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Efforts to adapt to climate change and restore wild rice to Spur Lake SNA

Spur Lake was historically a very important wild rice lake in Northern Wisconsin. Water levels on Spur Lake have increased above normal levels since the late 1990s to the point where the lake can no longer support wild rice. Increased lake levels and aquatic invasive species are prohibiting native wild rice growth on-site. Heavy rain events have increased in recent years, and although the watershed is largely undeveloped, local infrastructure, increased vegetation, and beaver dams may be exacerbating the retention of water on-site. Although wild rice faces significant challenges given climate change, initially lowering water levels and controlling competing aquatic plant species may increase opportunities for the restoration of wild rice on Spur Lake.

Project Area

On Spur Lake by Aaron Carlson
Spur Lake is a 113-acre muck-bottomed soft-water drainage lake that supports dense beds of emergent, submergent, and floating-leaved aquatic plants. Wild rice was historically the dominant emergent species. Wetlands including open bog, alder thicket, and black spruce-tamarack-white cedar swamp surround the majority of the lake's shoreline. Along the northeast corner is a small stand of old-growth hemlock hardwoods and a floating bog mat. The outlet stream, Twin Lakes Creek, flows southward, joining the Pelican River, which in turn flows to the Wisconsin River. The lake and surrounding wetlands provide habitat for black ducks, ring-necked ducks, osprey, and common loons. Use by migratory waterfowl is heavy. Native Americans used this area for centuries and there is an old campsite on the lakeshore. Spur Lake is owned by the DNR and was designated a State Natural Area in 2007.

Management Goals

Goals:

  • Maintain Spur Lake and surrounding natural wetland communities in their high quality state.
  • Control invasive species as necessary according to WDNR priorities.
  • Maintain Spur Lake as an important shallow, muck-bottomed lake for wildlife (game and non-game) resources. If possible, promote the re-establishment of wild rice on the lake.

Objectives:

  • Work to improve water flow on the outlet stream (Twin Lakes Creek) in an effort to lower water levels on Spur Lake.
  • Remove vegetation on Twin Lakes Creek that is restricting water movement.
  • Monitor entire site for invasive species and respond accordingly. High priority species include: purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, and more.
  • Monitor/Manage water levels and aquatic plant communities on Spur Lake.
  • Manage other native & non-native species that compete with wild rice (Typha/water lily)

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:
The timing of heavy precipitation can have severe consequences on wild rice growth, such that events may damage or totally diminish an annual crop depending on the timing of the event and the stage of wild rice growth (ex floating leaf stage early summer)
Intense rain, shrinking winters and longer growing season combined with warmer air temperatures may challenge the life cycle requirements of wild rice (primarily affecting germination and seed production)
Warmer temps and higher humidity may increase brown spot fungus affecting wild rice, while also increasing growth of aquatic invasive plant competitors in Spur Lake
Warmer lake water temps may increase algae and aquatic invasive plant growth
Higher magnitude, frequency and duration rain events has the potential to over-burden adjacent infrastructure (roads, culverts)
Higher streamflow and higher lake levels after precipitation events may further impair culverts and increase flood conditions on East Stella Lake Road, posing a hazard for emergency services to neighboring communities
Warmer water temperatures and lower water levels, should they occur, may change the diversity of surrounding wetland communities, potentially increasing risks of peat decomposition that may increase nutrient release and lead to more woody plant species
Boreal tree species present in the uplands may have reduced habitat suitability by end of century given changing climate; these species are also susceptible to regionally present pests

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:

Challenges

Increased water levels on an already saturated system along with other climate changes challenges the life cycle requirements for a successful crop of wild rice
Increased water levels could compound existing infrastructure issues (difficult location to manage a road sustainably due to rising water levels)
Warmer conditions and longer growing season are likely to increase invasive species on site (aquatic and terrestrial) requiring more intense control efforts
The site already has limited access for boats, so more high flow events will further limit access points needed to manage species competing with wild rice
New invasive species may arrive due to milder winters, warmer and longer growing seasons
Changing seasonal conditions may increase aquatic invasive perennial plants (presenting biotic competition from aggressive/invasive plants), and altered water quality (algae growth, etc)
Competition from aggressive invasive plants and climate issues may challenge wild rice establishment and growth (brown spot disease, humidity, water temperature, storm intensity, etc.)
Maintaining old growth/boreal species management objectives as an old growth area could be difficult as they are vulnerable to increased warming/drought, pests/diseases, and tree root damage with less winter snowpack

Opportunities

Longer growing season may increase wildlife and migratory bird presence, and may eventually increase opportunities for recreation
Increased streamflow could scour the stream channel and improve flow, which is currently difficult to maintain due to dense vegetation within the channel
Longer growing season will increase opportunities to get in the field to control invasive species
As a State Natural Area a large portion of the local watershed is protected from increased development pressures that could influence future runoff and non-point pollution sources and negatively impact water quality at Spur Lake
Opportunities for new and diverse partnerships as we work to restore this system

Adaptation Actions

Project participants used the Adaptation Workbook to develop several adaptation actions for this project, including:

Area/Topic
Approach
Tactics
Documenting historical rice camps / harvest through partnerships with GLIFWC and local tribes.
Adaptation Workshop to bring together communities on this topic.
Spur Lake
Survey water quality, water levels, plant species, and plant communities to gather baseline knowledge of the site and continue monitoring these variables to understand system response to management actions
Clear snow off of ice to increase ice depth and to suppress competitive perennial species to encourage wild rice growth. Snow clearing can be done across a gradient of ice thickness and water depths, and in areas where wild rice is likely to grow
Collaborate with project partners on a wild rice seedbank study in Spur Lake to determine current wild rice viability in seedbank before suggesting management interventions that may introduce new seed
Remove select vegetation along Twin Lakes Creek stream channel and above and below East Stella Lake Road culvert to encourage better streamflow

Monitoring

Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Annual plant survey – species composition and relative abundance, community size, floristic quality, and location of species. Evaluate using regional averages and current state standards
Routine water quality monitoring (chlorophyll, phosphorus, temperature, dissolved oxygen and water depth). Evaluate using regional averages and current state standards
Clear snow off of ice in pre-determined locations (transects) for 2-3 years, and measure the ice thickness and duration (ice coring), evaluate observable changes in lake vegetation patterns and presence of rice
Monitor the number of beavers trapped and the location of dams, conduct yearly as needed
Wild rice seedbank study – evaluate presence and viability of native wild rice on-site for 1 year
After removal of vegetation along stream channel, evaluate improved flow in stream and reduced area of vegetation through visual inspection. Use surface water gauge on Spur Lake site to measure changes after rain events
Following infrastructure improvements, evaluate rate of lake level drop after precipitation events, visually inspect frequency of water back up, flowing over top of structure, ad water flow on road

Next Steps

Site managers are prioritizing the tactics established during the adaptation workshop according to feasibility and capacity, with a keen interest in forming and maintaining new collaborations. Some of the highest priority and most implementable tactics that we will focus on first include gathering Traditional Ecological Knowledge from local tribal members, initiating water quality monitoring and plant surveys on Spur Lake, experimenting with winter snow removal on the lake, removing vegetation from the Twin Lakes Creek channel to improve surface water flow, and assessing the viability of the wild rice seedbank in Spur Lake. The outcomes of these initial tactics will be monitored for success and dictate the direction of future management efforts.

Keywords

Other ecosystems
Wetlands

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