Thursday, July 30, 2009

Northland Students study effects of climate change on local lakes and loons

Andrew East and Josh Smith, both seniors at Northland College in Ashland, Wisc. majoring in natural resources, are working as Sigurd Olson Loon Research Fellows in the Trout Lake watershed during the summer of 2009. These fellowship positions serve a multi-agency research project, combining the goals of the Wisconsin DNR, USGS, the LoonWatch program and a Wisconsin Focus on Energy Environmental and Economic Research and Development initiative aimed at studying climate change. The fellowships are offered through the LoonWatch program at Northland’s Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute.

Dr. Michael W. Meyer, Wisconsin DNR ecological toxicologist and principle investigator, explained the goals of the study, “The current loon project that Andy and Josh are working on is evaluating the impacts of climate change on loon distribution in Wisconsin and asking whether future climatic conditions in the North may undermine some of the habitat quality for loons in the state.”

East and Smith are currently monitoring 28 lakes in the Trout Lake watershed region, each of which they visit at least once a week. The specifics of their research varies, “Right now we’re looking for chick survival,” commented Smith while surveying Trout Lake by boat, “Up to this point, what we’ve been doing is coming out and checking on the birds, watching how they interact with one another, watching where they go, which lakes they’re on, that kind of thing. Now we’re changing the dynamics a little, we’re looking at the success rate of nests, chick survival, we’re doing a lot more GPS coordinates for where the nests are and we’re looking at the aquatic vegetation in the nesting areas. And all of this ties into the larger project goals which are associating loon use and nutrient levels in lakes with climate change, so it’s important stuff, and it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”

The data collected by East and Smith is then added to other databases, such as USGS hydrological models of the Trout Lake watershed, and all of this is linked with larger climate models, allowing scientists to predict conditions for the lakes 20, 50, 80, or even 100 years into the future.

“Two research teams are looking at loon use on lakes for this project,” explained Stacy Craig, LoonWatch Coordinator, “Kevin Kenow, a USGS research wildlife biologist, is looking at loons at the southern extent of their breeding range and Josh and Andrew are part of the team in the Northern Highlands Forest area. The combined efforts of these groups will yield a lot of important data about loons in Wisconsin, especially about which lakes they choose to nest on, and about what we can expect in the future.”

The data so far is confirming certain trends. “It appears that loons are closely tied to a lake’s trophic status, which is the level of nutrients in the water,” Meyer explained, “High trophic status (eutrophic) lakes have less water quality and we’ve documented a lower use by loons. Now the question to ask as part of the project here is whether the lakes in the Trout Lake watershed may become more eutrophic if the climate changes, and if so will that reduce the quality of these lakes for loon use. It’s a big question because the current core of the Wisconsin breeding population is right here and so if we see that the lakes may become less suitable for loons it would be a predictor that the population itself may undergo an alteration because of climate change.”

Being able to participate in such a study as undergraduate students is a rare opportunity for East and Smith, as many institutions without a graduate program do not offer fellowship programs. The fellowships are jointly funded and managed by Wisconsin DNR and LoonWatch and they are partially funded by a Wisconsin Focus on Energy Grant, derived from the Environmental and Economic Research and Development Program.

Their research also expands beyond the climate change study, raising loon awareness and education in the area through LoonWatch and adding data to separate projects by the DNR on mercury exposure levels in the loon population, the impact of Botulism E., and the increase in shore-land development. Each of these are longer running projects which prove useful for public policy and future studies down the line.

Overall, Meyer said, “Andy and Josh have done Northland proud. We’ve had a variety of skill levels in interns when they arrive here and these guys were ready to go. Little direction, little instruction, we meet once a week and they’re working independently the entire time. It’s been great, they’ve brought a level of skill to the table that I was happy to see.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Loon Photo Contest: Call for Entries

Photographers invited to submit images for Loon Appreciation Week poster

ASHLAND, Wis. — The LoonWatch program at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute is seeking entries for the 12th annual Loon Appreciation Week poster contest. The contest is open to original photography of any loon species. The winning entry will appear on more than 10,000 posters that will be distributed nationally to highlight Loon Appreciation Week, May 2-8, 2010. Full credit will be given to the photographer.

Posters will be available to the general public, schools, libraries, community centers, natural resource agencies and environmental organizations. The poster contributes to LoonWatch’s mission to promote and protect Common Loons and their aquatic habitats through education,
monitoring and research.

The contest winner will be notified within a month of the submission deadline. In return for the use of the winning image, the photographer will receive prominent credit on the poster itself, 50 copies of the poster and a cash award in the amount of $300 USD.

Images must be submitted in digital format of 320 DPI or higher resolution with an image size of 11”x 14” or 16”x 20”. Limit five submissions per person. No other forms of artwork will be accepted. For more information on LoonWatch or to view past winning poster photos, visit the Web site at

Interested photographers should contact LoonWatch for an entry form and submission guidelines at (715) 682-1223, or write to LoonWatch Poster, Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, Northland College, Ashland, WI 54806. Submissions must be postmarked by Friday, September 18, 2009.

LoonWatch, now in its 30th year of coordinating volunteers to monitor loon activity and reproductive success, is one of the many programs at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute. Since its founding in 1972, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College has facilitated solutions to environmental problems in the north country through education, research, and citizen involvement. The Institute's namesake, Sigurd F. Olson (1899-1982),
is one of North America's most beloved nature writers and an influential conservationist of the 20th century. In 1974 he won the John Burroughs Medal for his book, “Wilderness Days.” To obtain more information about the Institute, call (715) 682-1223 or visit our website at:

Northland College and its Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute are located in Ashland, Wis., near the shores of Lake Superior. Northland’s distinctive environmental liberal arts program, passionate faculty, and beautiful natural location create a community of engaged learners who develop the skills and experience to prepare for advanced studies and meaningful lives. Founded in 1892, Northland enrolls 700 students from across the nation and across the world. For more information about Northland College and its Institute, visit

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Get Involved: The Lost Ladybug Project

Did you know that across North America, ladybug species distribution is changing? Over the past twenty years several native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare. During this same time ladybugs from other places have greatly increased both their numbers and range. A new initiative from Cornell University, called The Lost Ladybug Project, is looking for volunteers across North America to collect ladybugs, take their picture, and send the info into the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. Scientists need detailed information about which ladybugs are still out there and how many can be found. If you are interested in supporting this effort, go to The Lost Ladybug Project website for participation instructions. Help make a differnece, and remember to release the ladybugs safely where you found them after you've documented them!