People associated with Lake Ellwood have long demonstrated their interest in and commitment to the lake. Many of its residents can point to decades of their own experiences on Lake Ellwood and can recall lake-related stories of their parents and grandparents. As an agent of this interest and commitment, the Lake Ellwood Association strives to insure the short- and long- term health of the lake's fish and plant life while maintaining the lake as a desirable recreation site.
Eurasian Water Milfoil (EWM) threatens that health. It already has done great harm to certain lakes in Wisconsin and neighboring states. The property owners of Lake Ellwood have donated thousands of dollars and volunteered countless hours in order to keep EWM at bay.
Why does EWM pose such a threat? According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), at the WDNR's Environmental Education for Kids website, milfoil is an invader. EWM "...grows quickly in spring and forms a dense leaf canopy in the water that shades out native aquatic plants. Because it can spread rapidly by fragmentation, it can block out sunlight needed for native plants to grow. This can lead to areas where all the plants are just Eurasian water-milfoil, which is not a diverse habitat. This disrupts predator-prey relationships by keeping out larger fish, and takes away nutrient-rich native plants that waterfowl need. Eurasian water-milfoil may also lead to poor water quality and algae blooms in infested lakes. Thick stands of Eurasian water-milfoil also make it hard to have fun in the water when you want to go swimming, boating, or fishing. Nobody wants to get tangled up in that long, stringy mess. The flat yellow-green mat of vegetation can also make a lake look infested or dead."
Consequently we read Eric Engbretson's article, "Aggressive milfoil treatment affects fish in Lake Ellwood biologist," appearing in the June 29, 2013 edition of The Daily News, with particular interest. We share in a concern for the fish populations of the lake, as observed by Greg Matzke in his 2012 survey of the lake and reported by Mr. Engbretson. However, neither the article nor the study itself includes consideration of factors other than herbicidal treatment that could affect Lake Ellwood's fish population. These other factors include the following:
- A significant reduction in the spawning grounds for Lake Ellwood. The extended drought of the past years has led to the drying up of the lake's adjacent backwaters and ponds.
- Warming temperatures are widely known to affect fish. The lake's water has gotten warmer over the past summers as temperatures have exceeded previous norms.
- The impact of Lake Ellwood's 45-plus fish cribs, now home to EWM, on the fish population. The presence of these cribs, magnets for fish, could increase fish cannibalization. In short, big fish know where to find little fish.
- The question of native plant life in Lake Ellwood. Onterra LLC is a lake management company based in DePere. The company has worked with the LEA for several years in utilizing two WDNR grants: a 2-year lake management grant (2010-12) and an Aquatic Invasive Species grant (2009-2014). In contrast to statements in the recent article, findings to date by Onterra's aquatic ecologists indicate that plant life other than EWM seems not to have been affected by the applied herbicide. (Note that as a matter of record, Sculpin G (widely approved for use as an aquatic herbicide) has been applied to Lake Ellwood (a 135-acre lake) as follows: 2003 .5 acres; 2004 1.25 acres; 2005 2 acres; 2006 6 acres; 2007 9.9 acres; 2008 14.2 acres; 2009 13.1 acres; 2010 2.3 acres; 2011 9.5 acres; 2012 2.1 acres. These treatment areas were recommended by Onterra and approved by the WDNR before any applications were made.)
What is LEA hoping for going forward?
- In its ongoing efforts to cooperate with the WDNR, knowing that all of us want to stay fully informed as we work together for the short- and long-term health of the lake, the LEA is asking that we learn about other studies like the study of Lake Ellwood's fish conducted last summer. (So far, the findings on Lake Ellwood are unique.) As with all good research that leads to concrete action plans, the results of one study (e.g., the 2012 Lake Ellwood fish survey) need to be replicated in other studies. Do studies of other lakes like Lake Ellwood-those treating EWM as we have-reveal the same findings? What about the fish populations of other lakes-without EWM and/or EWM treatment?
- We ask that plant specialists and limnologists as well as fish specialists be included in a team studying the lake so that all relevant factors will be examined. Toward that end, we look forward to the results of an extensive study of Lake Ellwood's water and plant life that will be conducted by Onterra this summer. As quoted in the recent article, Mr. Matzke speculates that aquatic vegetation is dwindling in Lake Ellwood. Onterra's study should provide us with data that will take this issue out of the world of speculation.
- We also hope that our many efforts to battle EWM in other ways will be successful in keeping the invader at bay. They include:
- Work with a team of hand-pullers based in Minocqua and/or with a company that uses a suction device in pulling EWM. In either case, that work will begin in July.
- Enlisting all property owners not only in hand-pulling milfoil growing in shallow waters at their lakefronts, but also in scooping up fragments as they boat (LEA has provided them with nets). The Association has even established a EWM bounty program that rewards elementary, high school, technical school and college students with $20 for each 5-gallon pail of EWM plants and fragments they gather.
- We have placed buoys in one of the lake's bays where an aggressive colony of EWM is growing, urging boaters to avoid that area.
- We continue to encourage all lake residents to volunteer for the Clean Boats Clean Waters Program at the public landing. (EWM can easily be transferred from lake to lake on boats).
Lake Ellwood property owners share a vested interest in the future of the lake. We have fought long and hard against EWM because we know it threatens that future-the lake's fish, its native plants, and the value of the lake as a recreation site. We want to know what approaches are most effective. We want to know if there are unintended consequences in following any of them. We are eager to learn so that we can develop and follow a lake management plan that respects the interests of the lake's many stakeholders-including fish. Consequently we welcome careful study and added analyses that go well beyond the single study that has been conducted so far. The well-intended yet premature hypotheses published to date warrant further examination.
Meanwhile, we have filed an appeal with the WDNR requesting a mechanical harvesting permit in order to target the EWM colony that multiplied six-fold between last fall and this spring. We fear that delays now will foster rapid EWM infestation, and no fish will thrive in a lake choked by EWM.
Spread Eagle, Wis.