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Zack Coulson, Ashland

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Construction project helps rare birds looking for love




The common tern is anything but common on the Great Lakes, especially Lake Superior.

Though as many as 4.6 million are spread across the globe, the compact seabird with easily recognizable orange bill and legs, a harsh, high-pitched cry and black-capped head, is declining in numbers in the Great Lakes, with just 10,000 breeding pairs left.

That makes the small, manmade island in Chequamegon Bay, easily visible offshore on Ashland's east side, crucial for the survival of the birds on Lake Superior.

That's where they go when love is in the air.

"The Ashland tern island is one of only two nesting areas on all of Lake Superior," Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Conservation Biologist Sumner Matteson said. "There are only five nesting sites in Wisconsin, so even though it is not a very big site, it contributes each year to over 100 nesting pairs. So over 200 birds use that site year after year after year. It has become really important that we maintain it and keep it going as long as we can."

It's so important that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is spending $186,000 to rebuild the island's support structures to better resist storm-driven waves and winter ice. The work, being done now, should allow terns to keep romance alive on the island for up to 50 years.

"It's an awful lot of money for an awful small bird, but it's a state endangered species," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Ted Koehler said.

The common tern is an amazing traveler. Nesting over much of the northern part of the United States and

into Canada, the population travels thousands of miles to overwinter.

"All of the Great Lakes birds from Canada, Minnesota and Wisconsin that were involved in a migration study project were found to go down to the northwest coast of Chile to winter," Matteson said.

The tiny island where the birds nest in Chequamegon Bay is a remnant of an old iron oredock that was demolished decades ago. Terns are known to have nested at the site since 1974, but in many respects the location was less than ideal. It was so close to the water that it was threatened by storms that could strike during the nesting period in late spring to late summer. It was also vulnerable to predators like mink and weasels that could swim up to the island and make a meal of eggs or chicks.

That made it difficult for amorous terns to get their groove on. So in 1986, a group of sports men from the Northern Wisconsin Rod and Gun Club used a grant from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and built a heavy timbercrib structure to protect the island from washing away completely under the relentless actions of water and ice.

In 2000, the structure was rebuilt with funds from the Environmental Protection Agency. The latest construction will replace timber cribbing with a steel structure that will better stand up to the forces that challenge the island.

"The interior wooden walls have deteriorated to the point where there is separation taking place," Koehler said.

Koehler said the project would include additions of protective rock around the island as well as new sand and gravel to help the birds build comfortable nests.

"We've had a lot of success over the years in building up the numbers, but it all depends on the viability of the site," Matteson said. "This is the oldest, longest-lived colony on Lake Superior, and I think possibly on the Great Lakes. Its viability to us is very important. We don't want to lose it."

The colony is also important to birdwatchers who visit the Ashland area. For some, a stop at Ashland is their best chance to add a common tern to the life list of birds they have observed. Ashland residents can see them almost every day from Bayview Park beach, the nearest land point to the island.

"I can see them pretty regularly; with 100 nesting pairs, so it's not that uncommon to see them, and I like them all," said Ashland bird watcher Tim Oksiuta.

He said he was delighted with the project,

"It's an important spot, no doubt about that; bird habitat is disappearing like crazy and we've got to protect what we've got," he said.

Koehler said Pearl Beach Construction of Clinton, Michigan, is doing the project, which is being completed during the fall to ensure it doesn't disturb nesting birds. Koehler said if the weather holds, the project should be complete by next week.

Award-winning teacher credits students, district, community
Chequamegon Bay area puts its stamp on lesson plans



A Bayfield teacher who won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching — the highest honor a K-12 teacher can receive in the U.S. — credits almost everyone but himself for the recognition.

Richard Erickson's teaches science at Bayfield High School and believes the school, students, community and his family all played critical roles in helping him get to to Washington, D.C. and the award.

At the nation's Capitol in late October, Erickson picked up his award then returned to Bayfield to reflect on his career and how he came to earn such an honor.

College detour

Hailing from Cloquet, Minn., Erickson left high school with a love of math and science but no intention of ever becoming a teacher. Instead, he began to study engineering at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities on the advice of a guidance counselor. But engineering wasn't the right fit and his thoughts drifted toward pursuing education as a career as he recalled his positive experiences as a student.

"My teachers were my role models," Erickson said. "I looked up to them, had a lot of respect for them."

He decided to try his hand at education, transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and fell in love with teaching during his first field experience.

"From that point on I don't think I ever looked back," he said.


Right out of college, Erickson landed a science teaching position in an affluent St. Paul suburban school district.

He enjoyed the job immensely for the next decade, but he and his wife — who also came from Cloquet — missed Lake Superior. The two decided to move somewhere on the lake as soon as a good job offer came along, and Bayfield made the wise decision to offer Erickson a position.

At Bayfield, Erickson teaches chemistry and physics during the afternoons, and heads the alternative education program in the morning. He takes his alternative education students out into the field nearly every day, he said, and has forged connections with various organizations — such as Red Cliff Treaty Natural Resources and the National Park Service — to provide his students with hands-on, real-world education.

For example, his students recently helped Red Cliff set traps to collar wolves, and every year his kids assist National Park Service biologists as they gather eaglet feathers. Along the way the students learn more about the food chain in the Apostle Islands.


Erickson credited his students in part with helping him become a better teacher, saying he's teaching chemistry differently than he's ever taught it before in response to their needs. In turn a couple of students spoke to Erick son's teaching style and how it has helped them.

Senior Victoria Kahite loves chemistry and easily understands it. But when she thinks about how to assist struggling fellow classmates, she appreciates how much time and effort Erickson has taken to laying the educational groundwork.

"I was realizing how many layers there were to what I had learned and how well he had taught it," Kahite said.

Chemistry doesn't "click" for Senior Olivia Garramone, on the other hand, but Erickson took the time to give extra instruction, patiently explaining the subject in a variety of ways and staying with her until she understood, she said


Erickson also credited the school district with backing his instructional approach, saying administrators give him autonomy in the classroom and encourage creativity, while his fellow teachers in elementary and middle school do an excellent job of preparing students for high school success.

"I think [the award's] an honor for the whole district," Erickson said.

Family of teachers

His family also played a crucial part in earning him the award. His wife, an early childhood special education teacher, taught him the value of forming relationships with students, and he turns to his oldest daughter, who is a chemistry teacher in Boston, for help developing new units or lesson plans.

But while he said he's learned much from his school, students and family, Erickson's drive to improve after each class greatly helped to propel him toward being named one of only four Wisconsin teachers given the presidential award for sixth through 12th-grade teachers in 2017.

At the end of the day, he always asks himself: "Could I have done this better?"

A note to readers

We hope readers notice a few things different about today's edition — and one giant thing that we'll get to in a moment.

About nine months ago, we hired reporter Michelle Jensen to fill an important role here — reporting on all the news from Bayfield County.

She has done that, bringing readers stories about the critical debate in Washburn about how to manage downtown development; Iron River's new and evolving businesses; efforts to eradicate nuisance geese from parks; the weeks-long visit by the Rainbow Family Gathering over the summer and more, all while continuing the arts and entertainment coverage that are at the heart and soul of Bayfield County living.

We dedicated Michelle to Bayfield County coverage because readers there frankly deserve that attention.

Today we're taking our commitment to those readers a step further. For a long time, their stories have been relegated to the back of the A section as if they were an afterthought.

No more.

Today and henceforth, Bayfield County news by Michelle and the local columns that reflect life there, by Jo Bailey and Amy Barker, are moving into the front pages of the paper.

Readers will be able to tell quickly which stories originate in Bayfield County through the sailboat icon that long has been atop their pages deeper in the paper.

That change will be accompanied by an effort to connect Bayfield County businesses with local customers. Expect to see more ads from those businesses, reminding readers that there is a lot to do in Bayfield County — and that the place isn't just for tourists and summer-dwellers.

And now for that giant thing: Every household in Bayfield County will be given free three-month subscriptions to the newspaper so they can see for themselves how much news and how many advertisers we're bringing them every week.

And we're planning a meet-and-greet with Bayfield County readers, so you can let Michelle, editor Peter Wasson and publisher Jim Moran know how we're doing.

More on that as details are arranged.

For now, please enjoy our increased focus on Bayfield County and the news that readers there deserve.

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