Protecting one of Rhinelander?s greatest resources from AIS
Bad weather couldn’t keep a few dozen concerned Rhinelander citizens from a recent meeting alongside Boom Lake to address a new invasive threat to the Rhinelander Flowage and to form a new association dedicated to the protection of one of the area’s most important resources.
The “Learn and Act” meeting was organized by Scott Eshelman, who spoke on the imperative of protecting this flowage. Among the other speakers were DNR water resources management specialist Al Wirt, Stephanie Boismenue of the Oneida County Department of Land and Water Conservation, and Pat Goggin of the UW-Extension Lakes Program and the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership. The presentation focused on the expansion of yellow iris as well as established menaces purple loosestrife and Eurasian water-milfoil, and the benefits that could come from the formation of a lake association.
Eshelman said that he was initially approached by Wirt about organizing the meeting to discuss the growing threat of yellow iris and other aquatic invasive species (AIS). Wirt, who Eshelman says knows more about Oneida County lakes than anybody, was working on a fish study for the DNR when he managed to uproot a pair of the invasive plants, providing the impetus for the meeting.
Wirt sees the yellow iris as a threat to native lake plants because of its resilience, showing meeting spectators the deep, thick root system that makes the plant exceptionally hardy and difficult to remove. Wirt estimates that this year’s yellow iris growth is up by 40 percent.
Wisconsin is home to 15,008 lakes and almost 500 lake associations, 57 of which are located in Oneida County. The Rhinelander Flowage Association is new, but the motivation for its foundation is hardly unique. Wisconsin’s first lake association was formed in 1898 in response to marine plant life as well, specifically due to plants being found in ice that was cut out of lakes during the winter and used for food storage–something that Goggin said “didn’t go over well with the martini crowd.”
After the meeting, many of those present signed on to become members and work with the lake association to fight AIS. One spectator, Bob Wolfe, is one of 1,000 property owners on the flowage. He went to the meeting because he was intrigued by the threat of AIS, and left as a charter member of the Rhinelander Flowage Association.
Eshelman, however, spoke on the vested interest that everyone in Rhinelander, not just flowage property owners, holds in the 1,372-acre body of water. “It may be the most valuable resource we have, after our people,” he said.
Meeting attendee Chris Lenard agrees, which is why he chose to join the cause despite not living on the flowage. Having grown up on the river in Wausau, Lenard describes himself as “a river rat from the day [he] was born.” He says the flowage is what originally attracted him to the area. “Even though I don’t live on the flowage, I recreate here and I think it is important to preserve it for future generations.”
According to Eshelman, a carefully monitored and protected flowage is vital to Rhinelander’s economy. Businesses along its shores benefit from it, but so do all local businesses that profit from tourism, much of which is lake-centric recreation, not to mention guides, bait shops and sporting goods stores. Even paper mill employees benefit. “The dam provides $1.5 million in electricity every year for the paper mill,” Eshelman told the crowd. “I’m not sure who’s not affected by the health of the flowage.”
Eshelman hopes to see the number of participants increase, but was pleased with the turnout of determined lake enthusiasts. He concluded the meeting on an optimistic note. “Today we have learned about many ways to help with the prevention of the spread of AIS, and we just saw one of them in action: the dissemination of knowledge.”
It is unlikely that the yellow iris, Eurasian water-milfoil or purple loosestrife will be eradicated from this or any other Wisconsin lake, but by fighting to give native species a fair chance to compete with invaders, there is hope that Rhinelander’s aquatic ecosystems will find a renewed balance and continue to be a valuable asset to the community.
Matt Persike lives in Rhinelander. His articles have appeared in the Star Journal. This is his first article for Living on the Lake magazine.