General interest

Wake Boats and Lakes

New Report from Wisconsin’s Green Fire

Wisconsin’s Green Fire (WGF) released a new report on the effects of wake boats on Wisconsin lakes. The increasing popularity of wake boats on inland lakes has prompted widespread and vocal criticism of the effects that these specially designed boats have on ecosystem health. Critics are demanding local and state regulations to curtail use of the wake boats.

WGF’s report “The Effects of Wake Boats on Lake Ecosystem Health: A Literature Review,” compiles findings from over 175 scientific studies in several U.S. states, documenting several kinds of negative effects from wake boats on lakes. Wake boats can spread aquatic invasive species, increase shoreline erosion, damage aquatic plants including manoomin (wild rice), worsen water quality due to re-suspension of sediments, and negatively impact birds and fish, particularly nesting loons and spawning fish. 

Author of the report, David A. Ortiz, a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin—Madison says, “This project bridges scientific research and best practices on how wake boat use can be part of a long-term sustainability plan for Wisconsin lakes.” 

This WGF report provides the Wisconsin Legislature and local units of government with several pro-conservation recommendations that support recreational uses of lakes while protecting the health of lake ecosystems. 

Among those recommendations: 

  • Wake boating should only be done on lakes with at least 40 contiguous acres of open water where the entire contiguous area is greater than 20 feet deep and more than 600 feet from any shoreline. This does not mean 40-acre lakes—rather, it means limiting wake boat use to larger and deeper lakes where the impacts on shorelines, aquatic habitats, and wildlife, can be minimized. 
  • To reduce the spread of invasive species which can easily survive in leftover ballast and bilge water on wake boats, wake boat owners should hot pressure wash the boat or treat with bleach and let dry for at least 4 days before using their boats on different water bodies. 
  • Wisconsin’s Green Fire also recommends online training on proper use and risks of wake boats, along with informational signs at waterways. 

Wisconsin is not alone in dealing with controversy over wake boats. In January 2024, Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources approved a rule that prohibits wake boat use on lakes less than 50 contiguous acres and those less than 20 feet deep. Wake boats in that state cannot operate less than 500 feet from any shore. The WGF report provides details on policies that states and communities around the U.S. and abroad have taken to protect lakes from negative impacts of wake boats.  


This infographic above summarizes the report (download a PDF version of the infographic here). Both the infographic and full report are free to download and share with attribution to David A. Ortiz and Wisconsin’s Green Fire.

General interest

Vilas Youth Conservation Poster & Speaking Competitions

Students Communicate Local Forest Conservation with Art and Speech

Students from Vilas County schools including Arbor Vitae Woodruff Elementary, St. Germain Elementary, Montessori Learning Center, Eagle River Elementary, Christ Lutheran School, SOAR High School, and The Warehouse’s home school art class took part in the Vilas County Youth Conservation Poster & Speaking Competitions, hosted by Vilas County Land & Water.  Overall 84 students submitted material for the competitions, and an awards ceremony was held at the Olson Memorial Library on January 13, 2024.

“One of the most challenging tasks conservation professionals often encounter is communicating their science-based ideas to people who don’t enjoy science,” notes Cathy Higley, Lake Conservation Specialist for Vilas County Land & Water Conservation.  “These students come up with some delightfully creative ideas to help this communication through art and short speeches.”  This year’s theme “May the Forest Be With You, Always” prompted students to consider how to manage and conserve private and public forest lands.  It also resulted in many Star Wars themed posters!

Thanks to the local DNR Forestry team consisting of Sean Davison, Ryan Brown, Landin Brockman, and Jacob Bonack over 110 students in Vilas County were able to do hands-on forestry learning as part of their school classes or extracurricular events.

Thanks to the generous contest sponsors, first through third place winners earned prizes.  Sponsors were Vilas County Lakes & Rivers Association, Wildwood Outdoor Adventures, The Hiker Box, The Hiker Box Too, and the Northwoods Children’s Museum.  Prizes included paddling trips, annual DNR parks and forests passes, merchandise from The Hiker Box and Hiker Box Too, and passes to the Northwoods Children’s Museum.

In the K-1st grade poster division, first place went to Simon Odell of Christ Lutheran School; second place went Marek Rappa of Christ Lutheran School; and third place went to Ezra Kadlec of Christ Lutheran School.  In the 2nd-3rd grade poster division, first place went to home schooler Hazel Canada; second place went to Gavin Chasteen of St. Germain Elementary; and third place went to Conall Keenan of Montessori Learning Center.  In the 4th-6th grade poster division first place went to Brynn Schillinger of Arbor Vitae Woodruff Elementary; second place went to Rose Redman of Arbor Vitae Woodruff Elementary; and third place went to Evelyn Stepec of Arbor Vitae Woodruff Elementary. 

In addition, the public voted on their favorite posters for the Olson Library’s People’s Choice Awards.  Bryce Short, an Arbor Vitae Woodruff Elementary 6th grader won 1st place; and Brinley Zacheck, also an Arbor Vitae Woodruff Elementary 6th grader, won 2nd place. 

In the Speaking Contest, first place went to Amber Higley of SOAR High School with her speech “I Speak for the Trees…Because They Only Talk to Each Other”.  Her speech discussed the benefits of incorporating the idea of tree communication and resource sharing through underground fungus and root systems called mycorrhizal networks into our local forest management planning.

Posters that placed can also be viewed on the Vilas County website under the Land & Water Department.  All posters will be on display at the Olson Memorial Library in Eagle River through the month of January.  First place posters and speeches will advance to compete at a regional contest in February in Rhinelander, with nine other Wisconsin counties’ winners.  Posters and speeches can then advance to a state contest.  Winning posters at state can advance further to a national contest.

The Youth Conservation Poster & Speaking Contests are intended to get students thinking about local conservation of local natural resources.  These contests typically open by early October annually and are coordinated by your county’s Land & Water Conservation Department.  For more information on the Vilas County contests, contact Cathy Higley at Vilas County Land & Water Conservation at 715-479-3738 or via email at