governmental agencies, non–governmental groups,tribal nations, universities, citizens and property owners to focus on environmental and economic improvements for Lake Michigan.

An important piece of this collaboration includes working with the DNR's Office of the Great Lakes to promote and protect Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes.

Original organizers of the Lake Michigan Stakeholders held their first meeting in 2005 at Concordia University in Mequon with more than 40 participants representing a wide range of interests. LMS members have varied backgrounds and expertise which facilitates educating and informing members of important issues like Cladophora, fish passage, nutrients and more.

Members engage in diverse innovative restoration initiatives throughout the Lake Michigan basin, including beach improvements, transforming an old golf course into prairie, bird and wildlife habitat (see sidebar story), restoring Centerville Creek and Hika Bay in southern Manitowoc County, and turning urban brownfields into lush, diverse habitat with trails and community centers. Member groups are planning for additional projects as well. An annual survey sent to members helps steer the organization's activities and events.

Rose-breasted grosbeak. © Joel Trick
Rose-breasted grosbeak.
© Joel Trick

LMS was instrumental in establishing the first Lake Michigan Day, held Aug. 14 at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc's Lakeshore Water Institute. Lake Michigan Day 2014 brought together dozens of stakeholders, policy makers and concerned citizens to engage with one another, highlighting significant opportunities and challenges for continued restoration and protection of Lake Michigan and the broader Great Lakes basin. Participants toured an ongoing restoration of Red Arrow Beach in Manitowoc to stabilize the sand, minimize runoff into Lake Michigan and improve recreational activities.

Lake Michigan Day 2014 also featured the newly formed Lakeshore Water Institute at UW-Manitowoc, serving the lakeshore region both as a tool for educating and engaging youth, and for developing science-based decisions at the local government level. The skills and knowledge attained by the students will better prepare them for further education and for the workplace in both the public and private sectors.

To reward some of these outstanding stakeholder initiatives, an environmental awards program created by one of LMS's partners, the nonprofit Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership, was expanded to the Wisconsin Lake Michigan basin. Awards were presented to Shawn Graff of the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust for achievements during his 11-year tenure with the organization, and to Tyco Company of Marinette for their community involvement to clean up toxic waste. Organizers plan to move the annual event around the region.

Through strong leadership and by creating a Lake Michigan Day, LMS is continuing to raise awareness and make a difference for Lake Michigan by bringing together strong partners to restore and protect this outstanding resource.

FOREST BEACH MIGRATORY PRESERVE TRANSFORMS GOLF COURSE

Conservation groups typically seek out large, high-quality, pristine habitats to protect. But in 2008, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust (OWLT) saw potential in a 116-acre golf course, Squires Country Club, in northeastern Ozaukee County, for migratory bird and wildlife habitat along the Lake Michigan Flyway. OWLT purchased the land with funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, private donations and a mortgage they are still paying off.

The original site consisted of mowed fairways and a few water holes sandwiched between two hardwood forested corridors. The majority of the property is situated about 600 feet inland from Lake Michigan.

The Wisconsin Stopover Initiative played a critical role in the conversion. After evaluating the site, DNR's Kim Grveles, Sumner Matteson and Dale Katsma visited the golf course to assess its potential as a migratory bird preserve. The team encouraged OWLT to focus on restoration of the fairways for migratory songbirds and affirmed their decision to convert ponds to shorebird stopover habitat.

The restored land is now known as Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. OWLT converted the upland fairways to prairie grasslands and immediately began stewardship activities including invasive and exotic plant control. In 2009, OWLT received a $456,000 federal stimulus grant to carry out a major restoration.

"The grant allowed OWLT to complete 10 years of restoration efforts in 18 months," OWLT Executive Director Shawn Graff explains. "In partnership with state and local biologists, ornithologists and restoration specialists, OWLT and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a restoration plan designed to attract several migratory bird species."

The transformed preserve now hosts a "patchwork quilt" of habitats that support migratory birds, reptiles and mammals of all kinds, complete with an interpretive trail system.

A large renovated club house provides offices for staff and offers a great event space for conservation partners throughout the region. To learn more about the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve's restoration plans, visit: owlt.org Ozaukee Washington Land Trust.

Sherrill Anderson is the regional outreach coordinator for the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership.