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Changing Climate. Changing Lakes - Ted J. Rulseh

Climate change is a threat to our lake (Birch) and to the many lakes that dot the landscapes of our state, and of course others. Helping to mitigate climate change largely means using less energy and in less carbon-intensive forms. But there are also things we can do directly to help our lakes be resilient to a changing climate.

The warming climate affects lakes in a variety of ways that are interconnected. Warmer weather means warmer water and a longer growing season for algae and water plants, including nuisance invasive species like Eurasian water milfoil.

The changing climate includes more heavy rainfalls – the kind responsible for washing the most sediment, phosphorus and other pollutants from the land into the water. More phosphorus means more growth of plants and algae, and a greater threat of unsightly and toxic blooms of blue-green algae.

More algae in the water also means more algae dying, sinking to the bottom, decomposing, and consuming the oxygen in the depths. The lack of oxygen, combined with warm water, can be a lethal combination for fish like cisco, which must survive the summer in a rather narrow band of cold and well aerated water. Researchers predict that a warmer climate will mean more dieoffs of cisco, which are an important food source for walleyes and muskies.

And speaking of walleyes, they tend to prefer cooler water. As our lakes warm,

they will become less hospitable to walleyes and more friendly to largemouth bass. Studies show that walleyes have been declining in lakes across Wisconsin for 30 years, while largemouth populations increased. Researchers expect walleyes to keep declining as waters get warmer.

So, what can we do about this as stewards of the lakes and as lake property owners? Mike Meyer, a retired Wisconsin DNR research scientist and now owner of an ecological consulting company, says the key is to help keep lake shorelines natural – to avoid cutting down trees and natural plant life in favor of lawns,

The growth of native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses help ensure that rainfall soaks into the soil and is taken up by plant roots, instead of washing into the lake and carrying pollutants with it. Good practices that limit runoff can help sustain lake ecosystems even as warmer temperatures prevail.

Meyer observes, “The less impact humans have on the lakes, the more resilient those aquatic communities will be in adapting to the new climate.”

The gist of all this is simple: In living on or using lakes, we need to think of others besides ourselves. The lakes belong to everyone, and we’d all like to leave them to our kids and grandkids in as good or better shape than we found them. So go lightly. Be gentle. Give back.

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”


As an author, columnist, lecturer, avid fisherman and outdoorsman, Ted’s ‘inspired by nature books and columns bring the wonder of wilderness to us. A longtime member of our LUUF, Ted has been a much sought after speaker for us over the years, and we are enriched by his way of going.”

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