"We love our lakes. However, we not only allow but actually participate in their destruction."
That was the strong statement about 150 Whitefish Area Property Owners Association (WAPOA) members heard at their June 9 annual meeting from speaker Darby Nelson, scientist and author of the award-winning book, "For Love of Lakes." Nelson said he wrote this book after setting out to answer the question, "Why is this happening?"
Since writing "For Love of Lakes" Nelson has spoken to some 57 lake associations across Minnesota and Wisconsin, with all proceeds from the book going to the organization "Conserve Minnesota," a group that recently took over the work of Minnesota Waters.
Nelson's mission is to inform lakeshore owners that a lake is more than something people simply look at and use for fun - that there are things going on under the water that can make it either a clear and healthy lake or one ruined with algae and other problems. And that human beings are the ones who will determine what the quality of our waters will be.
"Our behavior is what is going to call the shots on what happens to the lakes," Nelson said emphatically.
Showing color photograph slides to the WAPOA members gathered June 9, Nelson showed some of the things that have an effect on the public waters citizens enjoy. Erosion and runoff. Lawns and the chemicals we use to make them weed-free. Widespread removal of all healthy aquatic weeds. Lands too close to the waters being used for raising cattle, other animals and crops. Despite Nelson's strong stewardship message, Nelson spoke with a certain kind of passion that does not point fingers and shift blame. He simply wants people to consider why people continue to do what they do, despite the scientific fact that their behaviors have an effect on the waters; and to ask that they consider changing behaviors that negatively impact the lake. Nelson stated these include the following:
1. A lack of understanding. That people don't know what is under the water, what makes water healthy or not healthy.
2. That we see lakes differently than we see forests. Nelson explained that when people look at a forest they are able see the way things interact. But when they look at a lake, they only see the surface. "What you can't actually see in a lake is 99 percent of what it is," he said.
3. Our brain wiring gets in the way of doing what's right, Nelson said. "We need to target people's emotions," he said, going on to describe the true story of a dog's "gruesome death" after swimming in the blue-green algae of Diamond Lake in Minneapolis.
4. Denial of firmly established science. Many people don't want to hear the truth, said Nelson. In other words, he said, "The data says this, but we don't like what we learn." Recognizing the truth means people would need to alter their behavior in the ways they use and live on shorelines of lakes. He said, for instance, that this might mean not having the most "perfect" lawn that means runoff leads directly into the lake and adds phosphorus to the water.
"Phosphorus can turn a clear lake into pea soup," said Nelson. "The consequences the lake pays for of that kind of landscaping are significant." Nelson said the key is getting people motivated to want to help and do the right thing.
"What will be our legacy?" Nelson asked in closing. "We are stewards of life for just a snippet of time. Someday I know I will look at my grandkids and I will have to apologize for what (today's generations) did." But he hopes each lakeshore owner will be motivated to want to help on their small portion of land and be able to say what he will: "I did MY best to reduce the damages."
In other business at the 2012 WAPOA annual meeting, members:
Viewed displays from organizations and vendors including Woodspirit Gardens and Sunshine Gardens; visited with representatives of the Crow Wing County Shore Patrol (water safety), the Minnesota Corps of Engineers (water levels) and past WAPOA president Bob Uppgaard (Lyme disease); and saw a map of the latest results of water quality testing in the Whitefish Chain and surrounding lakes.
Attended to some business items such as voting to update bylaws and wording of the group's mission statement.
Recognized retiring board members (Sandy Melberg, Ed Egan and Martha Davidge) and voted to approve nomination of new board members (Karen Christofferson, Jess Eide, Pat Hecker and Mike Winkels); and renewed another term for board members Ken Neihart and Tom Watson.
Heard a report on WAPOA's ongoing and continued work in the area of preventing the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS), which includes training of volunteers and hiring of personnel to monitor public accesses (a more detailed article about this work will follow in another issue). Educating visitors to the lake country, friends and neighbors and being vigilant about what you see is important, emphasized director MJ Schneider. "Ignorance is no longer bliss," she said in closing.
Noted that the Run For The Walleye 5K run/walk and children's Sunfish Dash is slated for July 7.
Learned more from natural resources director Ed Egan about the recent WAPOA/DNR Hay Creek Walleye Improvement project that was featured in the last WAPOA newsletter and the March 29 Lake Country Echo. The most positive news, said Egan, was that the DNR saw natural spawning taking place in the new area on several occasions at night during the recent spring spawning season. He said that to complete this project, 37,000 pounds of rock were hand-placed into specific positions to provide a spawning bed in the creek. Egan also showed a map of where the 13.5 million walleye fry were released into the Chain this year due the work of WAPOA and the DNR.
Recognized Judy and Jack Wallschlaeger for being named Minnesota Waters' "Volunteers of the Year" last fall.
Heard that of 63 well samples brought in by members for last year's nitrate testing, none tested positive for nitrates.
Enjoyed a free breakfast thanks to the volunteers from the kitchen crew headed up by Shari Loechler and Carolyn Forney.
(Martha Davidge is publicity director for the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association.)
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