Vilas County research spotlights healthy, natural shorelandsSubmitted: 06/24/2015
Story By Ben Meyer

Vilas County research spotlights healthy, natural shorelands
SAYNER - Parts of the shore of Vilas County's Crystal Lake sit in a neatly mown parkland style. Crystal Lake is a campground area in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest.

Michigan Tech research scientist Dan Haskell looks at one of the parkland plots.

"This is what it used to look like," he says.

He's comparing the current parkland to his area of research.

Haskell is working on a shoreland restoration project at Crystal Lake. He oversees several acres of much more densely vegetated lands, many of which are behind a fence.

For Haskell and other scientists, a healthy shoreland area doesn't include perfectly mown grass or a clear view of the water. Instead, they prefer a more natural shoreland.

One of the biggest benefits of a natural shoreland is the prevention of erosion.

"It [also] provides habitat for a variety of different wildlife," Haskell says. "It protects runoff from nutrients from the yards."

The research area is separated into dozens of plots.

"These plots are exactly 10 meters by 10 meters," says Haskell, walking through the shoreland restoration area.

Some plots were planted in 2011 with trees from private nurseries. Others have stock from public nurseries. A third category simply grows naturally. Each area is studied carefully for differences in development.

A fence surrounds most of the area, protecting the young vegetation from browsing by deer or other herbivores. An automated irrigation system feeds the shoreland with water from Crystal Lake.

"The soil is very sandy," Haskell says. "Sometimes we have these fairly steep slopes to deal with. If you don't put water on this stuff, you're just wasting your money."

Haskell's broader project of shoreland restoration research started in the mid-2000s in the St. Germain area. Private landowners volunteered their property for restoration.

The project at Crystal Lake has been in motion since 2010. Haskell wants to share his research with more property owners in the Northwoods, suggesting certain blends of species to plant and how to maintain areas.

But that goal just became more difficult to achieve. What was supposed to be a ten-year project will lose its funding in October, after just six years.

"The fence will come down, the irrigation will shut off," Haskell says. He won't have the money to continue.

Haskell's current funding comes from Pittman-Robertson money. Pittman-Robertson is a federal program that collects an excise tax on firearms and ammunition. That money is redistributed for conservation projects, hunter education, shooting projects, and other similar programs.

Haskell has been told that the Wisconsin DNR, which controls the distribution of Pittman-Robertson money in the state, won't continue to send along money for his project after October 31.

"We'd like to see the end of the story, you know. But it's the way it is, I guess," Haskell said.

But until the money runs out, Haskell will keep enjoying the research in his shoreland woods.

"It kind of relaxes you, and then you kind of, at the end of the day, you have something to hang your hat on," he says, smiling.

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