Lake Superior Coastal Wetland and Stream Monitoring Project

     Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and is one of the most unique ecosystems in North America.  Wisconsin's Lake Superior shore has many coastal wetlands and important tributaries that play a large role in the biological productivity of the Lake.  For example, Lake Superior coastal wetlands are about twenty four times more productive than the open water areas, and the St. Louis River is a major spawning river and nursery for the Lake's warm water fishery.  Yet, in spite of the importance of these habitats, there is little information about their ecological condition.

     Between 2007 and 2010, the Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) at the University of Wisconsin - Superior and the University of Wisconsin Extension (UWEX) program received funding to monitor eight watersheds in Lake Superior and their coastal wetlands and streams.  Watersheds included Allouez Bay, Bark River, Flag River, Little Pokegama, Lost Creek, Newton Creek, Pokegama, and Sioux River.  Pokegama, Little Pokegama and Allouez Bay are part of the St. Louis River Estuary, which was recently designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve system.

     One of the major goals of the project was to pilot coastal wetland biological indicators developed by the Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Consortium and the State of the Lake Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC).  A biological indicator is a species or group of species that can be thought of as a piece of evidence that when measured can be used to determine the overall environmental integrity of an ecosystem.  Assessing coastal wetland health using widely accepted, standardized indicators will help provide resource managers with important information on how to protect, restore, and manage coastal habitats.

     Another component of the project was to develop and test a method of working with volunteers to collect baseline stream data.  Volunteers worked side-by-side with scientists and learned to collect and preserve macroinvertebrates using Wisconsin DNR protocols.  They also were trained to use Water Action Volunteer protocols to collect stream flow, temperature, dissolved oxygen, transparency, and habitat assessments.  The purpose of baseline monitoring is to characterize existing water quality conditions and establish a database for future comparisons.

     In addition to collecting field data, the grant allowed for analyzing and digitizing land cover in each the of eight study areas.  Research shows that when the amount of open land in a watershed exceeds 60%, the volume and the velocity of runoff to streams are increased and water quality and aquatic habitat are degraded.  In this research, land with forests younger than 16 years, as well as developed areas, roads, and agriculture are considered open lands.  It is unknown what impacts these changes are having on aquatic organisms and habitat in the estuaries.  Analyzing land cover using high resolution imagery will allow resource managers and local communities to identify highly open areas and potential restoration and protection strategies for those specific areas.

     Information about this project was shared with the community aboard the University of Wisconsin - Superior's vessel, the L.L. Smith Jr.   This project was funded by the Wisconsin DNR and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.

Fact sheets are linked below:

Allouez Bay Watershed Bark Bay Watershed
Flag River Estuary Watershed Little Pokegama River Watershed
Lost Creek Watershed Newton Creek Watershed
Pokegama Bay Watershed Sioux River Watershed

Flag River

Volunteers collecting stream data on the Flag River, Bayfield County, WI

Lost Creek Bog

Estuary sampling in Lost Creek Bog, Bayfield County, WI

L.L. Smith

"View From The Lake" lecture aboard the L.L. Smith, Jr. in Bayfield, WI