I think about water a lot. No denying it is an essential part of our daily existence: our bodies are 80% water, we cook with it, bathe with it, grow our food with it and, very importantly, make coffee with it. Water brings us joy, both aesthetically and through water based recreation - I absolutely love to swim in the lake, catch fish (and eat them!), canoe on the rivers and more. We are so incredibly fortunate to be able to turn on a tap and receive fresh drinking water, a simple luxury not experienced by most of the world. We also can visit an abundance of special fresh water places, including wetlands, waterfalls, hundreds of inland lakes, Lake Superior, and thousands of miles of rivers. With all of this abundance, it is really easy to take this resource for granted.
Because this area is so rich in water, I sometimes think the name of the Bayfield Regional Conservancy should be the Headwaters Conservancy. Our Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, and Sawyer Counties service area includes the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi and the headwaters of Lake Superior, head of all of the Great Lakes and the home of 10% of the world’s fresh water. Much of what we do at the BRC protects these headwater systems.
In being thankful for all this wonderful water, I must confer the land and forests their due. The abundance and health of our water is, in part, directly related to the health of our natural landscape. Forests are a critical part of the water cycle – their respiration puts water into the atmosphere and during heavy rains and snow melt, they slow the flow of water over land, helping it absorb into the ground and enter the water table, thus also reducing the likelihood of flooding. By slowing the flow and acting as filters, our forests and wetlands, also vastly reduce runoff, pollution, and sedimentation into our rivers, streams and lakes. Anyone driving over Fish Creek on their way to Ashland after the last heavy rains couldn’t help but notice the reddish brown sediment plume billowing out into the Lake. It just so happens that forest cover in the Fish Creek watershed has diminished to less than half. Scientists with the US Forest Service and the University of Wisconsin have shown a direct relationship between land over and water quality. The more the landscape is covered with natural habitats, the healthier our rivers, streams and lakes.
In support of this, the BRC just protected another 230 acres of forest in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR in the Town of Bell (one of my favorite areas!) including a couple of miles of stream corridor along Lost Creeks 2 and 3, both of which drain into Lake Superior. Not only will this project protect some awesome forest habitat for migratory songbirds, wolf, bear, and plants, but it will also ensure the health of the estuary at Lost Creek Bog, the aquatic habitats of Lost Creeks 2 and 3, and the health of Lake Superior.
As you enjoy the summer swimming, boating or fishing in your local lake, river or Lake Superior, remember to thank the forests and the wetlands for their role in providing that opportunity and know that BRC is working very hard to preserve our water, wetlands and forests.