Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area Hydrologic Restoration
BY TED KOEHLER, ASHLAND FWCO
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Wisconsin and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program recently completed a project at the Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area in Vilas County. The project consisted of replacing five failing cement culverts located at lake outlets. These failing structures were altering the natural hydrology of a large area of interconnected lakes and wetlands. In some instances these culverts also blocked passage for fish and other aquatic life. Historic water levels were estimated through a series of surveys. The old culverts were then removed, and new culverts with beaver guards installed. Three trail crossings were also improved through removal of blockages and planning for future enhancement. Work from the overall project restored and enhanced approximately 1084 acres of lakes, wetlands and adjacent uplands.
The entire preserve totals 2,329 acres and is located in the Border Lakes region of northwest Wisconsin between Presque Isle and Boulder Junction in Vilas County. This TNC preserve is significant because it protects more than 36,000 feet of undeveloped shoreline on 15 wild lakes and ponds in northern Wisconsin. According to a 1996 report by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, two-thirds of northern Wisconsin’s undeveloped lakes ten acres or larger have been developed since 1960.
The Catherine Wolter Wilderness Area lakes and wetlands host a rich diversity of fish and other aquatic species, and the surrounding forests provide habitat for many native plants and wildlife species. Fish that inhabit the lakes and streams in the project area include smallmouth bass and brook trout. Wildlife that uses the area includes Neotropical migrant songbirds like the Golden-winged warbler, Canada warbler, Pine warbler, Magnolia warbler and Mourning warbler. Waterfowl that use the preserve include mallard, wood duck and blue-winged teal. In addition you can see Common Loons, Osprey, and occasionally a Bald Eagle. Also, white-tailed deer are abundant, and otter, fisher, black bear and timber wolves are known to frequent the preserve.
Overall the project has improved conditions on a multistate landscape scale within northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The preserve serves as a link between the one-million-acre Ottawa National Forest, located to the north in Michigan, and the 220,000-acre Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, located to the south in Wisconsin. Working together through this project, the Service and TNC have made a significant positive difference on-the-ground for multiple priority fish and wildlife species.