Protecting Lake Vermilion

The North St. Louis Soil & Water Conservation District, Vermilion Lake Association, and Minnesota Lakes & River Advocates (MLR) have worked together over the last year to protect Lake Vermilion through a Lake Steward Program.

Landowners interested in the program started by taking a 10-question quiz developed by MLR to “Score Your Shore.” A volunteer from the Vermilion Lake Association then offered to visit the landowner to learn their goals for the property. If certain criteria are met, a landowner can be awarded a Lake Steward sign to show they are protecting the lake and encourage others to do so.

A few properties were identified to have some practices implemented to protect the lake.  The North St. Louis SWCD utilized the Conservation Corps of Minnesota & Iowa to conduct two shoreline buffer projects. One property included removing invasive species and lawn area and replacing with native trees, shrubs, perennial pants, and native seed. The other property had an area where erosion was occurring from runoff from the upland. Shoreline shrubs were planted and native seed was laid down. We hope to see more Lake Stewards in the future!

North Saint Louis SWCD Aquatic Invasive Species Program – Summer 2021

North St Louis Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) hires two interns every summer to work with the aquatic invasive species (AIS) program. This year, Charles Greenberg and Jack Hasty were hired to work alongside Natalya Walker, the SWCD’s AIS Program Coordinator. Together, along with their team of 24 watercraft inspectors, they completed boat inspections, decontaminations, and other AIS prevention projects throughout the summer.

Watercraft inspectors inform boaters at public boat landings about AIS and how to prevent their spread. This is our primary defense against the spread of AIS. However, the SWCD does have many other projects in action to combat AIS; for example, monitoring many of the high-risk lakes for new introductions of invasive species by completing vegetation surveys at the public accesses; and, working to bring attention to the risks of releasing live bait into a lake ecosystem by distributing minnow bags to local bait shops. These new bags have a graphic with information on proper bait handling. The SWCD also installed and maintained 3 new bait disposal stations at three public accesses. These stations provide an effective disposal site for anglers to dump their unwanted live bait right at the public access.

Public outreach events were a main focus this past summer. North St Louis SWCD was represented at 12 public outreach events and reached over 700 people at different events such as the grand opening of the Rainy Lake Fishing Pier, The Embarrass Fair, and the Harvest Moon Festival.

Unfortunately, three new lakes in the area were found to have Zebra Mussels this year. Rainy Lake along the US- Canadian Border was found to have zebra mussel veligers (larva). Spurred by these new infestations, the North St. Louis SWCD AIS prevention team will continue to do their work to prevent further spread of aquatic invasive species.

Submitted by Charles Greenberg, Edited by Natalya Walker

Storm Drain Stenciling Continues to Be a Cross-Border Project!

Painting messages beside storm drains to help the public understand that only rain should go down the drain, because they divert water to either the Rainy River or Lake of the Woods, began several years ago as a cross-border project in Fort Frances, ON and International Falls, MN.  The project has grown every year with Kenora, ON and Ranier, MN both taking part and last year, Baudette, MN joined in!  This year was no different.  Kenora, ON and Baudette, MN both took on the project again and it was a huge success in both communities.

In Baudette, the “No Dumping, Drains to Bay” message was painted on 45 storm drains around town by members of Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack #62.  In addition, this year the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District worked with the County and City to utilize a concrete stamp on new construction around curbs and gutters – the drains get permanently stamped when concrete goes in and say “No Dumping Leads to Lake”.  Not only Baudette, but other parts of the County, now have these.

In Kenora, the storm drain stenciling program was led by the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association, who brought children from the Kenora Rec Centre Day Camp out to learn about shoreline buffers, stormwater and storm drains.  Together, they painted the message “A Healthy Lake Starts Here” beside 50 storm drains in the City.

The purpose of these events is to have the painted message serve as a reminder to all of us to be mindful of the types of harmful things that can go down storm drains and pollute public waters. The water that we use to flush our toilets and take showers is treated, but the water that runs off our streets and driveways is not. Runoff collects all sorts of chemicals, oil and fluids, pet waste, fertilizers, and litter as it travels down the city drains and through underground pipes. These pipes lead right into Baudette Bay of Lake of the Woods, the Rainy River and to the north, Safety Bay of Lake of the Woods in Kenora. 

A few helpful tips to help out are: wash your car(s) on your lawn instead of driveway and use biodegradable soaps; sweep driveways instead of hosing them off; pick up dog waste; avoid blowing mowed grass into the streets; repair leaks of oil and fluids from vehicles; and avoid use of chemicals and fertilizers.

For more information on this program, please contact the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District (MN) at 218-634-1842 ext. 4 or the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association (ON) at 807-444-5176.

LOWDSA Fills Summer 2021 with Exciting Programming to Protect our Lakes!

In the summer of 2021, the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association (LOWDSA) was extremely busy with both long-standing and new stewardship initiatives.  They launched a new citizen science program that will help to detect the presence of zebra mussels (Dreissena polyporpha) within Lake of the Woods and surrounding water bodies. Volunteers were given settlement samplers to attach below their docks, a few feet above the lakebed.  These samplers are surfaces on which zebra mussels will settle after they complete their larval (“veliger”) stage. Forty volunteers have taken part in this project and will report back to LOWDSA on the detection of any zebra mussels. More information on this program is available at https://www.lowdsa.com/articles/zebra-mussel-citizen-science-project-launch

LOWDSA’s popular LakeSmart program is a dock-to-dock initiative that has been going strong for many years and brings stewardship information directly to shoreline property owners.  This summer, the LakeSmart team visited 560 docks on Lake of the Woods, Black Sturgeon Lake, Winnipeg River (Minaki), and Rabbit Lake in Kenora, sharing information on the ecosystem benefits of keeping shorelines natural, maintaining septic systems, planting native plants and reducing/avoiding fertilizers and pesticides. The LakeSmart team also worked with children from a local day camp to hold six events where the kids painted messages beside storm drains to encourage only rain down the drain, learned about the threats of invasive species and the importance of shoreline buffers. 

Three shoreline cleanups occurred virtually, 600 seedlings were planted at a local kids camp, 200 cubic yards of metal waste was recycled on their Metal Waste Day, and 11,400 seedlings were distributed to members and the public on Seedling Day to plant on their properties throughout the basin.

The LakeSmart Team identified a wetland area on Coney Island that was being encroached by purple loosestrife and worked with the landowner and volunteers for a removal effort. The LakeSmart team removed 13 garbage bags of invasive plant material and picked up 53 bags from a member volunteer. And, lastly, LOWDSA launched the first ever boat wash station in Kenora.  Operating for 10 days, the team decontaminated 35 boats, shared information with 143 people and distributed their famous dock kits to 76 individuals who stopped in at the boat wash station.  A very successful summer!

Minnesota volunteers search for aquatic invasive species at public water accesses as part of a state-wide event

Over 206 volunteers searched a total of 281 accesses on 222 water bodies across Minnesota on Saturday, August 21, 2021 to participate in Starry Trek.  Starry Trek is a statewide search for starry stonewort and other aquatic invasive species at public water accesses.  The state-wide effort is organized by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC) and University of Minnesota Extension in partnership with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

In Lake of the Woods County, the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) coordinated the event, held at Zippel Bay State Park and 12 volunteers participated.  Volunteers included members from the  local Girl Scout Troop 2210 , Cub Scout Troop 62, Boy Scout Troop 62, and Boy Scout Troop 151.  The event focused on searching for the following species: Starry stonewort, Eurasian watermilfoil, Curly-leaf pondweed and Zebra mussels.

After being trained to identify these invasive species and learning decontamination techniques, volunteers fanned out and checked six public water accesses across the county.  No new aquatic invasive species were found in lakes and rivers searched in Lake of the Woods County.  Abundant native plant species were found.  In fact, statewide, no new starry stonewort discoveries were found during Starry Trek this year.

Lake of the Woods SWCD would like to thank all volunteers who came out to help check our public water accesses. Protecting our waters for future generations is important to us all, and we want to make sure we’re doing the best we can to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS.

The Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center works across the state to develop research-based solutions that can reduce the impacts of aquatic invasive species in Minnesota by preventing spread, controlling populations, and managing ecosystems; and to advance knowledge to inspire action by others.  There are approximately 8% of Minnesota’s 11,000 lakes that are on the infested waters list.  It is important to detect infestations early to control the spread.  A portion of the funding for this program is provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Learn more at www.maisrc.umn.edu.

For more information, contact: Mike Hirst, Lake of the Woods SWCD  Mike.hirst@mn.nacdnet.net    218-634-1842 ext. #4

Rainy River Headwaters – Reports Available

Do you live within the Rainy River Headwaters area? If so, you’ll want to check out the fact that the MPCA has put two important water quality documents on public notice – their Total Maximum Daily Load report and their Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy report. These will be on public notice through October 29th, 4:30 PM. The reports are now posted for public review on the MPCA watershed page (see link below). A virtual public informational meeting on what the reports cover and how to review and comment will be held via WebEx on October 8th at 10 AM with both internet and call in options. Meeting details are posted below. The WRAPS process targets restoration and protection of surface waters within the watershed with a focus on conventional pollutants such as sediment, bacteria, nutrients, and algae. The recommendations in the reports will help guide future local implementation planning efforts by local groups such as SWCDs.

Report Webpage:

Rainy River-Headwaters Watershed Reports

To join the October 8th meeting at 10:00 am central time, please go to:

https://minnesota.webex.com/minnesota/j.php?MTID=m2211324344c00a2c2792d60ba67479ca

Meeting number (access code): 2491 630 0432

Meeting password: 2TgbmtJwM53

Social Media Campaign – Prevent AIS

Throughout May and June 2021, there was messaging on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to help spread the word about preventing movement of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Rainy-Lake of the Woods watershed.  This was a partnership initiative of the International Multi-Agency Arrangement’s AIS subcommittee, made up of specialists from Minnesota, Ontario and Manitoba.  The messaging was specific to this watershed and focused on five key topics.  Zebra mussel prevention was 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 was another topic given its proliferation in the watershed; promotion of the Clean, Drain, Dry strategy for watercraft and equipment was 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 was highlighted; and the importance of early detection and reporting, with websites and phone numbers for each of the three jurisdictions was included in each post.   The posts were spearheaded, posted and boosted thanks to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters; and our partners around the watershed shared them widely.  As it turns out, our posts reached a huge audience and we hope to continue this campaign yearly, 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.