Study reveals benefits of native plants on water quality, wildlife and property values
A sign along Moon Lake’s scenic shoreline in Vilas County asks campers to take time to appreciate the flourishing native plants, revived fish populations and nesting birds-all compliments of a natural “extreme makeover” completed by public and private partners dedicated to improving water quality and wildlife habitat.
The Wisconsin Lakeshore Restoration Project is a collaborative research study testing how shoreline restorations at developed sites improve water quality and revive native plants and wildlife.
“We are measuring whether these restorations will result in less pollution run-off to lakes and improve fish and wildlife habitat,” said Michael Meyer, project lead and research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Integrated Science Services.
The multi-site project began in 2007 with more than $500,000 in funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, state protection grants and local lake organizations.
“Our primary objective is to measure how well our efforts improve fish and wildlife habitat and to help fish and wildlife populations,” said Meyer. “If restoration goals are met, this will result in cleaner water, a healthier lake and likely improved property values.”
Six projects have already been completed, including the 2009 project at Moon Lake. The study focused on the Moon Beach Camp property, used by about 2,000 visitors annually. Researchers found willing partners with 27 lakefront property owners and groups involved including the United Church Camps Incorporated, which owns the Moon Beach Camp property in St. Germain Township.
Meyer and other DNR staff also joined forces with Vilas County Land and Water Conservation Department and the Alma Moon Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District to work on 1,300 feet of shoreline, ushering in native plants and trees for erosion control that in time should support habitat for more nesting birds and fish.
Fifty years of campsite operations had caused sediment build up in the lake and erosion along the Moon Beach Camp shoreline, leaving little native vegetation and putting at risk mature white and red pine trees. To restore the area, rain gardens and biodegradable erosion control products were developed to halt run-off. Native trees, shrubs and ground cover were planted. Local landscapers with years of experience conducting riparian restoration projects helped plant and provide materials.
“I grew up in Vilas County and have watched the lakes change as the county population has grown. We focused our efforts where the habitat impacts are significant,” Meyer said.
Project researchers targeted five lakes in Vilas County-Found, Moon, Lost, Crystal and Little St. Germain. The project also worked on the DNR Crystal Lake campground shoreline in Vilas County as well as city of Ashland waterfronts at Chequamegon Bay and Memorial and Bayview parks.
For every project lakefront where scientists are removing invasive species and restoring the habitat, they are comparing their work to a nearby, developed lakefront that is not being restored. “We predict the wildlife habitat value and wildlife populations will improve at the restored sites over the 10 years the sites are monitored,” said Meyer.
For more information call Meyer at (715) 365-8858, or email [email protected].