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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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September 20, 2017

9/9/2017 7:26:00 AM
The Lake Where You Live
The bigger picture
Ted Rulseh

Your lake association, lake district or friends group helps take care of your lake. But who watches the bigger picture - the policies that determine what people can do on their properties and frontage, and the information that helps lake residents make good decisions?

Some of that responsibility falls to countywide lake groups. In our part of Wisconsin that means the Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association (OCLRA) and the Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association (VCLRA). These small bands of volunteers do the hard work of encouraging their county governments (and to a lesser extent state government) to enact policies that help protect the lakes against excessive development and harmful land management practices.

They also work to promote good practices by publishing brochures and other information, keeping members informed by way of newsletters and websites, and speaking before groups in some way connected to lake management and protection. Their members include lake associations and similar groups, as well as individuals. Is your lake group a member? Are you? If not, perhaps membership is worth investigating.

State laws now severely limit how much counties and other local governments can do to protect lakes and streams through zoning. That makes it more important than ever for people who live on and around lakes to adopt good shoreland practices - and avoid harmful ones - voluntarily. OCLRA and VCLRA are dedicated to that cause, while also serving as advocates for protective government policies.

VCLRA, for example, sponsors the annual Blue Heron Shoreline Stewardship Award Program, which enables local lake organizations to recognize property owners who develop their waterfronts in ways that preserve natural features and minimize environmental impacts. These awards also help create awareness, inform lake property owners on the importance of shoreline stewardship and biodiversity, and showcase examples of lake-friendly development.

Meanwhile, OCLRA (of which, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a board member), has published a 24-page booklet, "Doing the Right Thing for Our Lakes and Rivers," that describes a number of good lakeshore practices, outlines the public policies, science and traditions behind them, and explains why they are important.

The lakes are absolutely essential to the quality of life and the economic health of Oneida and Vilas counties. They are the main reason many if not most us have chosen to live here. Protecting their water quality, fisheries, wildlife and scenic beauty benefits everyone and is everyone's job, whether we live on the lakes or simply visit them to enjoy various forms of recreation. Organizations like OCLRA and VCLRA help give those who care about lakes a stronger voice in promoting good practices and encouraging sound lake protection policies.

You can learn more about these groups at and If you visit the websites and like what you see, you might consider joining, or offering support as a volunteer. More willing hands can help make both groups more effective.

Ted Rulseh, who lives on Birch Lake in Harshaw, is the author of the "The Lake Where You Live," a blog where readers can learn about the lakes they love - the history, geology, biology, chemistry, physics, magic, charm. Visit Ted may be reached at

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