Discover Lake Beulah's Critical Habitat Areas
Why are swamps, vegetation and wetlands so crucial?
They are crucial because they support or provide some of the most productive and bio-diverse areas of the lake, keeping it healthy. A top executive colleague once asked us to repeat “frogs eat flies - snakes eat frogs…” to remind us that there are basic fundamentals that really matter to how things work. In his case, it was about getting to the fundamentals of marketing. In our case, we need to care about what actually keeps our lake so wonderfully stable, generally clear and otherwise healthy. If we don’t respect the mucky, sticky, “overgrown”, sometimes stinky “swamp” areas and let them be, we may not have the great fishing and clean water.
According to an article by Julia A. Cherry on Nature.com:
Often conjuring images of dank, smelly, mosquito-infested wastelands, upon closer look, wetlands are actually biologically diverse and productive ecosystems. Home to a variety of plant life, including floating pond lilies, cattails, cypress, tamarack, and blue spruce, wetlands support diverse communities of invertebrates, which in turn support a wide variety of birds and other vertebrates. Primary consumers from crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic insect larvae to muskrats, geese, and deer rely on the abundance of algae, plants, and detritus for food. Wetlands also support a variety of carnivores, including dragonflies, otters, alligators, and osprey. Thus, wetlands of the world maintain biologically diverse communities of ecological and economic value. "
According to the EPA:
Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. An immense variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals can be part of a wetland ecosystem. Climate, landscape shape (topology), geology and the movement and abundance of water help to determine the plants and animals that inhabit each wetland. The complex, dynamic relationships among the organisms inhabiting the wetland environment are called food webs. This is why wetlands in Texas, North Carolina and Alaska differ from one another.
Wetlands can be thought of as "biological supermarkets." They provide great volumes of food that attract many animal species. These animals use wetlands for part of or all of their life-cycle. Dead plant leaves and stems break down in the water to form small particles of organic material called "detritus." This enriched material feeds many small aquatic insects, shellfish and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals.
The functions of a wetland and the values of these functions to humans depend on a complex set of relationships between the wetland and the other ecosystems in the watershed. A watershed is a geographic area in which water, sediments and dissolved materials drain from higher elevations to a common low-lying outlet or basin a point on a larger stream, lake, underlying aquifer or estuary.
The National Park Service says
Habitat for Threatened and Endangered Species: About one-third of all plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered species in the United States depend on wetlands for their survival
So is every swamp / vegetated area critical?
Well, probably to some degree, but the WI DNR has designated certain areas of Lake Beulah as “Areas of Special Natural Resources Interest (ASNRI)” - Critical Habitat Area - Sensitive Area Designation. While these are not the only areas of sensitive habitat, these are marked the most critical wetland areas of Lake Beulah.
According to the WI DNR:
Every waterbody has critical habitat - those areas that are most important to the overall health of the aquatic plants and animals. Remarkably, eighty percent of the plants and animals on the state's endangered and threatened species list spend all or part of their life cycle within the near shore zone. As many as ninety percent of the living things in lakes and rivers are found along the shallow margins and shores. Wisconsin law mandates special protections for these critical habitats. Critical Habitat Designation is a program that recognizes those areas and maps them so that everyone knows which areas are most vulnerable to impacts from human activity. A critical habitat designation assists waterfront owners by identifying these areas up front, so they can design their waterfront projects to protect habitat and ensure the long-term health of the lake they where they live.
WI DNR Surface Water Data Viewer
To access this interactive map from the WI DNR, go here https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/surfacewater/swdv/ - click “Launch” <wait> - zoom in to the lake - under “Basic Tools” click “Show Layers” - then click the checkbox for the “Priority Navigable Waterways” layer. Give it time to populate the map with orange patches with black dots and those are the critical areas.
So what’s the big deal if I just put a pier through lake vegetation?
Well, that pier changes the ecosystem in a potentially big way.
It disturbs and covers areas that would have had air flow and light.
Activity on the pier creates disturbances such that wildlife above and below the water are likely to be scared away, including from necessary nesting & spawning areas.
Boat traffic to and from the pier disturbs even more of the ecosystem along the traffic zone shifting sediments, scaring wildlife, and killing plants.
So what do I do if I live near lake vegetation and want to use my waterfront?
You find the least invasive approach to create the least disturbance to the ecosystem. In some cases, you disturb nothing, because the area is too important to our shared lake.
Learn more about pier rules here.
If you love the lake, do no harm.
Too many habitats that make our lake a beautiful place to live get disturbed when we move here. Sometimes that’s part of the trade-off. Call someplace “Paradise”, well you may know the song. Swamp lands and vegetated lake ecosystems are the habitats that no single one of us personally own, but all have a responsibility to protect.
Resources About Critical Areas, Wetlands…
Want to know more about why swamps and vegetated lake areas are so important to a lake ecosystem? Check out these resources.
Critical Habitat Areas - Wisconsin DNR
By: Julia A. Cherry (New College and Biological Sciences, The University of Alabama) © 2011 Nature Education. Citation: Cherry, J. A. (2011) Ecology of Wetland Ecosystems: Water, Substrate, and Life. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):16
Watershed Council - MI, while focused on Great Lakes wetlands, this article has good information and diagrams.
National Park Service - one page overview