Deer Lake Conservancy Awarded for Work as Environmental Stewards

Guest Columnist: Julie Hildebrandt, St. Croix River Association

Buck Malick awarding Jim Miller of Deer Lake Conservancy

At the St. Croix River Association’s annual dinner on April 5th our Bob Burns Stewardship Award was presented to Gathering Waters Conservancy member Deer Lake Conservancy. This is the 11th year that this award has been presented to a group or individual that has demonstrated good stewardship of the natural resources of the St. Croix River and/or its tributaries.

Deer Lake Conservancy was organized in 1995 with the purpose of preserving the lake and the surrounding land that contributes to the natural, scenic, recreational and productive value of the lake. A principal goal of the Conservancy has been to work for improved water quality of the lake, and particularly the reduction of phosphorous. The Conservancy is managed and operated by volunteers, apart from, but often in cooperation with, a much older Deer Lake Improvement Association of lakeshore owners.

Deer Lake is located about 5 miles east of St. Croix Falls in Polk County. It drains into the Balsam Branch River, then into the Apple River, a tributary of the St. Croix River.

During its relatively short existence the Conservancy has made dramatic strides in improving the water quality of Deer Lake based on recommendations by professional consultants, primarily by acquiring nearly 162 acres of land in four areas through which agricultural runoff flows to the lake; and by constructing holding ponds and planting prairie grasses and flowers in those areas. The conservancy has now installed water control structures in the nine largest watersheds draining into the lake. The prairie plantings have been unique, having been done with local ecotype seeds collected within 50 miles from the lake, and including as many as 100 varieties.

The resulting improvement in lake water quality has been dramatic. Runoff of phosphorous into the lake was reduced by over half in the decade from 1997 through 2006. The lake has transitioned from eutrophic (nutrient rich with profuse and unsightly algae bloom and aquatic weeds) to mesotrophic. Deer Lake is one of only two lakes in Wisconsin where this has occurred, the other being Mirror Lake, surrounded by park land.

The Bob Burns Stewardship Award was named for Bob Burns, a dedicated volunteer working to protect the St. Croix. Mr. Burns was an enthusiastic member, and past chair, of the St. Croix River Association; served on the Minnesota-Wisconsin Boundary Area Commission for nine years; was instrumental in ensuring adequate federal funding for implementation of the first long-range management plan for the Lower St. Croix, and led the establishment of land use plans for subdivisions in the valley. He passed away in June of 1997.