Feeling Loony in Forest Lake

Forest Lake Lake Association event on May 17 will feature presentations about loons, aquatic invasive species, and an alum treatment planned for Forest Lake

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a ball of fire that could be seen from 40 miles away. The accident killed 11 people and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and marine animals. An appalling 134 million gallons of oil spilled into the ocean, making Deepwater Horizon the largest ever marine oil spill. Fittingly, the $20.8 billion settlement, reached six years later in 2016, was the largest environmental damage settlement in U.S. history.

Dr. Brian Stacy, a NOAA veterinarian, prepares to clean an oiled Kemp’s Ridley turtle. (Photo from NOAA & Georgia Department of Natural Resources)

Today, you might be surprised to learn that some of these settlement funds are being used to study and protect one of Minnesota’s signature species – the loon.

At the Forest Lake Lake Association (FLLA) meeting on Wednesday, May 17, 6:30-8pm, Rob Rabasco, coordinator of Minnesota’s Loon Restoration Project, will talk about efforts underway to protect loon habitat across the state, augment natural loon nesting with artificial nesting platforms in targeted locations, implement loon-friendly lake management plans, and increase survival rates for loon chicks. Robasco is one of three invited speakers for the event.

A loon glides through dappled waters. Loons are Minnesota’s state bird and the subject of a restoration effort led by Minnesota DNR, in partnership with US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Minnesota Loon Restoration Project focuses on an eight-county area in north-central Minnesota with the highest concentration of nesting loons – Aiken, Becker, Beltrami, Cass, Crow Wing, Clearwater, Hubbard, and Itasca. “Washington County isn’t in that region,” says Rabasco, “but we still want to work with lake associations and nonprofit organizations around the state to share information about loons and actions people can take to protect them.” Rabasco is hoping to identify “loon liaisons” in every lake association and work with them to create personalized loon-friendly lake plans that take into account each lake’s unique habitat and fisheries.

One of the key actions lakeshore landowners can take is to maintain natural habitat along their shoreline. “Loons are shoreline nesters that require tall plants such as cattails and bulrush,” Rabasco explains. They can’t build nests on lakeshore properties that have rock riprap, retaining walls, or lawn all the way down to the water’s edge. “Minnesotans love their lakes to death,” he continues. “They don’t mean to, but people don’t understand the cumulative impact when everyone on a lake develops their shorelines.” Loon lovers can also help to protect Minnesota’s state bird by using lead-free fishing tackle and boating slower when baby loons are on the water.

The FLLA annual meeting will also include updates from Board President Jerry Grundtner, as well as presentations by Steve McComas of Blue Water Science, talking about aquatic invasive species, and Mike Kinney of the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District, talking about water quality improvement projects and an upcoming alum treatment planned for Forest Lake.

In 2018, Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District capped eight years of lake restoration work on Moody with an alum treatment. This September, the watershed district plans to do a similar treatment on Forest Lake.

The watershed district will conduct an alum treatment on Forest Lake in September to improve water quality and clarity. Alum treatments are non-toxic and have been used to improve lake water quality for decades, including at nearby Moody and Shields Lakes. The FLLA meeting will be the first of many opportunities for lake association members and the public to learn about the project and Kinney will also stay after the meeting to answer questions. 

Forest Lake Lake Association’s annual meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 17, 6:30-8pm at the Forest Lake High School Auditorium (6101 Scandia Tr N.). Enter on the south side of the building through the Performing Arts Center Door 32. The meeting is open to the public, and all lake and loon lovers are invited to attend.

Forest Lake is the largest lake in Washington County and lies within the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed. The Forest Lake Lake Association will hold its annual meeting on Wednesday, May 17, 6:30-8pm at the Forest Lake High School.

To learn more about Minnesota’s Loon Restoration Project, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/nongame/minnesota-loon-restoration-project.html

To learn more about the Forest Lake alum treatment, go to www.clflwd.org/projects/forest-lake-alum-treatment.

To learn more about Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District grants to protect and restore lakeshore habitat, contact Aidan Read at aidan.read@clflwd.org or (651) 583-6590. Similar grants are offered in other parts of Washington County as well. Visit www.mnwcd.org to sign-up for a free site visit and learn more.