Wakeboats now regulated in Vermont; WI overwhelmingly favors restrictions…

After a nearly two-year heated debate, rules restricting wakeboats on Vermont waterways are now in effect. As of April 15th, a wake boat can only operate in a wake sports zone: an area of at least 50 acres, at least 20 feet deep, 200 feet wide and 500 feet from shore.

Here in Wisconsin, participants in the annual poll by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress overwhelmingly supported statewide restrictions on wakeboats and the regulation of ballasted wakesports. Responses to the wake related questions were as follows:

Would you support the WCC and legislature creating a new statute that prohibits the use of wake boat ballast systems on Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers?

  • YES – 10,608 (66%)
  • NO – 4,193 (26%)
  • NO OPINION – 1,370 (8%)
  • The question passed in all 72 counties

Would you support regulations by DNR to require that all ballast systems used in boats shall have a reasonable practical means of inspecting the system to confirm that no water is retained in the system (tanks, piping, valves, etc.)?

  • YES – 10,016 (63%)
  • NO – 4,228 (26%)
  • NO OPINION – 1,771 (11%)
  • The question passed in 71 of 72 counties

Would you support the WCC and legislature modifying existing statutes to prohibit generation of intentionally magnified wakes for wake surfing through the use of ballast, design features, operational procedures or any other means on lakes smaller than 1500 acres and less than 20 feet deep and maintain a distance from shore and other lake users of 700 feet?

  • YES – 10,895 (68%)
  • NO – 3,804 (24%)
  • NO OPINION – 1,288 (8%)
  • The question passed in all 72 counties

A more in-depth article on the WCC results by Wisconsin Lakes may be found here.

Annual Spring Hearing and Public Input Opportunity: Wakesurfing

Wisconsin Conservation Congress

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will once again offer their annual opportunity for the public to provide input on a variety of natural resource-related questions with an in-person opportunity April 8, 2024, at 6 p.m. in each county or online starting at noon April 10 to noon on April 13, 2024.

A list of Spring Hearing Questions can be found here. Three of the hearing questions relate to wakesurf regulation. We strongly urge you to participate in this opportunity to vote on matters of significant impact to our lakes.

Environmental Committee
32. Would you support the WCC and legislature creating a new statute that prohibits the use of wake boat ballast systems on Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers?

Motorized Recreation Committee
42.  Would you support regulations by DNR to require that all ballast systems used in boats shall have a reasonable practical means of inspecting the system to confirm that no water is retained in the system (tanks, piping, valves, etc.)?

43. Would you support the WCC and legislature modifying existing statutes to prohibit generation of intentionally magnified wakes for wake surfing through the use of ballast, design features, operational procedures or any other means on lakes smaller than 1500 acres and less than 20 feet deep and maintain a distance from shore and other lake users of 700 feet?

Background on these and other questions can be found in the list of Spring Hearing Questions link given above.

ALL 72 COUNTIES WILL HOST A SPRING HEARING. VISIT HTTPS://DNR.WI.GOV/TINY/1521 FOR LOCATION DETAILS, OR SCAN THE QR CODE BELOW. Note that the input gathered at the in-person meetings will be combined with the online input when results are presented, so both options will be weighed equally. While everyone is welcome to attend the meetings and join the discussions if possible, it is strongly recommended that individuals provide input through the online tool if possible. This allows your feedback to be gathered efficiently and helps expedite compiling the results.


To vote online, go the website listed below and follow the voting instructions.

Six-County Lakes Meeting: UPDATE with Agenda

“Protecting Our Waters: We’re All Connected” is the theme for the annual Northwoods Six-County Lakes Meeting, set for Friday, July 12, 2024 at Nicolet College. Lake association leaders and members along with the general public will convene to learn about and discuss our interconnected water resources and our human connections to each other and to our lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater.

A committee with representatives from Oneida, Vilas, Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, and Iron counties is at work developing plans for the meeting. The program includes a five-member panel discussion on the connections among water resources and the people who use them, along with presentations on the impacts of climate change and drought on our water resources and fisheries, and the problem of PFAS in the environment.

There will also be exhibits from educational and nonprofit organizations and excellent opportunities for networking. The meeting will run from 8:30 a.m. to noon. All are welcome; there is no charge and no need to register. More details and agenda revisions will be announced as the meeting date approaches, or contact Tom Ewing at president@vclra.org.

The event is jointly sponsored by Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association (vclra.org) and Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association (www.oclra.org).

North Lakeland Woods & Waters Conference Held May 3rd

The North Lakeland Woods & Waters Conference will be held at the North Lakeland Discovery Center in Manitowish Waters, WI on  Friday May 3rd, 2024.

Join us for a gathering centered on partnerships and collaboration. Let’s celebrate water, explore solutions, and stay informed about the science and research related to our Northwoods and treasured lakes. Some of the areas examined include:

  • Watershed Partnerships
  • Wake Boats
  • Shoreline Restoration
  • Aquatic Invasive Species
  • Citizen Science

Registration opens at 7:30 AM followed by an optional morning bog hike on Statehouse Lake led by Licia Johnson, Naturalist and Education Director. Coffee and light breakfast included, followed by opening comments and sessions beginning at 9:00 AM. Lunch and refreshments also provided.

Last lecture session ends at 3:30 PM. Following the last session, optional workshops such as underwater remote operated vehicles or a naturalist-led botany hike will be offered.

A Woods and Water Social will be held in the Lodge from 4:30 – 6:00 PM with beer and wine by donation.

Northwoods Six-County Lakes Meeting Set for July 12, 2024

“Protecting Our Waters: We’re All Connected” is the theme for the annual Northwoods Six-County Lakes Meeting, set for Friday, July 12, 2024 at Nicolet College. Lake association leaders and members along with the general public will convene to learn about and discuss our interconnected water resources and our human connections to each other and to our lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater.

A committee with representatives from Oneida, Vilas, Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, and Iron counties is at work developing plans for the meeting. The program will include a five-member panel discussion on the connections among water resources and the people who use them, along with presentations on the impacts of climate change and drought on our water resources and fisheries, and the problem of PFAS in the environment.

There will also be exhibits from educational and nonprofit organizations and excellent opportunities for networking. The meeting will run from 8:30 a.m. to noon. All are welcome; there is no charge and no need to register. More details and a full agenda will be announced as the meeting date approaches, or contact Tom Ewing at president@vclra.org.

The event is jointly sponsored by Vilas County Lakes and Rivers Association (vclra.org) and Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association (www.oclra.org).

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.  

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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.

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 vilascountywi.gov 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 cahigl@vilascountwi.gov.

VCLRA’s 2024 winter newsletter available

VCLRA celebrates 30 years of protecting Vilas waters; wakesurfing legislation update; Vilas short-term rental ordinance; Lakes Toolbox workshops; Trees — how they benefit our lakes; Blue Heron Award and more!

A compelling new wakesports proposal

An action alert from our partner organization, Wisconsin Lakes

ENCOURAGE SUPPORT FOR THE TERMS OF LRB-5069
Sen. André Jacque (R-DePere) entered the wakesports fray last week, releasing a proposal that would manage wakesports on Wisconsin waters under terms largely in line with those proposed in recent popular Wisconsin Conservation Congress resolutions. The proposal is being circulated among legislators looking for co-sponsors with a deadline of December 14.   Wisconsin Lakes is in support of this effort, with the one caveat noted below. The bill: Prohibits enhanced wakes on lakes smaller than 1500 acres, Prohibits enhanced wakes within 700 feet of shore or from any boat swimmer, or other individual using the water on lakes 1500 acres or larger, Preserves local authority to enact ordinances stricter than these provisions. Due to an unintended consequence of its language, the bill would limit an existing right to sue a boater for personal injury to only cases where the injury was caused by enhanced wakes (click “read more from WI Lakes” below for a full explanation).  While Wisconsin Lakes is not endorsing the bill’s current language in full because of this issue, we believe a change is in the works that will take care of it and allow us to offer our full support.  We recommend you encourage your legislators to support the terms of this bill while asking for the change of language to preserve the general right to sue reckless boaters (explained above), and if appropriate for them, to co–sponsor the legislation.  

Read the proposal (Keep in mind that until it is introduced, the language will likely change and the author could decide not to introduce it all) 

How to contact your legislator 

READ MORE FROM WISCONSIN LAKES INCLUDING A FULL EXPLANATION OF THE BILL…
AB656/SB680 UPDATE – HEARINGS AHEAD?   Sen. Jacque’s proposal detailed above is diametrically opposed to AB656/SB680 which would only prohibit wakesports within 200 feet of shore and prohibits local governments from enacting anything stronger (while allowing them to be less restrictive). These bills are currently sitting in their assigned legislative committees, which could come as early as next week. You can count on Wisconsin Lakes for any updates just as soon as we get them.
Photo credit: WISCONSIN LEGISLATIVE REFERENCE BUREAU

Vilas County passes zoning ordinance regulating tourist rooming houses

The Vilas County Tourist Rooming House Ordinance passed with a unanimous vote last week. This is an important tool to support protecting Vilas County lakes, rivers and ground water. Vilas now have a funded and enforceable ordinance.

Included in the ordinance are requirements limiting occupancy based on septic sizing and requiring (1) parking space per each (2) occupants plus one (1) additional.

David Sadenwasser, Vilas Zoning Administrator, plans to mail letters informing short term renters and property managers in the coming weeks.

Our thanks to the many folks that attended public hearings and provided support. We especially want to call out Len Larsen from Alma/Moon Lake District for his proactive role and keeping our VCLRA board informed and engaged through-out the process.

Please feel free to pass this information along.


A draft of the ordinance is here: 2023 Vilas County TRH Ordinance. Our understanding from Len is that this draft has the language that was approved. We will provide updates as needed.