Social Media Campaign – Prevent AIS

Throughout May and June 2021, there will be messaging on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter helping to spread the word about preventing movement of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods watershed.  This is a partnership initiative of the International Multi-Agency Arrangement’s AIS subcommittee, made up of specialists from Minnesota, Ontario and Manitoba.  The messaging is specific to this watershed and will focus on five key topics.  Zebra mussel prevention is a main message, given that they have been found in the south end of Lake of the Woods and the research that has demonstrated their impact on juvenile walleye growth; flowering rush management will be another topic given its proliferation in the watershed; promotion of the Clean, Drain, Dry strategy for watercraft and equipment will be emphasized in each post to ensure people are aware of the importance of this to avoid AIS spread; safe management of aquarium plants in light of the rising online aquarium trade and dumping of unwanted fish in lakes and rivers will be highlighted; and the importance of early detection and reporting, with websites and phone numbers for each of the three jurisdictions will be included in each post.   The posts are being spearheaded, posted and boosted thanks to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and our partners around the watershed are sharing widely.  Last year, our posts reached a huge audience and we hope the same will happen again this year as AIS becomes more of a concern in the basin.

Spiny waterfleas are a threat to our lake ecosystems – you can help stop the spread!

Spiny waterfleas are small aquatic predators native to Eurasia. The first report of spiny waterfleas in North America was in Lake Ontario in 1982 and was introduced to the Great Lakes in ballast water from ocean-going ships. “Spiny” is a species of zooplankton – small animals that rely on water currents and wind to move long distances. They prefer large, deep, clear lakes, but can also be found in shallower waters. This tiny invasive zooplankton has a major appetite, which can cause big problems in the food web, particularly for young fish and native fish. It can cause big problems for anglers, recreationalists and aquatic ecosystems. We can all help stop the spread, but first, it’s important to learn how to identify the spiny waterflea (see the photo and details here) and know ahead of time how to prevent accidentally spreading them from lake to lake.

After being on the lake and when well away from the water, start by draining all water from your boat and gear, including the bilge, livewell, and bait buckets. After draining, use a dry dishcloth or towel to:

  • Wipe fishing lines and reels
  • Wipe drained livewells
  • Wipe drained bait buckets 

If you’ve seen an invasive waterflea or other invasive species in the wild in, please contact:

Ontario: www.EDDMapS.org/Ontario or call 1-800-563-7711

Manitoba: www.Manitoba.ca/StopAIS or call 1-87-STOP AIS-0

Minnesota: www.EDDMapS.org or call 1-218-616-8102

To learn more about how recreational angling gear can contribute to the spread of spiny water flea, visit the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Centre’s  research project page.

2021 Community Engagement Workshop Draws a Big Crowd Virtually

This year’s annual workshop was a true testament to how we can adapt our engagement for the collective efforts on stewardship. On March 31st, 2021, 38 people came together on Zoom and worked together, with our two presenters, to discuss the most effective ways to engage citizens in science and stewardship. The lessons learned came from all over the watershed and involved a diverse range of passionate scientists, educators, lake users and associations.

The session kicked off hearing from Meg Duhr, a Research Outreach Specialist at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Centre. “Stop Spiny” is their recently launched comprehensive outreach campaign to stop the spread of spiny water fleas. Meg focuses on making their scientific studies easy to understand, but more importantly makes the results easy to implement for change and accessible for everyone. Stop Spiny is focused on prevention, and StopSpiny.org hosts a range of videos, resources, fact sheets, information pages and more, that communicate how and why to stop the spread. Meg shared some of the resources, highlighting a map of Minnesota that shows where recreational boaters are coming and going from Lake of the Woods.

Aimee Gourlay, CEO of Mediation Center in Minneapolis, MN, engaged the attendees in a discussion to explore what makes a presentation engaging for each of us. She demonstrated effective techniques like storytelling, knowing your audience, frameworks for planning, and how speaking involves listening too.

She shared things she has learned, and asked us what we took from her presentation. Engaging in dialogue with your audience can help you understand where they are coming from and show that you are willing to exchange knowledge and perspectives, establishing trust and credibility. Active engagement increases knowledge retention, enthusiasm and cognitive capacity.

The participants left equipped with tips for online engagement sessions, how to incorporate public input, and how to best engage the public in science. If you’d like to see a summary of the workshop, it can be found at: file (lowwsf.com)

Town Island – A New Future?

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is a non-profit organization that works to protect natural areas through securing properties and managing them for the long term, ensuring their ecological integrity. NCC is partnering with the City of Kenora, local residents, cottagers and campers to protect 82 hectares (202 acres) on Town Island, at the north end of Lake of the Woods. Town Island has been enjoyed for its intact forest, undeveloped shoreline and large size by outdoor enthusiasts for generations. Although the island is currently municipally owned, the City of Kenora has been looking for a new owner that will continue to respect the abundant natural values of the island. NCC has stepped up to the challenge and is now trying to raise the funds needed to purchase the island. NCC held a public webinar presentation on March 25th, 2021 for people to learn more about the project and engage in discussion with the team. This summer they hope to complete reports on the ecology of the island, recording a detailed species “inventory” that will be the base of their 5-year management plan. Historical use of the island by boaters, hikers, children’s camps, and other visitors will be maintained throughout the project. Visit https://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/where-we-work/ontario/featured-projects/town-island.html for more information.

Environment & Climate Change Canada Phosphorus Consultations – What Was Heard

Early in 2021, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) held public engagements on its proposed ecosystem objectives and potential phosphorus reduction targets to tackle the algae bloom problem on Lake of the Woods.  The Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation organized a series of town-hall style webinars to provide opportunities for the public to connect directly with the policy team at ECCC that is responsible for Lake of the Woods. At these sessions, ECCC outlined the expected responses of the lake to three potential scenarios reducing phosphorus loads by 5 per cent (natural flushing over several decades), 20 per cent, and 30 per cent but did not identify where or how the reductions could be achieved. The 20 and 30 per cent scenarios included that 5 per cent natural flushing and included Minnesota’s plan to cut phosphorus by 17.3 per cent. Here are some of the main points that we heard:

  • There is a strong desire to “get on with it” and take steps to reduce phosphorus loads.
  • Phosphorus reduction targets are needed, and Canada should participate – but this is an international lake and Canada should not “go it alone” separate from the efforts that Minnesota will be taking as part of its more developed plan.
  • The 5 per cent “do nothing” is not a viable option – some noted that this may end up as a net increase if the effects of climate change or increased development continue over the decades to come.
  • There was a general preference for the 20 per cent option as it met most objectives, was aligned with Minnesota’s plans to cut phosphorus, and might be achievable.
  • The 30 per cent option was preferred by some who wanted to take the strongest action, although the achievability and potential costs were questioned.
  • In addition to the general scenarios presented, information was wanted from Canada, similar to that detailed in Minnesota’s plan, that identifies and sets targets for phosphorus reduction for each identified source.
  • Involvement and coordination by the International Joint Commission was strongly supported given that the issue is international in scope and the two countries should not have separate targets or approaches.

In general, we heard that there is enough information to get moving on a plan to reduce phosphorus pollution and that this should be done jointly with Minnesota through the International Joint Commission. Canadian information gaps should not be an excuse to do nothing. Any plan should require follow up and adjustment if needed – adaptive management is supported but is predicated on a systematic and sustained monitoring program.

Excellent Education Leadership at the Local Level

Located in International Falls, MN, Koochiching Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) strives to serve the public when it comes to natural resources education. It is, in fact, in our mission statement! “The mission of the Koochiching SWCD is to conserve and protect the soil and water resources by educating and assisting land users in Koochiching County in being good stewards of the land and its natural resources.”

And who are these land users, you might ask? Anyone who lives or recreates within Koochiching County boundaries! That being said, we work to diversify our efforts in the same way that our population is diverse. This means conservation practice workshops, hosting public watershed participation meetings, and youth education!

Spring is our busiest education season. This is the time when we host watershed health updates for five different watersheds within our county boundaries and ask the public for input. We like to hold in-person workshops, with recent topics surrounding how to remove European Buckthorn from your property and forest stewardship programs available to you. In youth education, we have staff on the Area VIII Envirothon planning committee and assist teachers in getting teams set up. We love participating in school events such as Environmental Education Days (a county-wide event for all 5th graders), classroom visits by teacher request, and one of our favorite events, drain stencil painting!

We don’t do this work alone. Our natural resources don’t know political boundaries, therefore our education doesn’t know boundaries either. We partner with neighboring counties, Soil & Water Conservation Districts, and of course our friends in Canada on a regular basis! This not only makes us stronger in our message, but allows us to pool our resources.

For more information, contact Jolen Simon, Program Coordinator at   jolen.simon@co.koochiching.mn.us

Photo: Indus School students learn how natural filtration works during an education booth with Koochiching SWCD

Conservation in the Rainy Lake to Lake of the Woods Natural Area

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Canada’s largest private land conservation organization, has been conserving important natural spaces since 1962. NCC’s conservation work is focused in Natural Areas and is guided by what are known as Natural Area Conservation Plans (NACP). The Rainy River to Lake of the Woods NACP was recently updated and will guide NCC’s work for the next 10 years. Since the late 1990s, NCC has been acquiring land on and around Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods, from the Oak Grove property near the mouth of the Rainy River to the Hay Island property near the north end of Lake of the Woods.

The Rainy Lake to Lake of the Woods Natural Area covers more than 4.9 million acres or nearly 2 million hectares. It is high in biodiversity values, especially for a boreal ecosystem which tends to have low species diversity compared to the rest of Ontario. The Natural Area extends from east of Rainy Lake, includes the entire watershed of Lake of the Woods and west to the Whitemouth River in Manitoba. Over 500 species of vascular plants have been recorded in the Natural Area, as well as many species of dragonflies, beetles, birds and butterflies. Of these species, many disjunct plants occur (e.g. prairie species well outside their western range) or plants with more southerly character that are at the northern limits of their range.

Extensive peatlands occur across the flat, southwestern portion of the Natural Area, as well as along gentle slopes on the edge of the moraine that dominates the western edge of the Natural Area and the Precambrian Shield Bedrock that dominates the northeastern edge. Bog and fen peatlands support a unique suite of species specialized to the conditions present in organic wetlands. This includes numerous carnivorous species and many of Manitoba’s rare orchid species. Peatlands store more carbon than any terrestrial ecosystem on earth and their conservation will play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change.

More information about NCC’s work on Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods and beyond can be found at: www.natureconservancy.ca.

LakeSmart – One Dock at a Time

LakeSmart is an award-winning environmental outreach program unique to the Lake of the Woods area of northwestern Ontario. A signature program of the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association (LOWDSA), it is focused on environmental education and helping lake users “live and play green” at the lake. The LakeSmart team is equipped with knowledge and resources on a broad range of topics including creating and maintaining shoreline buffer zones, reducing run-off, maintaining septic systems, using eco-friendly cleaning products, preventing the spread of invasive species, safe boating and more. 

With a new year-round Environment Program Coordinator directing the program, LakeSmart has more capacity than ever. This year, LakeSmart plans to launch the area’s first Mobile Boat Wash station, spreading awareness and slowing the spread of invasive species in the watershed. During the summer you can find the team visiting dock-to-dock, driving to smaller lakes, and at the Matiowski Farmers Market in Kenora. LakeSmart is continuing to expand our virtual programming and will be putting on webinars, virtual “dock visits”, online resources, and engaging our followers on social media platforms. To stay up to date and learn more, find us at

www.lowdsa.com/

www.instagram.com/lowdsa/

https://www.facebook.com/LOWDSAssoc

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGxJp6N0dmJJePZej6db-UA

https://www.linkedin.com/company/lowdsa

For more information on this program, visit https://www.lowdsa.com/cpages/lakesmart

Series Intro: WRAPS (Minnesota) And Broadscale Monitoring (Ontario): Two Approaches, One Watershed

The Rainy-Lake of the Woods Basin is shared between Minnesota and Ontario, with a small portion in Manitoba, Canada.  When broken down into its ten major watersheds, it becomes even more obvious that water knows no boundaries and the watershed boundaries are what matter.  However, the way in which data are collected, water is monitored and restoration plans are put in place all differ greatly between the two countries. With numerous watersheds contained within the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Basin, all at varying stages of Minnesota’s Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) or Ontario’s Broadscale Monitoring cycle, a story has been written on each one – check them out here to find out more about what’s happening in your watershed, information on what’s known about local water quality and, if relevant, what restoration plans are being considered.

Series: WRAPS: The Minnesota Approach

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) takes a watershed approach to restoring and protecting Minnesota’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands and, in the case of the binational Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed, works in collaboration with agencies in Canada wherever possible. In the U.S., the funds used to accelerate efforts to monitor, assess, and restore impaired waters and to protect unimpaired waters is funded by Minnesota’s Clean Water Legacy Act.
The primary feature of the watershed approach is that it focuses on the watershed’s condition as the starting point for water quality assessment, planning, implementation and measurement of results. For each of the U.S. sub-basins in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed, the state conducts intensive water quality monitoring and assessments every ten years. During the ten-year cycle, water quality conditions are evaluated, priorities and goals for improvement are established and actions are designed to restore or protect water quality. When a watershed’s ten-year cycle is completed, a new cycle begins.
Along with the Watershed Approach, the MPCA developed a process to identify and address threats to water quality in each major watershed. This process is called “WRAPS” or the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy – WRAPS has four major steps or phases:

Step 1. Monitor water bodies and collect data
Step 2. Assess the Data
Step 3. Develop Strategies to Restore and Protect the Watershed’s Waterbodies
Step 4. Conduct Restoration and Protection Projects in the Watershed

To find out more on Minnesota’s process and where each of the sub-basins are in their monitoring cycle, check out https://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/watershed-approach-restoring-and-protecting-water-quality.
With numerous sub-basins in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed, all at varying stages of the WRAPS process, a story will be written on each one – check them out here to find out more about what’s happening with WRAPS in your watershed and what restoration plans are being considered.