Conserving natural resources, and preserving their condition for future generations, is the role of natural resource officials. The first thing that comes to mind would be the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. But, in the Northwoods, the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Natural Resources Department has the same mission. According to director Larry Wawronowicz, though, the tribal department looks at some things a bit differently.
"Where the DNR says, we want to have fish here for the next generation, we say we want to have fish here for the next generation that they can eat," he said.
The William J. Poupart Sr. Fish Hatchery in Lac du Flambeau is fairly well known in the Northwoods. The hatchery provides both musky and walleye fingerlings to many lakes, both on and off the reservation every summer, as well as extended growth walleyes in the fall. In a normal year, starting in May, crews head to reservation waters to collect brood stock walleye and musky for spawning. By June, everything is collected and hatched out.
The hatchery received grant money for improvements last year to allow them to raise more extended growth walleye fingerlings, but according to Wawronowicz, they have not received word from the state yet as to how many they will be asked to produce and stock. Small fingerlings are usually stocked near July 1, with extended growth fingerlings, 6-8 inches in length, stocked in the fall. Wawronowicz expects to concentrate a bit more on musky than walleye this year.
This is not the extent of the Natural Resources Department duties, however.
"The other thing we're always pretty conscientious about, coming into the open water season, the boating season, is that we aren't transporting aquatic invasive species," he said. "We want a lot of our users, both tribal and non-tribal, to make a conscientious effort to make sure they're not bringing aquatic invasive species into our lakes."
Area lake associations as well at the department's water resource staff work throughout the open water season to educate people and to help them understand the importance of removing any vegetation or debris from their boats and equipment.
The tribe also has a steam cleaner available at the natural resources building for those who would like to use it. The steam cleaner can be an important tool in the fight against invasives by getting into the smallest spaces where invasives may hide and hitch hike to another lake. Wawronowicz said, when the department knows tribal harvesters are going to another lake with invasive species, the steam cleaner is made available to them as well, to ensure none of those invasives make their way back into reservation waters.
Crews will be busy collecting water samples this summer. Samples of many variables will be taken to give an idea of what might be happening in tribal waters. Secchi disk readings will be taken as well as readings for phosphorus, pH and other indicators. With 261 lakes within the reservation, it is important for the crews to have a set schedule and to visit lakes at the same time of year every year to get the best data possible to help in management decision-making.
Fish surveys are also done later in the year. These surveys will help determine walleye production and recruitment in area lakes. These surveys can be a good indicator of how well the walleye populations are doing in each lake.
With the reservation having 261 lakes and 71 miles of creeks, rivers and streams, as well as 24,000 acres of wetland, protecting the water on the reservation is very important to the department.
"We only have one Lac du Flambeau reservation," Wawronowicz said. "We have that 12 by 12 miles. the 144 square miles, and we're not getting another one. We're 49 percent wet on the reservation. That's why we celebrate our lakes."
He said Lakes Fest each summer in June celebrates the areas lakes and their importance to the overall health of the reservation environment. The Tribal Natural Resources Department uses every available resource they have to protect, preserve and enhance the reservation's resources for generations to come, in accordance with their mission.
These are but a few of the duties and projects in the works in the fisheries and water resources segments of the department at any given time. The department has wide-reaching responsibilities within the reservation regarding fish, wildlife, water, forestry and any other environmental aspect.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.