By Leslie Mertz
Consider the plight of a turtle facing a cement seawall.
Many inland lakes are ringed with such seawalls. But for the turtle – and lots of wildlife – a more natural lakeshore is a much better option.
“One of the reasons is that the seawall is actually a barrier to wildlife that use both land and water,” said Julia Kirkwood, chair of the Michigan Natural Sh
“Turtles, for instance, cannot get up onto land when they need to lay their eggs. It’s too much of a steep crawl for them.”
In addition, she said, the energy from waves that hit that a seawall often scours out the bottom of the lake.
“It decreases any kind of feeding area, any kind of habitat for fish or other organisms that would be living on or feeding on that bottom and need that near-shore area to survive,” Kirkwood said.
Those are among the reasons that word about the importance of natural vegetated shorelines is spreading.
“Over the years, we’ve been promoting more natural shorelines to homeowners, but when they went and tried to find a professional who knew how to do the work properly, they couldn’t find anyone who did it,” Kirkwood said. The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership began certifying contractors four years ago on how to create natural shorelines.
Now the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership is following suit and will begin certifying shoreline contractors and others interested in lakeshore habitat restoration in 2014.
Similar to Michigan’s inland-lake program, it will train people to create natural shorelines that provide wildlife habitat, fight erosion from waves and filter runoff.
One impetus for the program is a 2007 national lakes assessment conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Patrick Goggin, lake specialist with University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.
“The big ‘aha’ that came out of that first-of-its-kind study was that the number one stressor to our lake ecosystems was the loss of lakeshore habitat,” Goggin said.
At the same time, Wisconsin was in a decade-long process to set new minimum standards for shoreline development in 2012.
“We’re trying to either get that habitat back, or to protect it in the first place when we do any development,” he said. All of the state’s 72 counties now have two years to update their ordinances to meet the new standards.
“The vision of the certification training is to have a mechanism whereby we can get folks trained up on the state standards, the state permitting processes and the best management practices for doing shoreline restoration work,” Goggin said.
To put the certification program together, Goggin turned to Michigan.
“I went and took the Michigan class myself two years ago, hoping to borrow from and understand how Michigan is doing it, and bring that program to Wisconsin,” he said.
Michigan includes three days of intensive classroom instruction followed by a one-day installation of a project, said Kirkwood. Participants must pass an exam, attend classes to maintain that certification and renew it every three years.
The $375-per-person training and certification are voluntary, but turnout is good, said Kirkwood, who is also an environmental quality analyst with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. As of December, 145 participants have been certified. Another 38 are enrolled in the 2013 program.
“Although the state doesn’t require certification,we thought that this program would help to get a consistent message out there, as well as a consistent understanding of what’s going on with the lakes.”
In Wisconsin, the plan is to couple two days in the classroom with one day in the field starting in 2014. In the meantime, work is under way on a resource manual similar to Michigan’s, and to plan two, one-day pilot workshops to solidify content.
Goggin also hopes to engage more people.
“Michigan has a very unique and special partnership that’s driving its program, and we want to emulate that,” he said, referring to the more than two dozen organizations, companies and associations that have joined to promote natural shorelines in Michigan. “In this first year, we want to build that partnership with green industry, get them more used to who we are in the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership, and pull them into the process of developing the manual and developing the workshop content so we’re all comfortable with it.”
Steve Baillie, a landscape designer at Reder Landscaping of Midland, Mich., earned his certification last year. “Where I live, there are lakes all around us, and there’s a growing demand for a service like this,” he said. “There was a need for it in our area, and we wanted to be one of the first to offer that service. Once I got into it, I really just saw the benefits. I’m a big advocate.”
Since he was certified, three customers have asked about natural-shoreline projects, Baillie said. And he has received several invitations to give presentations on natural shorelines to garden clubs and other groups, which may lead to additional work.
The program does more than drum up business, he said. “It impacts my train of thought. It alters my design process in my mind as I’m designing someone’s home. I think about how it’s going to impact the wetlands or surrounding areas.
“Growing up in Michigan, I have been on the lakes boating, fishing, water skiing and all those kinds of sports, and enjoying the many natural resources,” he said. “I feel this is a way that I can help preserve those resources one little piece at a time. It’s just good stewardship.”