WASHBURN - A year ago, something really caught the attention of biologist Karen Kozie: nominations for National Marine Sanctuary areas.
These are regions of national significance either in the ocean or on the Great Lakes, designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for research, education and protection. Recognizing the potential for the Apostle Islands and the Chequamegon Bay region, Kozie immediately contacted a friend, Ellen Kwiatkowski.
The conversation grew to include Erica Peterson and Cathy Techtmann and before too long, a citizen's group formed, now made up of 13 individuals.
Testing the waters, this group has organized two presentations and exploratory discussions on the potential of a Lake Superior NMS. One is at 7 p.m., Monday at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center while the other at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Iron County Courthouse in Hurley. Anyone is welcome to attend.
Two guest speakers will be present at the NGLVC: Ellen Brody, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for NOAA's NMS office, who will speak on the NMS, their benefits and the nomination process, and Carol Bernthal, superintendent for the Olympic Coast NMS specializing in resource management successes, partnerships, local involvement, and tribal engagement. Brody will be present at the Iron County meeting hosted by the Iron County Citizens' Forum.
These gatherings give the public an opportunity to find out what an NMS is and how it can benefit this region.
"Part of the process is engaging people," said Kozie. "We're bringing NOAA in because we're not the experts. We want people to have an opportunity to learn more about what a NMS is and be able to ask questions or voice concerns."
Following the presentation, there will be a Q&A. For those unable to attend, it will be recorded and posted on the group's website and Facebook page.
NMS are protected areas of the marine environment that hold deep significance for a community. These include recreational, ecological, historical, cultural, archaeological or aesthetic qualities of national significance. There are four components to a designation: protection, conservation, education and research.
Becoming a NMS requires a two-step process. First, a nomination submitted to NOAA. If the NOAA accepts the nomination, it may be followed by the designation process, which in total could take a few years. That's why Kozie's group wants to get started right now.
There are 14 extant NMS areas in the United States, 13 on oceans and one on Lake Huron in Alpena, Mich. In 2015, the State of Wisconsin successfully nominated a site on Lake Michigan that is currently in the process of designation. Should an Apostle Islands/Chequamegon Bay area NMS be designated, it would be the first one on Lake Superior.
While exploring the concept of a NMS in this region Kozie learned many things about the lake.
"All 40 species of fish that occur in the lake occur in Chequamegon Bay," she said. "Many of the fish in the other parts of the lake are dependent on the Bay in some way. Even fish that are produced as far away as the St. Louis River near Duluth migrate over to the Apostle Islands to feed. Also, we have one of the few naturally reproducing lake sturgeon populations in the Kakagon Sloughs in Bad River."
Add to that are Native American cultural resources, shipwrecks and an extensive fishing and logging heritage. There's also Madeline Island and endless stories.
"It's such a rich place," she said.
To garner community support, since May this citizen group has met with different agencies including biologists, tribes and the National Park Service. The group listens, asks questions and gathers information from these agencies about the resources in the region that might qualify as NMS assets.
"We've also started to interact with community members and stakeholders," Kozie said. "Stakeholders are local government and businesses that could be affected — cruise service, charters, commercial fishermen and recreational fishing clubs. Also kayaking businesses, marinas — any business involved in the lake."
The first question people usually ask is, "How will this affect my business?" Some are concerned about changes in fishing regulations, but according to Kozie, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources already regulates recreational fishing and commercial fishing in collaboration with the Red Cliff and Bad River tribes on Lake Superior.
"We are not proposing any changes in the way fishing is regulated," Kozie said.
Another topic of discussion has included climate change and looking at the possible long-term effects.
"There's so much we don't know about how climate change might affect the lake," she said. "For instance, changes in temperature might change the way currents move in the bay or affect spawning areas of cold-water fish like trout."
In her mind, this is a win-win prospect with no downsides.
"It's all about protecting the lake," Kozie said. "A lot of our economy depends on us being able to go fishing. And tourists want to see clean water when they go kayaking, boating or swimming."
The benefits are signifi
cant for communities that house a NMS area. Alpena, for instance, attracts 100,000 visitors a year. The sanctuary spans a three-county area in which tourists spend over $110 million annually.
"We're always talking about jobs, so this is an opportunity to build our economy and also keep things that we value," she said.
Education plays a huge part in the development of a NMS.
"I'm just so excited about this. I had two kids go through the Washburn School district, and I think the Washburn School district is wonderful, but they never really learned about the lake and the resources we have," Kozie said.
The NMS Act mandates education. Should there be one in this region, NOAA would take school children out on the lake regularly to educate them about the resources that are here.
"To love the lake you have to learn about the lake and value it," she said. "We have such important resources. And we have 10 percent of the world's fresh water. I want our children to know what's here."
For now, this group is just gathering information, seeing if the community supports a NMS. How large an area it would cover depends on the resources identified in these areas.
"It starts at the high-water mark and could extend as far west as Port Wing and as far east as Saxon Harbor," she said.
To find out more contact Cathy Techtmann at UW-Extension: (715) 561-2695. For info about the local initiative go to: http://fyi.uwex.edu/lssanctuary/or http://www.facebook.com/LakeSuperiorNationalMarineSantuarylnitiative.