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.

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.

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!

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.

Rushed legislation on wakeboats under consideration

State-wide legislation regulating wakesurfing with simply a 200-foot minimum distance from shore criterion for wake boats is under consideration. This would be an attempt to preempt research and discussion by all stakeholders, which has been underway here in Wisconsin and in several other states. As we have reported in several articles on our website,, these are very powerful boats that produce energetic waves as well as significant downward thrust. As such, wake boats can have significant impact on lake health and public safety if these considerations are not incorporated in legislation to set appropriate minimum depth of lake, minimum distance from shore and minimum lake size for wake surfing. We encourage you to contact your elected official to ensure any wake boat legislation is not rushed through without informed discussion from all stakeholders.

2023 VCLRA Summer Newsletter

Our latest newsletter is available online (print edition out soon). Read about:

  • Six-county workshop/annual meeting on July 14th featuring an expert panel on law-enforcement challenges affecting the health and enjoyment of our increasingly-crowded lakes and rivers;
  • Update on wake boat resolutions;
  • Free workshops on new toolbox to help protect and improve your lake
  • VCLRA scholarships awarded to two area high school seniors;
  • Spiny water fleas;
  • Permanent Shoreland Protection & Workshop on June 26th
  • Northwoods LIGHTS OUT! campaign;
  • and more!

WCC Spring Hearing accepting input on regulating wake surfing

As VCLRA has been reporting in recent years, the growing popularity of wake surfing boats presents challenges on state lakes. The public again has an opportunity to influence state regulations through the 2023 Spring Hearing online input sponsored by The Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC), a liaison between the citizens of Wisconsin, the Natural Resources Board (NRB) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  Its provides an avenue for public input and exchange concerning conservation issues in Wisconsin.  Pending approval by the Wisconsin Legislature, a Citizen Resolution can become a state rule/law. 

VCLRA is again requesting your input to the 2023 Wisconsin Conservation Congress Annual Spring Hearing on REGULATING  WAKE SURFING ON WISCONSIN LAKES AND RIVERS.
Your response to last year’s request resulted in the six hazardous wake resolutions to WCC to be resoundingly approved. This year’s request for input represents a next step toward the development of a DNR regulation. Input can be provided online from noon April 10 to noon April 13.

See resolution details and complete voting instructions here.

Several Citizen Resolution questions have been proposed. Some of the resolutions are open for voting from all Wisconsin citizens, while others are specific to Vilas County and Dane county residents. Please follow the instructions carefully. If successful, current State boating regulations and statutes could be changed to regulate wake boats.

For additional information:

Here are the details about the questions that have been proposed on wake surfing and complete instructions on voting.

Permanent Shoreland Protection

A priority of the Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT) is to assist landown­ers in conserving sizable properties to protect our world-class water resources. Perma­nent land conser­va­tion is one of the most effective ways to safe­guard our lakes and rivers.  

The Vilas County Lakes & Rivers Asso­ciation (VCLRA) is part­ner­ing with NWLT to advance a Shoreland Pro­tection Legacy Initia­tive to reach more landowners on Vilas County’s 1300 lakes and 70 rivers. Both organizations are promoting perma­nent land protection tools as a means to ensure our waters stay healthy, productive and clean.

Natural forested areas and undeveloped shorelines play a big part in maintaining water quality and wild­life/fish habitat long-term.  Moreover, protect­ing more land today will reduce the need to restore degraded water resources tomorrow.

Private landowners hold the key to preserving remaining natural shoreland areas. Community-based conservation with a nonprofit land trust like NWLT is local, voluntary, and (importantly) perma­nent. Land­owners that protect the land they love also provide greater public benefits in the form of clean water and air, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty. 

Below are two articles that we encourage Lake Associations to share with members in your newsletter and communications. There will also be a Shoreland Owner Workshop on June 26th in Eagle River on best practices and programs to protect water quality and habitat, as well as permanent conservation options through NWLT. Registration is required. More on the workshop here.

Article written by the Northwoods Land Trust, in collaboration with Vilas County Lakes & Rivers Association.

Vilas County Local Regulation of Hazardous Wakes Workshop


If your town is considering a hazardous wake ordinance, you may want to attend this workshop at the Boulder Junction Community Center on March 8, 2023. The purpose of this workshop is to offer guidance to town supervisors, town lakes committees, lake district commissioners, and lake association board members who feel there may be a need to regulate hazardous wakes within their township or municipality through local ordinances.

This workshop is limited to the first 100 attendees and rsvp’s are required.

Winter 2022-23 newsletter available

Our Winter 2022-2023 newsletter is available online (members who get print copies will get these by mail in a few weeks). Read about Hazardous Wake Issues, Blue Heron Stewardship awards, AIS prevention and much more…

View newsletter