Living on the Lake: Aquatic invasive found in Rhinelander Flowage
Good news…and bad news.
The bad news is that an invasive aquatic plant known as curly-leaf pond weed (CLP) has been discovered in the Wisconsin River/Rhinelander-Boom Lake Flowage area. The good news is that steps are being taken to address the problem by monitoring the waterway and establishing a lake association of shoreline property owners and other interested parties.
This summer, more than 1,400 sites were examined for aquatic invasive species (AIS), and just two places were found to contain CLP: a bay near First Landing, in the river near Skunk Creek off River Road in the Town of Pine Lake, and near an island close to the dam in the city of Rhinelander. Also discovered were several sites containing purple loosestrife, an invasive plant that grows on the shoreline.
The survey was spearheaded by a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Oneida County University of Wisconsin Extension office and Wausau Papers, which is contributing to the effort in compliance with Federal Energy Regulation Commission guidelines, as the operator of a dam on a public waterway.
Kevin Gauthier, Water Resource Management Specialist with the DNR, is coordinating the effort. “It’s a great partnership that has allowed us to make a very important base-line study of the flowage,” he says. “With so many groups coming to the table, we’ve been able to combine equipment, funding, knowledge and training to complete a comprehensive survey.
“This popular body of water has been on our radar for a long time. Last year, we got a report of a floating fragment of CLP, and it moved up on our priority list. With the assistance of Wausau Paper and the county stepping in, we made it happen.”
CLP is also called “lasagna noodle weed” because of its rippled, long, flat foliage. It begins to grow very early in the spring, sometimes even before the ice goes out on area lakes. Because of this, it has real potential to overtake and replace native plant species. “It gets a good jump-start,” says Kevin. “There aren’t any natural conditions here that will control its growth, either.
“If CLP takes hold, we could see it out-compete native plants and crowd them right out,” he explains. “Right now, there’s good diversity in the flowage and river, with some areas containing over 50 species of plants.” Excessive CLP growth in some lakes has impeded the use of motor-driven boats.
“Under the surface, a lake contains a structural form like a forest, with different substrates of plants,” Kevin continues. “If that diversity is lost, we end up with something like a red pine plantation-all one species. That adversely affects the whole food chain, from invertebrates all the way up to large game fish.”
Kyle McLaughlin, DNR Water Resource Management Specialist, was one of six people who took part in the survey this summer, spending many hours on the water. “We went to points spaced evenly 80 meters apart, taking rake samples and identifying each plant species,” he says. “Where CLP was found, we also conducted a meander survey to try and get a better handle on the extent of the plants, although it was a little late in the season to do so, as CLP dies back as the season progresses and becomes more difficult to find.”
As a native of Rhinelander, Kyle has a vested interest in the flowage. “I grew up on Boom Lake,” he remarks. “After graduation from RHS in 2003, I attended Nicolet College’s university transfer program and went on to UW-Stevens Point to finish my bachelor’s degree in natural resources.”
Currently completing his master’s degree while working as a limited-term employee with the DNR, Kyle spends almost every day on the lake through his involvement with Hodag Water Shows. His wife, Ashley, is also involved with the water ski organization while working on the survey as AIS specialist for Wausau Paper.
Ashley has now taken on the task of rousing support for a lake association to help address the AIS situation and other issues important to the health of the flowage. “I have a background in communication,” she explains. “So it was natural for me to send out notice of a meeting.”
At that initial meeting, held in mid-August, a presentation by UW-Extension agent Patrick Goggin highlighted the basics of lake association formation. With more than 5,000 lakes in Wisconsin, such groups are not new, and Patrick points out the first were established over a surprising issue.
“Ice harvesting was very important over a hundred years ago,” he says. “At some point, there began to be too much plant material showing up in the ice, and organizations formed to try to deal with the problem.”
Modern-day issues are a bit different. Today, lake associations may address everything from education and monitoring of water quality to social gatherings among property owners. Number one on Patrick’s list of reasons to push for a Rhinelander flowage group is the need to apply for grant money to help stem the tide of AIS.
“There is money out there and a lot of good resources to help with the work,” he explains. “A lake association can make all that come together. Also, the more people who are aware of AIS and out there watching for it, the better off we are.”
About a dozen citizens were in attendance, including Bob Young, a riverfront property owner and former DNR lakes manager. “There have been a couple efforts to form a lake association over the years, but it never took off,” Bob says. “I would like to see something happen now.”
Also at the meeting were members of nearby lake associations who came to add advice and support. Among their comments were the importance of encouraging and educating lake users to help guard against the spread of AIS, gathering volunteer support and helping shoreline owners to take proactive measures.
The popularity of the Rhinelander flowage and the presence of dozens of public and private boat landings on the waterway will add to the challenges faced by organizers of the new lake association. “I’ve worked with hundreds of these groups,” says Kevin Gauthier. “With a water body this large, representing so many different areas, it may be tough at first to address all the concerns and problems.
“But I’ve seen great success stories,” he continues. “With so many people, there will be many willing to step forward to work together, and many different talents and skills that come along. I’m confident that with a good lake association, we can address the short-term and long-term issues to keep this water healthy and thriving.”
A group of citizens is exploring the organization of a Rhinelander flowage lake association. Anyone interested in more information is invited to contact Scott Eschelman at the following email address: [email protected] or (715) 362-4485.
Sue Schneider is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander.
Note: This story first appeared in the September 2011 issue of Living on the Lake magazine.