Paul Radomski, research scientist with the DNR, presented the results of plant, animal and habitat surveys the DNR conducted on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes during the summers of 2010 and 2011 at the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association (WAPOA) annual meeting Saturday, June 8, at the Ideal Township Hall.
More than 140 members and non-members attended the breakfast meeting.
Protection of the rivers and streams, lake shoreline and the habitat surrounding the shoreline are the most effective ways to preserve the plant and animal communities in and around the lakes. Without effective protection, increasing development pressure along lakeshores can negatively impact lakes as well as their shoreline-dependent species.
A first step toward protection is to identify the sensitive areas. With this in mind, the DNR developed a protocol for identifying “sensitive” areas of lakeshore. Sensitive areas are places that provide unique or critical ecological habitat.
These areas along the shore or in near-shore areas of the lake are crucial to the health and well-being of fish, wildlife and native plants.
The goal of the DNR project was to identify sensitive areas along lakeshores that provide unique or critical ecological habitat and to use multiple approaches to protect those identified lakeshores. The results of the study were interesting and surprising in some ways.
Three near-shore fish species of greatest conservation need — the pugnose shiner, least darter and longear sunfish — were detected at several locations throughout the Whitefish Chain.
Thirty-nine different fish species were documented during the surveys, bringing the total historical observed fish community to 50 species. Eight fish species not previously documented in the Whitefish Chain were identified during the surveys.
Fifty-five aquatic plant species were identified in the chain, including 13 emergent, five floating-leaf, four free-floating and 33 submerged species. Nine of these species were documented for the first time in the system.
Wild rice and water lily beds were primarily restricted to protected bays along undeveloped shorelines. Unique plant species included both wetland emergent and submerged plants.
Surveyors identified 96 bird species in the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, including 22 species of greatest conservation need. Surveyors were trained to listen to bird calls and can identify up to 150 different birds by their sound.
The common loon was the most commonly recorded species of greatest conservation need, while song sparrows and robins were the most commonly detected species overall.
Green frogs, monk frogs, gray tree frogs, spring peepers and other frog and toad species were found in the chain. The observation of these frogs was an indication that the environment at the water’s edge is of high quality.
During his presentation, Radomski treated those at the meeting to a recording of the songs of the green and monk frogs. It was noted that the spring peeper frogs are currently singing their tunes.
An ecological model and specific algorithms were developed to analyze the compiled data. The results of the survey identified 10 primary sensitive lakeshore areas to be considered for potential resource protection districts by Crow Wing County.
These stretches supported the greatest diversity of plant and wildlife species, including species of greatest conservation need. Critical habitat, such as wetland habitat, was also present in the highest quantities near these areas.
Radomski stressed that the rivers and streams connected to the Whitefish Chain of Lakes are also an important part of the ecosystem. They provide valuable connectivity between the lakes and nearby habitat.
Overall, the areas along the shore or in near-shore areas of the Whitefish Chain are of high quality. The results of this study were submitted to Crow Wing County.
For more information on WAPOA, go to www.wapoa.org.
For more detailed information on the DNR study and results, go to http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/sli/whitefish_lakereport_2012.pdf.