The following is a press release the DNR issued today, in advance of the designation of the state’s 50th wildlife lake.
A state program that provides wildlife habitat by managing Minnesota’s shallow lakes will celebrate a major milestone on Friday, Sept. 5.
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr will designate Eagle Lake in McLeod County as the 50th designated wildlife lake in a ceremony at the Ras-Lynn Wildlife Management Area on Eagle Lake south of Hutchinson.
“It’s an honor to celebrate the state’s 50th designated wildlife lake,” Landwehr said. “This represents a powerful and enduring accomplishment for the state’s wildlife and its citizens. Permanent habitat conservation is the key to the long-term health of species enjoyed by waterfowl hunters and wildlife watchers.”
Since the late 1960s, the DNR has worked with partners and local communities to create designated wildlife lakes.
Today, some of the best lakes for supporting waterfowl are designated as wildlife lakes. The designation allows the DNR to manage water levels of shallow lakes – generally less than 15 feet deep – as well as regulate motorized watercraft and recreational vehicles. This aids aquatic plant growth, which boosts the number of waterfowl that congregate in the area. And that equates to more ducks overhead for waterfowl hunters and wildlife enthusiasts.
Start to finish, it takes community support and often years of planning to designate a wildlife lake. There must be a public review process that includes a public hearing, and the DNR seeks the support of community members, landowners and conservation groups.
“The DNR appreciates the individuals, communities and organizations that have supported wildlife lake designations over the decades,” Landwehr said. “We would not be celebrating the designation of the 50th wildlife lake without their strong support.”
The pace of designating wildlife lakes could quicken in the future thanks to the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by Minnesota citizens in 2008. The DNR is using this new source of habitat conservation revenue to step up its shallow lake management efforts.
Partner groups have increasingly been putting forth the funding and legwork, from local groups to large organizations. Looking back, the statute that created wildlife lake designation was passed in 1969 with great support from the Southern Minnesota Waterfowl Lake Improvement Association, now the Minnesota Waterfowl Association (MWA).
The original push to create the MWA in the 1960s involved a group of waterfowl hunters wanting to do more to attract migrating waterfowl and provide nesting opportunities, said Brad Nylin, MWA executive director.
“They had a plan to work with the DNR to create these shallow lakes, referred to at the time as game lakes,” he said. “The original battle cry of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association was ‘Save the Game Lakes’ and the MWA was launched because of this battle cry. The MWA has been, and is to this day, a strong proponent for lake designation, and we are hoping that this is just the beginning and we can get 50 more lakes designated in the near future.”
Among numerous other groups that have joined the effort to designate wildlife lakes is Ducks Unlimited, which has partnered with the DNR to enhance shallow lakes and restore and protect shoreland around them, said Jon Schneider, manager of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited.
“Our partnership with the Minnesota DNR is at the core of our Living Lakes conservation initiative that strives to enhance shallow lakes from Iowa through northern Minnesota for both migrating and breeding ducks,” Schneider said.
Beginning with large water control structures on Swan Lake and other large wetland projects in the late 1980s, Ducks Unlimited has provided bio-engineering partnership assistance to the DNR to make shallow lakes as healthy and productive as possible.
“Designated wildlife lakes are critical to making this partnership work for ducks and hunters alike,” Schneider said. “We sincerely thank and congratulate the Minnesota DNR and Commissioner Landwehr for reaching this important milestone of Eagle Lake being the 50th shallow lake designated for wildlife management purposes.”
At Eagle Lake
The majority of designated wildlife lakes are in southern and central Minnesota. Some of the most well-known waterfowl lakes in the state are designated wildlife lakes, including Swan, Heron and Christina. Eagle Lake is the second of likely six lakes that will be designated in 2014 and gets the unique honor of being the 50th.
Eagle Lake will be getting a new water control structure to allow drawdowns, which will improve waterfowl habitat and water quality. As an example of how these projects often rely on public funding and private partnerships, the Eagle Lake structure is possible because of an easement from a private landowner, with help from local watershed district staff. The structure was designed and will be constructed by Ducks Unlimited with Outdoor Heritage funding from sales tax dollars generated by the Legacy Amendment.
“Through active management of designated wildlife lakes and other shallow lakes, we are striving to provide better habitat for ducks and other wildlife,” said Nicole Hansel-Welch, DNR Shallow Lakes Program supervisor. “These management activities are generally supported by duck hunters and birders alike because they recognize the multiple benefits that clear water and abundant vegetation bring to many different species of wildlife.”
Not all shallow lakes need or are desired to be designated as wildlife lakes. But having wildlife lakes designated helps ensure the protection of important waterfowl habitat for generations to come.
That was part of the idea of Dick Lindell, one of four founders of the MWA who started the group under a unified mission to save the game lakes at a time in the ’60s when Lindell said conditions weren’t that good for ducks. He said he’s very glad the program has continued.
“I’m very glad it kept going and it’s grown,” Lindell said.
The public is invited to attend the Sept. 5 event, but parking is limited so carpooling is encouraged. For more information on the DNR’s shallow lakes program, including wildlife lake designations, see http://www.mndnr.gov/wildlife/shallowlakes. For more information on the event at Eagle Lake, contact Nicole Hansel-Welch at 218-833-8626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q&A: Five questions about designated wildlife lakes
Q: What is a designated wildlife lake?
A: These lakes are generally shallow lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation which provides food and habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife species. A designated wildlife lake is done through Minnesota Statute 97A.101, which gives the DNR the authority to manage water levels and surface use for the benefit of wildlife.
Q: How does designation work?
A: The DNR drafts a management plan and allows landowners and local units of government and other interested parties to review and comment on the plan and then holds a public hearing. If there is public support at the hearing, the commissioner can designate the lake via a Commissioner’s Order. Also during the process, engineers design water control structures that will allow water level management without flooding downstream properties. The entire process can take more than two years to complete but water level management is complex and many pieces of a plan have to come together for it to work.
Q: Does the DNR want to designate all shallow lakes as wildlife management lakes?
A: No, designation is considered a tool that is used when needed. Water level management is not feasible on all shallow lakes. The DNR’s priority for designation or some other form of management is on lakes that have publicly managed wild lands on parts of their shorelines. For example, the Ras-Lyn Wildlife Management Area on Eagle Lake makes it a priority for management for the DNR.
Q: Is designation the only thing needed in order for the DNR to manage water levels on a lake?
A: No, it is just one of many things needed. Also needed in some cases are easements from private landowners if the DNR does not own the outlet of the lake, agreements with counties or townships if the construction includes road culverts and several permits are also required, both at the state and federal level.
Q: What results are expected from water level management?
A: Improvements in water clarity aquatic vegetation are expected. Timing and extent of the drawdown will determine what types of vegetation will respond. Some drawdowns are timed to encourage the growth of both emergent (cattails and bulrush) and submerged vegetation (for example, sago pondweed) and some are timed to only encourage submerged vegetation to grow.