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Gislason Lake enhancement will improve waterfowl habitat

December 8, 2009
By Per Peterson

Gislason Lake, as many area waterfowl hunters already know, has long been a haven for redheads and canvasbacks. And after suffering the same fate as many other shallow lakes in Minnesota, it's getting a another lease on life thanks to a water control structure that began operating in last month.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with Ducks Unlimited to install a water control structure that will allow managers to improve the water quality and vegetation conditions on the lake. The $100,000-plus project is supported by a 2009 grant to DU from the Minnesota Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

"The Service is extremely pleased to partner with DU on this important shallow lake enhancement project," said Alice Hanley, refuge manager at Big Stone National, which is tied with the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge that includes Lincoln and Lyon counties. "Having the ability to manipulate water levels in Gislason Lake will greatly enhance our ability to improve its water quality and provide optimal habitat for wetland-dependent wildlife on this large unit of our refuge."

The 1,132-acre Gislason Lake Unit, which includes the 120-acre shallow lake and surrounding uplands, was added to the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in 2005. The Northern Tallgrass Prairie Refuge is a complex of small units scattered across western Minnesota and northwestern Iowa, containing remnant native prairie and wetlands that host a wide variety of migratory birds.

The Gislason Lake Unit is unique because all of the uplands surrounding the lake are owned by the Service, which gives managers complete control to manipulate water levels as necessary.

"We're trying to get it as low as possible to get a fish kill," Hanley said. "Many of the problems in the lake were because of all the rough fish that have entered the system, so we want to get the lake down there before it freezes to get rid of them."

Gislason, considered an important migration marsh in western Minnesota, has slowly degraded because of high water levels and invasive fish like carp and bullhead. Like so many other shallow lakes in Minnesota, aquatic plants and invertebrates that waterfowl and other migratory birds rely on for cover and food have been reduced throughout the years.

Submerged aquatic plant coverage in the lake dropped from 81 percent in 1955 to 44 percent in recent years, DU said.

Temporary water level drawdowns using the new water control structure will allow biologists to rejuvenate the basin's aquatic ecology, optimize conditions in the lake for wildlife and improve hunting opportunities.

"Gislason Lake is an exciting project for DU to complete through our Living Lakes Initiative since this shallow lake basin is completely contained and managed within a National Wildlife Refuge," said Jon Schneider, manager of Minnesota conservation programs for DU. "Long-term enhancement of shallow lakes in degraded landscapes requires both active water level management and watershed restoration, and incorporation of Gislason Lake and its surrounding grasslands in this actively-managed federal refuge with dedicated management staff accomplishes both endeavors."

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has supported the need to improve and protect Gislason Lake due to its importance to migratory birds moving through western Minnesota. DNR also provided technical assistance to this project.

A cooperative partnership work between DU, the Service and the DNR to enhance degraded shallow lakes and large wetlands such as Gislason Lake helps fulfill the shallow lake goals of both DNR's Duck Recovery Plan and DU's Living Lakes Initiative.



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