As a lakefront property owner, you most likely enjoy some aspect of waterfront living whether that be fishing, swimming, the aesthetic value, or wildlife viewing. Like many others, you may be disappointed with the suitability of your property for these uses. Whether the fishing is lacking, your water quality is poor for swimming, your water is green, or you don’t see wildlife near your lakeshore, there IS something you can do to begin fixing the issue. The seven improvements below are steps you can take to improve habitat and water quality on your lakeshore.
- Avoid creating sand beaches on your waterfront. Covering underwater gravel, silt, or rocks with sand removes vital spawning habitat for certain fish species including walleye. Leaving a natural lakebed will create habitat for fish, aquatic insects (food for fish and other organisms), and frogs. Sand is the least ecologically productive substrate material in lakes and rivers.
- Allow aquatic vegetation to grow. Many fish and other aquatic species require vegetation for food, safety, or spawning habitat. Removing aquatic plants near your property guarantees less diversity of aquatic and terrestrial species.
- Instead of mowed grass, allow shoreline shrubs, grasses, and rushes to grow within 35-50 ft of your waterfront. Mowed grass will attract geese and not much else. Allowing your shoreline to look “messy” with shrubs, trees, native grasses, and rushes; will give a plethora of species including songbirds, mink, muskrat, invertebrates, and ducks habitat to survive and thrive near your home. In addition, mowed grass accelerates runoff (carrying pollutants and sediment) onto your waterway. Dense and diverse lakefront plants will slow water movement and allow for infiltration into the soil.
- Do not remove fallen trees from your water (as long as they do not create safety hazards). Fallen trees, known as large woody debris (LWD), are vital habitat for fish. Trees in the water are known as “fish hotels”. They provide a place where fish can rest, dine, spawn, and raise their young in safety.
- Avoid landscaping with large areas of rock or other impervious surfaces near waterfront. Impervious surfaces allow for accelerated runoff which brings pollutants into your water. It is important for water on your terrestrial property to move slowly and drain into the soil (infiltrate). The soil will naturally filter out many pollutants that can degrade the quality of your lake.
- If using fertilizer on your property is unavoidable, use fertilizer without phosphorus. Most terrestrial properties in Wisconsin are not deficient in phosphorus, however phosphorus has devastating impact to an aquatic ecosystem. Phosphorus in water will allow algae and other aquatic plants to grow to the extreme. This growth is not sustainable, and eventually all these plants will die. When the plants die, their decomposition will rid the water of oxygen and make it uninhabitable for countless species. Phosphorus runoff interrupts the normal and natural balance of nutrient input to a waterway.
- Avoid filling or draining wetland areas on your property. Certain fish species and countless other wildlife require wetlands for survival and reproduction. Even if your wetland is only wet during the spring, it is important habitat, nonetheless. Not only this, but also wetlands are natural filters. They slow the movement of water and promote infiltration and filtration of pollutants and excess nutrients.
Photos from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – Shoreline Alterations Natural Buffers and Landscaping. Lakefront home before and after restoration.
Though you may take steps to protect habitat on your property, it is very possible that right across your property boundary a neighbor is doing the exact opposite. While a little improvement can make a difference, it is important to have many participants to see big results. Join your local lake association to find out how you can help educate your neighbors on the value of these practices. If your lake has not organized an association, open the door for conversation with your neighbors on your own, even if just to simply explain your own practices. Even a small step in the right direction can be a seed of change.
References and additional resources:
“The Water’s Edge – Helping fish and wildlife on your waterfront property” – a publication by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. https://www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/clue/Documents/WatersEdge-5-2019-NoRecycle.pdf
Resources for waterfront property owners - https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/ShorelandZoning/Care/explore.html
By Amy Ester, Former Trees For Tomorrow Educator