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Nicolet College - Lake Julia Assoc., Nicolet complete eight-year Stewardship Project


Lake Julia Association, Nicolet College complete
eight-year Lake Julia Stewardship Project

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The people who live around Lake Julia just south of Rhinelander had always thought the lake was healthy and in good shape. Now they know that for sure.

Lake Julia EagleRecently the Lake Julia Association and Nicolet College completed the eight-year Lake Julia Stewardship Project that looked at a wide variety of components of the lake ecosystem, from the wetlands surrounding the lake to the fish food chain.

“Everything confirmed that the lake ecosystem is healthy and functioning as it should,” said Terry Rutlin, manager of the Lake Julia Stewardship Project. “Lake Julia truly is a jewel of the Northwoods. Now the work in front of us is to keep it that way.”

Lead researcher Dean Premo, Ph. D., of White Water Associates, said that what made this project unique was that the lake association undertook such an ambitious project on a lake that didn’t have any obvious problems.

“It was a very forward-thinking approach,” Premo said. “The lake association recognized that it’s so much easier and cheaper to keep an ecosystem healthy than it is to try to restore one that has problems.”

Along with collecting and analyzing valuable baseline data about the lake ecosystem, the project also significantly increased the level of understanding for people of how a lake functions.

“The baseline of scientific data will allow us to track changes in the ecosystem over time,” Rutlin said. “By identifying such changes, we will be better able to identify if it is a positive change or one that is of concern and one that we should try to remedy.”

The increased level of understanding lake area residents now have about how a lake functions will also serve to keep the lake healthy and give association members greater incite about what they can do to promote overall lake health.

“Over the years there’s been a real transformation about how we view the lake,” Rutlin said. “It’s common today to have meetings where we talk about ways to preserve and improve fish spawning habitat, how to improve water quality, and how to keep aquatic invasive species out of the lake. It wasn’t like that 10 years ago.”

That increased sense of stewardship ranks as one of the most valuable accomplishments of the project, said Kevin Gauthier, lakes management coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “You can’t put a price on that,” Gauthier said. “To watch that stewardship ethic grow as the project went on was very encouraging. I suspect that will keep growing as time goes on. That in itself will do a great deal to keep Lake Julia healthy in the future as more and more people do what is right for the lake.”

The lake association partnered with several other entities for the stewardship project. These included Nicolet College, which sits on the shore of the lake, the environmental consulting firm White Water Associates, and the Department of Natural Resources, which awarded nearly $50,000 in grants to the lake association to fund the five phases of the project.

As a spring-fed lake, it made sense to start by assessing the wetlands around the lake, Premo said. Scientists studied more than 20 wetland areas in the watershed and found that all were functioning as they should. This included filtering water as it seeped down into the aquifer and running from the surface directly into the lake; trapping the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen and preventing them from entering the lake, thereby limiting algae blooms; and providing habitat for wildlife.

Two other phases concentrated on studying the aquatic plant communities in the lake and in near-shore habitats. Researchers found a rich diversity of plant life, identifying 40 different species in the lake where typically 20 to 25 would be more common. “This high level of plant diversity helps prevent aquatic invasive species from gaining a foothold,” Premo explained. “And we are happy to report that we found no evidence of aquatic invasive species in the lake.”

Another study looked at the base of the food chain and found that Lake Julia is fairly typical for a northern Wisconsin lake, having an adequate population of invertebrates (insects, snails, clams, etc.,) and small “bait” fish to serve as a food source for larger fish. The study found the most common small food fish was bluegill. Other aspects of Stewardship Project included giving presentations about the project, assembling a lake history, and conducting a lake user survey.

Gauthier also credits the Lake Julia Lake Association with being one of leaders in this growing trend of taking action to keep a healthy lake healthy rather than only responding to a problem. “Eight years ago when the project started it was a new concept for lake associations to take such a proactive approach,” Gauthier said. “Lake Julia was one of the first to do it and today I use Lake Julia as a model when I work with other lake associations. This proactive approach of working to keep a healthy lake healthy is a growing trend and much more common today than what it was in the past. Lake Julia has helped to pave the way in making that happen.”