Northern Wisconsin in deep drought::Dry conditions predicted to persistLakes in northern Wisconsin are shriveling. Wetlands are no longer wet. Trout stream tributaries are drying up. Flowages aren’t flowing like they used to. Oak trees are producing fewer acorns.
By: By Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Superior Telegram
Lakes in northern Wisconsin are shriveling.
Wetlands are no longer wet. Trout stream tributaries are drying up. Flowages aren’t flowing like they used to. Oak trees are producing fewer acorns.
An eight-year drought is affecting everything from boaters and anglers to walleyes and blackberries, the Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday.
The Rainbow Flowage in Oneida County has dropped 13 feet while Deep Lake in Washburn County isn’t so deep anymore — it’s down 15 feet. Most stream levels are down to only about one-third of their normal flow.
There’s not much relief in sight considering the summer outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center is forecasting drought conditions in the North Woods to persist. And even if Wisconsin is deluged with rain for weeks, it will take a long time to recover, said Ed Hopkins, assistant state climatologist.
Kathy DePagter doesn’t need anyone to tell her there’s a severe drought in northern Wisconsin.
The rafting company owner can see the drought each day she heads out to the Peshtigo River where the water is too low to accommodate rafts carrying more than one person.
“It gets this low usually in August. We don’t normally get this low in May,” said DePagter, owner of Thornton’s Rafting Resort and Campgrounds in Athelstane.
Though the forest fire danger has lessened now that much of the state is going through the spring green-up, DNR officials fear that another summer of mostly warm, dry conditions will mean plenty of fires.
Trent Marty, director of the Bureau of Forest Protection for the DNR, pointed out that many bogs, swamps and wetlands are dry, which provides fewer fire breaks. With less water to siphon from lakes and ponds, it’s more difficult for firefighters to knock down blazes.
“You lose your (fire control) barriers without the swamps and shallow lakes you could push fires into. You eliminate a water source or two and it all impacts things across the landscape,” said Marty.
Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, the DNR warns boaters to use extra caution, especially since it’s easy to ruin propellers speeding through areas that used to be deeper. DePagter, who has owned Thornton’s Rafting Resort in Marinette County for 11 years, has never seen rivers so low and she’s sending some customers to the nearby Menominee River because the Peshtigo River is 8 to 10 inches lower.
Some of the northernmost tributaries of trout streams have gone dry. And beavers, seeking spots to dam and build homes, have turned to trout streams in Sawyer and Rusk counties, said Dave Neuswanger, DNR fisheries supervisor for the upper Chippewa basin. That means fewer trout to catch in some streams.
Where there still is water, in many cases it’s much clearer because of the drought. As wetlands and bogs dry up, they no longer filter rainfall making its way into lakes. Water clarity has improved from 2 to 3 feet of visibility to 8 to 12 feet in many northern Wisconsin lakes.
“The great teabag as I call it hasn’t been functioning because there’s so little water,” said Neuswanger.
The upside of clearer water, aside from the aesthetics, is sunlight penetrating deeper into lakes and spurring more biological growth. Which is great — unless you’re a walleye.
Walleyes and largemouth bass are competitors in the circle of life in many northern Wisconsin lakes. Traditionally, lakes have been managed in favor of walleyes because so many anglers like to catch them. But clearer water is helping largemouth bass find and eat young walleyes, said Neuswanger.
“It’s not what we want to happen on some of these lakes,” Neuswanger said. “I think this is going to have some far-reaching effects on the competition of our fish communities in terms of which species are doing well and which ones are not.”
A range of effects
Aside from the largemouth bass, other wildlife is enjoying the drought. As shorelines expand and lake bottoms dry out, vegetation sprouts and increases habitat for some reptiles and amphibians. Shoreland birds are also finding more places to nest. Rare piping plovers, which had disappeared from Lake Superior’s western shore, are starting to reappear because they now have more nesting areas along sandy shorelines.
Dry conditions, though, often limit plant production, including delicacies wildlife like to nibble, such as blackberries and mushrooms.
Meanwhile, farmers are not yet worried about dry conditions because it’s too early in the planting season. The bulk of Wisconsin’s agriculture is not located in the northern third of the state where drought conditions are the worst. According to the crop report published Monday by the state Agricultural Statistics Service, warm and dry weather last week allowed farmers to spend more time in their fields.
— Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services