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Dropping trees

A habitat for fish, turtles and herons is being created along the shore of Shadow Lake.

It is being done through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ tree drop program.

On Friday, March 21, representatives from the DNR assisted city of Waupaca staff in anchoring three trees into place on the lake.

“We do all types of project. We do a lot of river anchorment. Once the trees waterlog, you can remove all the hardware,” explained Shawn Sullivan, of the DNR’s fisheries staff.

Ted Johnson, a water resource specialist in the DNR’s Wautoma office, recommended the program to the Friends of Mirror/Shadow Lakes, as part of the lake management plan for the two lakes.

“It’s a really good thing you’re doing here,” he said. “There are also some people interested in doing this at Mirrow Lake as well.”

Tree drops are used to restore shorelines and create habitats for fish and wildlife.

Al Niebur, a fisheries biologist in the DNR’s Shawano office, said there are multiple reasons why trees are beneficial for fish.

“From a fisheries standpoint, trees provide cover for fish,” he said. “Sometimes, juvenile fish and even newly hatched fish will use it for cover.”

In addition, young fish will feed off the algae and small critters that are on the trees, Niebur said.

“That’s why it’s such a great habitat. It covers all the bases,” he said.

Some species, such as the yellow perch, will use a tree for spawning, Niebur said.

“They like the trees. When they hatch, there’s cover and food for the young fish,” he said.

Niebur said these types of wood habitats are now needed on Wisconsin lakes.

A negative consequence of shoreline development is the removal of trees, either when a house is being built or when a tree falls into a lake and the property owner removes it, instead of letting it stay there, he said.

The benefit of having trees near the shore is the water tends to be less shallow there. As the sunlight penetrates, there is more production of vegetation, Niebur said.

When there are trees on a shoreline, turtles will crawl up on a log and use it for sunning, he said. Herons also like these habitats, because they are able to stand on a log and pick off their food, he said.

“It benefits all kinds of fish and animals,” Niebur said. “One of the things we try to do is use big enough trees, do something large, because something small will break down much more quickly.”

The three trees on Shadow Lake are all oaks that had been on the hillside of South Park.

The city obtained a five-year permit for the tree program from the DNR. The cost was $300.

“We thought we’d do two or three trees this year and kind of ease the community into it, see what they thought of it and then do more next winter,” said Aaron Jenson, Waupaca’s parks and recreation director.

Niebur said when a tree drop occurs, “it’s almost an instantenous habitat. They will be using it immediately.”

In addition, when a tree falls into a shallow area on a larger lake, the tree will break down the wave action and create zones where other types of vegetation begins to grown, Niebur said.

He encourages property owners to let trees that fall into a lake remain in it, as long as the trees are not interfering with the use of the lake.

“It’d be nice to see more of it on the lakes,” Niebur said of the tree drop program. “This is a nice start for the Mirrow and Shadow lakes area.”

The fact the project is taking place in a visible area is also a benefit.

Carol Elvery, chairperson of the Friends of Waupaca Mirror and Shadow Lakes, was also standing on the ice last Friday as the trees were anchored into place.

“All the people driving by will see birds and turtles,” she said of the wildlife that will appear there.

“And, we will see improvement in the fisheries,” she said.

As the ice melts on Shadow Lake, the trees will settle into the muck, Sullivan said. “It will take a couple months to water log. Then they will settle more yet,” he said.

Jenson said the project is a byproduct of the work of the Friends group.

“We could not do it without the city crew buying into it,” he said. “It’s a new project for us.”

Elvery said, “This is only the beginning. We will build on that.”

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