Ah…Spring is in the air. It’s time to get the house and yard ready for another great season at the lake. But before you “clean up” the shoreline, take a minute to consider what all that tidying-up means to your lake and its inhabitants. Developed shorelines often lack the woody debris, aquatic plants, and other native shoreline vegetation important to keep your lake – and your lakeshore property values – healthy.
In lakes, woody debris – such as fallen trees, limbs, and branches – is an important part of the lake ecosystem. While these snags might look “messy” to the lakefront owner, they provide vital habitat for a number of species. This woody debris benefits the lake ecosystem in many ways by providing:
- Cover for fish to hide from predators
- Perching sites for turtles, ducks, muskrats, songbirds
- Shading to cool the water
- Structure for frogs and other amphibians to attach their eggs, avoiding siltation
- Food source for water insects
- Erosion control
A study in Little Rock Lake
, Wisconsin showed that decreasing
the abundance of woody debris in the lake
resulted in a decline
in the yellow perch populations. Perch went from being the most abundant species in the lake to very sparse due to the loss of refuge and resulting predation from large-mouth bass. In turn, growth rates of the bass in Little Rock Lake also decreased after the woody debris was removed, and the remaining bass showed signs of cannibalism. “Woody debris can be removed from lakes and shorelines in a few months or years as shoreline development gradually proceeds, but natural replacement takes centuries” (Sass, et al., 2006
Unless a fallen tree is a hazard to navigation or swimming, consider leaving it in the water to improve habitat, fishing, and wildlife observation (Michigan DNRE
Many lakeshore owners want a “weed-free” shoreline, but native aquatic plants provide substantial water quality benefits, wildlife habitat, and shoreline protection. Aquatic plants reduce erosion, produce oxygen, and take up nutrients that might otherwise contribute to unsightly algae growth. Where possible, leave existing aquatic vegetation along the shoreline (recognizing though that invasive plant species can have substantial negative impacts of displacing desired plants). Use docks and swimming platforms to gain lake access, and consider revegetating the shoreline to establish healthy habitat for the lake and its residents.
Trees, shrubs and natural vegetation
Developed shorelines (i.e., lawns) where natural vegetation
has been minimized or eliminated are subject to a number of negative impacts. Lack of mature trees and natural vegetation results in:
- Decreased shading and refuge for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife
- Increased soil erosion
- Reduced wildlife habitat and food sources
- Greater additions of pollutants from stormwater runoff
A recent Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
document cited several studies showing that, compared to undeveloped lakeshores, lakes with developed shorelines exhibited lower fish species richness, a decline in the number of sensitive native species, and more disturbance-tolerant fish species.
Natural shorelines also provide water quality benefits by slowing stormwater runoff, allowing solids and some pollutants to settle out before the runoff reaches the lake. Minimizing incoming sand and sediment helps protect nesting sites for fish and important habitat for aquatic insects (Maine/Vermont zoning results
). In addition, natural shorelines provide an important “bridge” between the aquatic and upland environments required for many species. Studies of areas where natural shorelines have been eliminated found fewer songbirds, instances of turtle isolation, and loss of amphibians and mammals (Wisconsin DNR
Keeping shorelines natural is not only good for wildlife, it’s good for your wallet! A 2003 study
on 36 Maine lakes showed that increases in water clarity directly affect lakeshore property values. Properties on lakes with a water clarity of just one meter or greater compared to lakes with reduced clarity had 2.6-6.5% higher property values. Similar correlations between water quality and property values were seen in New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa (Michigan State University, 2006
Keep it natural
So before you start “cleaning up” your lakeshore, remember that woody debris, aquatic plants, and native vegetation make a healthy lake - for you and all the lake inhabitants.
To learn how K&A can assist you, visit us at:
www.kieser-associates.com or call Mark Kieser at (269) 344-7117