Lower Bad River Watershed (LS09)

Table of Streams of the Lower Bad River Watershed (LS09)

The borders for this watershed have been changed for management purposes; the watershed now includes streams that formerly were treated as part of the Fish Creek Watershed. Beartrap Creek, Wood Creek Slough and the Kakagon River sub-watersheds are hydrologically connected with the lower Bad River. Since the significant complex of the Kakagon Sloughs falls within the Bad River Indian Reservation and is linked to management of the lower Bad River, these management boundaries were shifted to improve ecosystem management.

The Lower Bad River Watershed extends south to its confluence with Tyler Forks, omitting the Potato River and Tyler Forks sub-watersheds (See maps). This configuration is slightly different from past plans where the boundary occurred at the Marengo River Watershed. This is to more accurately reflect underlying geology. Much of the Lower Bad River Watershed falls within the Bad River Indian Reservation.

WDNR knows little about the quality of water resources in the lands within the Bad River Indian Reservation. Ongoing are discussions between the state, the tribe and the federal government as to the development and administration of water quality standards on reservation lands and how we can best work together to ensure the protection of the aquatic ecosystem of Lake Superior. The scope of this plan is only to assess the current state of water quality as it is known, and the causes, sources and potential threats of water quality and aquatic ecosystem integrity in Lake Superior waters and Wisconsin tributaries to Lake Superior.

The Bad River Natural Resources Department (BRNRD) began monitoring 24 sites within the exterior boundaries of the reservation in 1997. Preliminary data show areas of elevated fecal coliform due to wastewater treatment both on and off the reservation (BRNRD 19982). The BRNRD monitoring program collects fecal coliform, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, temperature, phosphate, nitrate, alkalinity, suspended and dissolved solids data once a month for a year (BRNRD1). BRNRD found that waters, in general, met healthy water criteria; the findings, however, indicated point and nonpoint source pollution impacts, primarily from municipal wastewater lagoon discharges, failing septic systems, forestry practices and poor agricultural practices (BRNRD1). In several places, the Wisconsin water quality standard for fecal coliform bacteria was exceeded during the monitoring period (BRNRD1). There are known areas of the watershed where cattle are allowed in streams, manure is plowed into streams, loggers clear cut shorelines and steep slopes and small communities in which the only wastewater treatment now available is failing private septic systems (BRNRD1).

BRNRD has also conducted a biosentinel study using otters as ecosystem health indicators; the study found dioxin/furans, DDE (a metabolite of DDT), lindane and heptachlor epoxide in otter tissue (BRNRD1). Funding has been procured to sample surface waters, sediments and groundwater for metals, PCBs, pesticides and dioxin/furans (BRNRD1).

The tribe's only source of drinking water is groundwater; several landfills and salvage yards, especially in the Beartrap/Kakagon subwatershed, have caused concern over the quality of the groundwater on the reservation (BRNRD1). Two papermill sludge sites on the reservation are under investigation through the Superfund process (BRNRD1).

The Lake Superior Binational Program offers the opportunity for diverse jurisdictions to work together for the common good of ecosystem integrity. Thus, in the description of the Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs and in the discussion of this watershed, this plan relies on data from, and describing the efforts of, other entities, including the Bad River Band, private consultants, the University of Wisconsin, The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Such multi-jurisdictional efforts as the binational program should be considered an opportunity to work together to protect and restore the Lake Superior ecosystem.

Many smaller streams originate outside the bounds of the Bad River Indian Reservation and flow into tribal lands; others flow entirely within the reservation bounds. We have no current data for many of these streams, but based on discussions in Water Resources of the Bad River Reservation (Institute for Environmental Studies), and assessments made by The Nature Conservancy staff working on a project to protect the Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs and BRNRD, all these streams are potentially threatened by land use practices, primarily forestry, due to the unstable nature of the red clay soils, historic clear cutting that changed the hydrologic relationship between vegetation and soils, and the voluntary nature of best management practices for forestry. Another threat to this watershed is exotic species encroachment, most notably purple loosestrife, ruffe and sea lamprey.

Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs, Long Island and Chequamegon Point

The Kakagon Sloughs are a vast wetlands complex reaching from the delta of the Bad River out into Chequamegon Bay, forming the long narrow bar, Chequamegon Point, with Long Island at its end. The sloughs, which fall within the Bad River Indian Reservation, show a checkerboard pattern of ownership including tribal non-trust, tribal trust, allotted and alienated (non-tribal) land. The National Park Service manages 500 acres of Long Island as part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The Nature Conservancy protects about 50 acres of Oak Point--a smaller arm in the shelter of Chequamegon Point--and 40 acres of Chequamegon Point. The Bad River gathers up the waters of much of the eastern portion of Wisconsin's Lake Superior drainage, including the White, Marengo, Brunsweiler, Tyler Forks and Potato rivers, before emptying into the eastern part of the sloughs along with Denomie Creek. The Kakagon River, and Wood and Beartrap creeks feed the western portion of the sloughs. The historic channels of the principal rivers within the sloughs appear to have shifted over time.

The sloughs cover 16,000 acres and represent 10 distinct natural communities:

... lowland deciduous forest, ... upland mixed forest with northern dry-mesic forest and old growth shoreline forest, ... lowland conifer forest, ... open bog, ... northern sedge meadow, ... low wetland shrub, ... alder thicket, ... riverine shrub, ... open beach/dune, ... emergent, submergent and floating vegetation (Spotts 1994). Rare community types in this watershed include patterned peatlands and interdunal wetlands (Spotts 1994). A watershed project is underway by The Nature Conservancy to assess issues and assist the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in protecting the sloughs. The goal of the project is to maintain ecological systems and processes that support the biological diversity in the estuarine complex.

The Lake Superior Binational Program has identified the Kakagon Sloughs/Bad River as important to the integrity of the Lake Superior ecosystem for large natural ecosystem, nationally significant ecosystem, coastal wetlands, representative pre-settlement ecosystem, contribution to ecosystem integrity-landscape scale, habitat unique to Great Lakes, threatened and endangered species habitat, rare communities, habitat for migratory wildlife, fish and wildlife spawning and nursery grounds, habitat for species at risk from human activity and habitat for species with important ecological functions.

The sloughs and lower watershed play an important role for migratory and nesting waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds; spawning and young fish, including lake sturgeon; and are home to the largest natural wild rice beds in the Great Lakes basin (Spotts 1994). The open sand beaches and dunes were the last known nesting site in Wisconsin of the piping plover, and support several rare plant species.

Within the sloughs, Honest John Lake is a large wetland bordering Lake Superior. Bog communities are present along with patches of open water, sedge meadow, low shrub and lowland conifer forest. Oak Point and Chequamegon Bay are areas of emergent aquatic vegetation, including scattered bulrushes. Bog communities are present as linear strips occupying swales between forested ridges. The Kakagon River and the rest of the shoreline in this area is fringed with wetland. This area is home to a variety of wading birds and waterfowl. It also provides habitat to a rich blend of warm water fish species.

The interaction between soils and the river system is crucial to the sloughs, and especially important in this region of unstable red clay. Clearcutting of upland hardwoods or conifers increases annual stream flow by 30 to 80 percent; return to pre-harvest flow levels requires from 12 to 15 years (Spotts 1994). Annual peak flows are at least doubled and snowmelt flood peak increases may persist for 15 years (Spotts 1994). This can be seen in the sediment deposition rate in the White River Reservoir of 7.4 acre-feet/year between 1907-1963 and 5.7 acre-feet/year between 1963-1976. The decrease was attributed to the regrowth of forests (Spotts 1994).

Sedimentation is necessary to the sloughs. It is part of the structure that builds Chequamegon Point, the dune/ridge community, and feeds the aquatic life of the sloughs. Cores taken recently indicate the peat underlying the sloughs to be more than 2,000 years old in one sample, and around 750 years old in two others. But there has been a change over time in the deposition. Pre-European settlement sediments were low in organic carbon and primarily silt-sized. The buried soil had the highest organic carbon content and was somewhat sandy. The top layer was identified as post-European settlement. This sediment was low in organic carbon and had by far the sandiest texture. The three-feet thick layer of sediment implies a high rate of deposition in the 100 years following European settlement, likely attributable to large-scale logging.

Long Island and Chequamegon Point were formed by sediment transport from the Bad River delta by wave action. One hypothesis for the formation of Long Island is that it began as an unconnected island more than 1,000 years ago, during which time the Bad River shifted its mouth from Chequamegon Bay to the east into Lake Superior (Spotts 1994). This shift delivered more sediment to the system, enabling Chequamegon Point to grow and join the island (Spotts 1994). Large storms and wind action also shape this sand-made feature. Presently, Long Island is a recurved barrier spit that is accreting on the lake side with natural erosion occurring on the bay side at a slower rate (Spotts 1994). The beach and dunes depend on wave action and a source of sediment. Interference in these forces could be destructive, such as docks, jetties and breakwaters (Spotts 1995). Alterations in sediment transport to the system can also be a factor, such as dams that trap sediment, or recreational activity such as ATVs that loosen the soil, kill stabilizing plants and disturb nesting birds (Spotts 1995).

The sloughs complex is affected by fluctuations in the water level of Lake Superior and the flows of rivers that feed the complex (Spotts 1994). In small, still lagoons, wild rice mixes with floating species such as water lilies and pickerel weed, while in deeper areas wild rice dominates. Other communities in the complex include northern sedge meadow, lowland coniferous forest primarily of tamarack, alder thickets, and bogs. The makeup of these communities depends on the disturbance caused by water level fluctuations that occur both daily and at a geologic scale (Spotts 1994). The sloughs are susceptible to any alteration in flow or water fluctuations, boat wakes, nutrient inputs and exotic species such as purple loosestrife, carp, ruffe and lamprey (Spotts 1995).

The riverine complex including the Bad and Kakagon rivers and Wood and Beartrap creeks form a complex at the line where the effects of Lake Superior give way to river cycles (Spotts 1994). Natural, unimpeded flow regimes act to scour channel bottoms, maintain aquatic and bank vegetation and flush nutrients. Logging, road building, utility right of ways and residential developments can alter runoff patterns and increase sedimentation (Spotts 1995).

Extirpation of the wolf combined with logging led to a boom in white-tailed deer populations, which in turn led to overgrazing of several species of tree and shrub: Canada yew, eastern hemlock and eastern white cedar. Wolves have begun to reestablish themselves in the White River Watershed and the Upper Bad River Watershed. Wolverine and cougar once occurred in this part of the state. Beaver have shaped the watershed, as has wild rice, which traps sediment to propagate and shape its environment (Spotts 1994).

About 400 acres of wild rice fields exist in the Kakagon Sloughs. Harvest plays an important cultural role, occurring from about the third week in August to the first week in September.

The Bad River Reservation, when established by the Treaty of La Pointe in 1854, held in trust 125,000 acres. In the intervening years, much of the land was sold to non-Indians or taken by the county for nonpayment of taxes. By 1992, only about 51 percent of those acres remained in tribal ownership or allotment, with the other 49 percent considered alienated, belonging to non-tribal members. This patchwork of ownership means that the lands that drain to the Kakagon/Bad River sloughs are a mishmash of jurisdictions: federal, tribal, state and local. This makes attempts at land use planning and water protection difficult. Some of the ownership details make acquiring lands difficult, and when lands are sold, they often go to non-Indians. In the towns of Gingles, Sanborn and Ashland, within Bad River Reservation boundaries only, some 17,000 acres of forest are in the state's Forest Crop Law Program, much of this acreage owned by Consolidated Papers, Nekoosa Papers and Wausau Paper Mills(Institute of Environmental Studies). The program encourages sound forest management, but it doesn't preclude timber harvest (Piikkila). Additional parcels of land are not enrolled in reserve programs and are managed for production (Institute of Environmental Studies).

A survey of statewide application of best-management practices for forestry near waterways indicated that 83 percent of the forest production surveyed applied best-management practices where needed, properly. Of those surveyed, 62 percent were privately owned, non-industrial lands. In 15.6 percent of cases, no practices were applied where needed and in 1.6 percent of lands the practices were applied where needed, but incorrectly (Holaday April 12 1996; Holaday Dec. 3, 1996). The practices least likely to applied, or applied incorrectly were in riparian management zones, forest roads and wetlands. Of the approximately 90 surveyed harvests, only four were in the basin, two were in the red clay region and none were surveyed in this watershed. Management for pulpwood, typical of much of the watershed's silviculture, involves clearcutting to encourage regeneration. In unstable red clay soils, such short-term forest crops can lead to an increase in erosion.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission recently released a survey report on purple loosestrife in the Bad River watershed (Spotts 1994, 1995). The report documents significant loosestrife infestations along rivers in the watershed. The worst occur along the Marengo River and near High Bridge. The seeds float on the river and can colonize any disturbed soil. There are smaller infestations along other waterways, including the Bad River as it passes through the reservation. Common buckthorn and spotted knapweed are other exotic plant species documented along waterways in the watershed. These species stress native species. The sea lamprey is an accidently introduced species that parasitizes Lake Superior fish and is partly responsible for decline in lake trout. The sea lamprey makes use of the Bad River for spawning and rearing purposes. Historically, the Brule and Bad Rivers produced about 85 percent of the sea lampreys captured at weirs in state waters. A lamprey barrier was constructed on the Brule in 1986 which effectively eliminated future lamprey spawning above the barrier. The Bad River and some of its tributaries continue to support sea lamprey reproduction.

Several communities exist in this watershed: the village of Odanah, new developments at New Odanah, Birch Hill, Frank's Field and Diaperville. These developments contain an estimated 300 to 350 homes (Institute for Environmental Studies). Wastewater treatment facilities on the reservation receive National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits from U.S. EPA and are required to meet federal standards for water quality, not the more stringent state standards. Surface water contamination by past discharge was seen in and around the Birch Hill lagoons, particularly the southwest corner during May, 1994 (Institute for Environmental Studies). Until recently, the New Odanah wastewater treatment facility was not be operating at its potential (Institute for Environmental Studies). In 1996, the New Odanah wastewater lagoons were replaced by a sequencing batch reactor facility; plans are to expand this facility, which treats wastewater from New Odanah and Frank's Field, to allow more housing connections (BRNRD2).

Groundwater problems on reservation lands are typically the result of naturally high mineralization and hardness, as well as excessive iron and manganese concentrations, many above state standards for drinking water. A groundwater sampling program was initiated in 1994 as a result of private well contamination. This may be the result of de-inking sludge disposed of on reservation lands. Consultants to the reservation sampled 43 private water wells, two community water supply wells, one surface water pond and one spring (Institute for Environmental Studies). Sample analysis revealed lead levels above the federal maximum contamination level in five wells and the surface pond. One of these wells is the Diaperville community well. Results of the 1994 sampling program also showed organic constituent concentrations exceeding NR 140 groundwater quality standards in two private water supply wells, and volatile organic compounds were detected in four wells (Institute for Environmental Studies). Cadmium and chromium were detected in excess as well. The consultant recommended discontinuing human consumption of water from three wells on the basis of health concerns (Institute of Environmental Studies). Further sampling by the consultant for the potentially responsible parties and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey has taken place to determine the need for sludge removal (BRNRD2).

Resources of Concern (LS09)

WDNR's Natural Heritage Inventory Database indicates that the following water-dependent endangered, threatened or special concern species and/or communities have been sighted in this watershed within the last 20 years. In addition, a coastal wetlands evaluation conducted in 1995 and 1996 identified a number of species and habitats described in a comprehensive report, Wisconsin's Lake Superior Coastal Wetlands Evaluation / Including Other Selected Natural Features of the Lake Superior Basin (Epstein 1997). This report is largely excerpted here.

Common Name Latin Name Habitat**

Vascular Plants

Brown Beakrush Rhynchospora fusca Honest John Lake
Common Bog Arrow-Grass Triglochin maritimum Oak Point
Crinkled Hairgrass Deschampsia flexuosa Long Island-Chequamegon Point
English Sundew Drosera anglica Chequamegon Point
Shore Sedge Carex lenticularis Long Island - Chequamegon Point
Tufted Hairgrass Deschampsia cespitosa Long Island - Chequamegon Point
Variegated Horsetail Equisetum variegatum Long Island - Chequamegon Point


American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus Kakagon Sloughs, Bad River
American Black Duck Anas rubripes Kakagon Sloughs,
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus Bad River/Kakagon Sloughs, Honest John Lake, Long Island
Blue-Winged Teal Anas discors Kakagon Sloughs, Bad River
Cape May Warbler Dendroica tigrina Bad River
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia Long Island
Common Loon Gavia immer Honest John Lake, Kakagon Sloughs
Common Merganser Mergus merganser Bad River
Evening Grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus Odanah Swamp, Bad River
Golden-Winged Warbler Vermivora chrysoptera Bad River, Kakagon Sloughs
LeConte's Sparrow Ammodramus leconteii Kakagon Sloughs
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis Long Island
Long-Eared Owl Asio otus Long Island
Merlin Falco Columbarius Second Landing
Nashville Warbler Vermivora ruficapilla Odanah Swamp, Bad River, Honest John Lake, Kakagon Sloughs
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus Bad River
Red-Breasted Merganser Mergus serrator Long Island
Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator Honest John Lake, Kakagon Sloughs
Veery Catharus fuscescens Kakagon Sloughs, Bad River, Honest John Lake
Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventris Odanah Swamp

Rare Fish

Lake Sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens Honest John Lake

Miscellaneous Rare Invertebrates

Beach-Dune Tiger Beetle Cicindela hirticollis rhodensis Long Island-Chequamegon Point
Blue-Legged Grasshopper Melanoplus flavidus Long Island-Chequamegon Point

Rare Macroinvertebrates

Pelycypoda; Family Unionidae Elliptio complanata Kakagon River
Odonata; Family Gomphidae Ophiogomphus carolus Bad River
Community* Location Description
Coastal (Poor) Bog Bad River Reservation The coastal bog is considered an herbaceous wetland community. The surface layer of this open peatland community, which occurs as part of the coastal sand spit-lagoon complexes, is comprised of Sphagnum mosses. The mats are typically quite firm and may be "grounded" along the margins of the uplands adjoining the wetland complexes. At larger sites, the coastal bogs grade into a sedge fen community toward the open lagoon waters and to tamarack toward the uplands.
Coastal (Sedge) Fen Bad River Reservation This sedge-dominated wetland community occurs in coastal areas on the margins of shallow lagoons that are protected from the wind, wave and ice action on Lake Superior by sand spits.
Emergent Aquatic--shrub swamp, sedge meadow, emergent marsh, small ponds Kakagon Sloughs, Bad River Reservation Emergent marshes are important to many nesting and migratory waterfowl, mammals, invertebrates and fish.
Interdunal Wetland Long Island - Chequamegon Point This herbaceous wetland community is extremely rare, occurring only within dune systems of the Great Lakes.
Open Bog Oak Point, Long Island - Chequamegon Point This peatland type herbaceous wetland community is dominated by deep layers of Sphagnum mosses that isolate the other members of the community from the influence of nutrient-rich groundwater or runoff. Often a pronounced hummock-hollow micro-topography exists.
Tamarack Swamp Bad River Reservation This forest wetland community is dominated by the conifer tamarack. This is a one-generation forest type as the tamarack cannot reproduce under its own shade.
Wet Sand Flats Long Island - Chequamegon Point Found only on the Chequamegon Bay side of the former gap between Long Island and Chequamegon Point, this herbaceous wetland community has developed within the past two decades. Threatened by purple loosestrife.
Xeric Forest Long Island - Chequamegon Point Dry forest dominated by pine and oak.

* For more detailed descriptions of community types, see pages 26.

** Flora and fauna found on the Bad River Reservation during the coastal wetlands evaluation are not recorded here pending a data-sharing agreement between the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the department. For more information on Natural Heritage Inventory element occurrences on the reservation, consult the Bad River Band.

Priority Wetland Sites

Bad River Reservation

The Reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa encompasses the lower portions of the Bad River drainage in northeastern Ashland and extreme northwestern Iron counties. Coastal wetland surveys conducted in 1996 focused on the vast wetland ecosystems of the lower Bad and Kakagon rivers--separate but ecologically linked systems--and the corridor of the Bad River south of U.S. Highway 2. As of the date of the report, the department was working with the Bad River Band on developing a data-sharing agreement. Until that agreement occurs, none of the new data will be catalogued or located. Data mentioned in the Resources of Concern that list sites that fall within the boundaries of the reservation existed in the Natural Heritage Inventory database prior to the coastal wetlands evaluation, or were derived from sources outside of the department.

Major wetland communities of the lower Bad and Kakagon rivers include emergent marsh, coastal fen, coastal bog, tamarack swamp and shrub swamp. A number of coastal lakes (lagoons) support beds of submergent and floating-leaved aquatic plants and provide critical habitat for many aquatic animals. These communities are the most extensive and among the least disturbed of their respective types in the project area, and certainly rank among the most significant in the Great Lakes.

As the wetlands of the Bad and Kakagon systems are partially separated from and protected by terrestrial features, these deserve mention as well. A coastal barrier spit (See Long Island discussion, below) borders the Bad and Kakagon wetlands on the north. This spit contains extensive beach and dune communities, and in several locations dry forest of pine and oak. Oak Point, north of the Kakagon River mouth, consists of nearly parallel sand ridges radiating from a common base on its eastern end. These ridges support significant stands of dry forest, with pine and oak dominant.

South of U.S. Highway 2, the course of the Bad River is confined within steep clay banks. Between the sharp meanders is a series of terraces occupied primarily by mesic hardwood forests of sugar maple and basswood. The ground flora of these terraces is exceptionally rich and includes many plants that are rare or absent elsewhere in northern Wisconsin. Rare animals also occur here. This is a unique ecosystem within both the basin and northern Wisconsin. Only the much more disturbed lower Nemadji River corridor of northwestern Douglas County has similar characteristics, but there the dominant trees are black ash and white spruce.

Associated with the mesic bottoms of the meander tongues are stands of floodplain forest, black ash swamp, shrub swamp, hemlock-hardwood forest and oxbow lakes. The red clay and sand bluffs flanking the Bad River and its tributaries also support significant communities, including boreal conifer-hardwoods, dry pine forest, hemlock-white cedar forest and spring seeps. A large complex of tamarack swamp, white cedar swamp, black ash swamp and fen occurs where the river exits the deep clay canyons to spread out over the plain to the north.

Due to the scale of the natural features of the site and complex ownership patterns within and beyond the reservation boundaries, partnerships among tribal, public and private entities will be essential in addressing important conservation issues of the Bad River Watershed, such as invasive species, eutrophication and sedimentation. Planning should be done on a watershed basis wherever possible.

Long Island - Chequamegon Point

Western Lake superior's most extensive and least disturbed coastal barrier spit separates the waters of Chequamegon Bay from Lake Superior. The natural dynamics of erosion and deposition are expressed in changed size and shape of the spit over time. An especially vivid example of this occurred following a severe November storm in the 1970s when Long Island and Chequamegon Point were joined. Important communities at the site include beach and lake dune, xeric (dry) forest, interdunal wetland, open bog, shrub swamp, and wet sand flats. The few developments, all on Long Island, include an automated lighthouse, an abandoned Coast Guard station and dock, and a small cabin maintained by the National Park Service.

The beach and dune system is best developed where active deposition of sand is occurring. Due to the wind, wave and ice exposure the beaches are unvegetated. The dune vegetation is composed mostly of marram grass and beach pea. False heather, bearberry and sand cherry are among the other members of the dune community. This site was the last breeding place in Wisconsin for the piping plover. It continues to attract large numbers of gulls, terns and sometimes shorebirds and raptors. Rare dune insects, absent from other dune systems on Lake Superior, occur here.

Most of Long Island is forested with mature stands of jack pine, Hill's oak, red pine and white pine. Common understory plants are Canada mayflower, blueberry, wintergreen and bracken fern. Resident birds include bald eagle, merlin, yellow-rumped, pine and Nashville warblers and red-breasted nuthatch. During the spring, large numbers of songbirds and raptors migrate through this area.

While wetlands cover only a small percentage of the site, the interdunal ponds near the western end of Long Island are a very rare community statewide, and also provide habitat for several rare plants. The bogs of the ridge and swale system on the Chequamegon Bay side of the island generally contain a subset of the common bog heaths and sedges.

The wet sand flats occur at the former gap between the point and the island, along the bay. The flora is an interesting mix of plants from many communities, but also contains several that are rare or absent elsewhere in the regions such as green twayblade and nodding ladies' tresses. Other characteristic species are shore rush and sedge. The aggressive exotic purple loosestrife is, unfortunately, well established on the sand flats.

The site comprises the most intact coastal barrier spit system on western Lake Superior. Included are excellent examples of both rare and widespread natural communities. A number of rare species are resident here, some of them specialized to dune environments. The site is used heavily by migratory birds. Of great added significance is the role this coastal barrier spit plays in protecting the vast wetlands of the Bad and Kakagon river systems to the south. It will be essential for the owners and stewards of these properties to continue working together to address management issues and needs.

Pressures to develop amenities and facilitate access will continue, particularly on Long Island. That portion of the site for which the National Park Service is responsible could benefit from special designation and recognition in the property management plan.


  1. Walleye should be collected from the Kakagon and Bad rivers for contaminant analysis in accordance with agreement in the Lake Superior fish contaminant monitoring program (Type C).
  2. WDNR should cooperate to help the Bad River Band achieve its goals of protecting the ecological integrity and biodiversity of the Kakagon/Bad River sloughs system (Types B and C)
  3. WDNR should explore options for working with government and private entities outside the bounds of the Bad River Indian Reservation to protect the upstream watersheds feeding the Kakagon/Bad River sloughs (Type B and C).
  4. The Bad River Band, WDNR, federal, local and regional agencies and institutions should work together to ensure the protection of water quality in the Lower Bad River watershed (Types C and B).
  5. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 Water Division should conduct a water quality standards review of Denomie Creek (Type B).
  6. U.S. EPA should work with the Bad River Band to ensure that federally permitted wastewater treatment plants in the Lower Bad River Watershed are not posing public health or environmental hazards (Type C).

Bad River

About 34 miles of the Bad River fall within this watershed, almost all of it within the Bad River Indian Reservation. The stream is considered a warm water sport fishery important for spawning walleye and lake sturgeon, as well as supporting migratory runs of trout and salmon species. Other fish found in the lower portion of the river include muskellunge, northern pike, rock bass, pumpkinseeds, bullheads, black crappies, smallmouth bass and yellow perch. This stream's total length is 76 miles from its headwaters in Caroline Lake and has many larger tributaries, among them the White, Potato, Marengo and Tyler Forks rivers. Thus, the lower watershed reflects a river carrying a significant load of sediment and capable of carrying a tremendous amount of water. Due to clay soils that promote rapid runoff, the river is susceptible to rapid flow fluctuations and can move tremendous amounts of sand. Annual mean discharge of suspended sediment was recorded as 618 tons a day, with a high of 8,210 tons/day and a low of 5.7 (STORET). The lower reach tends to be broad and sluggish with a low gradient. Water sampling has shown temperatures that can reach ranges that are close to lethal for trout. Periodically high levels of fecal coliform bacteria have been measured in lower portions of the watershed.

This watershed is largely forested and at risk of experiencing the effects of clearcutting and logging traffic in the highly erodible clay soils. Much of this watershed was at one time covered by boreal forest and mixed conifer, species that protected the easily disturbed soils with their deeper root systems, protective canopies and relationship with soil moisture. Today these forests are dominated by aspen and low-quality second growth hardwoods.

Copper Falls State Park protects the confluence of the Bad and Tyler Forks rivers. The park has three major waterfalls, a deep granite gorge, older growth pine, hemlock and hardwood forest. The park has a WPDES permitted discharge to the Bad River. This discharge appears to occur upstream of the Tyler Forks confluence, placing the discharge in the Upper Bad River.

The Bad River and Bad River Slough are identified in the Lake Superior Coastal Wetland Evaluation (Epstein 1997) as aquatic priority sites. The Bad River originates in the Winegar Moraines subsection, crosses the Gogebic-Penokee Iron Range subsection, and finally flows through Lake Superior Clay Plain subsection, making it one of the most hydrologically diverse streams in the basin. Limited sampling turned up a moderate number of taxa, mostly dragonflies. One rare species was found. This stream also contained taxa not found elsewhere in this study. Management concerns include exotic species, toxic chemicals, bank erosion, silt and impoundment.

The Bad River Slough is a hard water drainage lake adjacent to Lake Superior with a broad outlet channel to the Bad River. Water entering the slough can be from three different sources, depending on conditions. Normally, drainage water from Honest John Slough flows through. Waters from Lake Superior and the Bad River often enter the slough. A regionally significant mussel bed is located in the outlet channel and contains rare species and species not known elsewhere in the Lake Superior Basin. The fishery is reportedly very diverse and includes Lake Sturgeon.

Determination of mussel population dynamics and clarifying taxonomic status of unusual forms is recommended. Threats to the aquatic features are diverse as the site lies at the mouth of the largest stream system in the Wisconsin portion of the basin.

Beartrap Creek

This drainage stream flows from southwest of Ashland northeast into Kakagon Slough. The stream has supported a warm water forage fishery with the occasional northern pike. The river drains lands that once were primarily agricultural. It carries the highest amount of sediment among the streams entering the sloughs (Institute for Environmental Studies). After entering the Bad River Indian Reservation, the creek drains vast lowland and wetlands areas. This stream is identified by the Lake Superior Binational Program as important Lake Superior habitat as part of the Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs, and for its exceptional fishery habitat. We have little other information about this stream. Sections of this watershed include lowland deciduous forest that may periodically be clearcut. Among the concerns for this watershed are that clearcutting could alter the nature of sediment movement, which could affect the slough ecosystem and water quality. Close to Highway 2, the forest areas are more susceptible to development pressure.

During survey work conducted as part of the coastal wetlands evaluation, no rare species of macroinvertebrate were found and overall taxa richness was moderate (5-24 species) (Epstein 1997). Aquatic plants were significant at the survey site.

Denomie Creek

This stream is primarily a warm water forage fishery, intermittent upstream of Highway 2. Northern pike and perch are present in perennial areas. The stream's outlet empties into an area of bogs and swamps that eventually seep into Honest John Lake and the Bad River Slough. The bog area is particularly susceptible to increased nutrient input (Spotts 1994, 1995). The slough area hosts beaver and waterfowl that nest in the willow and shrub swamp and fresh meadow wetlands. Denomie Creek passes through thick red clay deposits.

The Institute for Environmental Studies (IES) at the University of Wisconsin - Madison conducted its water resources practicum on the Bad River Reservation, focusing on the Denomie Creek Watershed. Sampling on Denomie Creek in the last 10 years was performed by the U.S. Geological Survey, Bad River Natural Resources Department (BRNRD) and the IES practicum. BRNRD sampling in 1993 found temperatures between 17 and 23.5 degrees Celsius and pH values between 7.14 and 6.57, which fell within the BRNRD's goals for surface waters. Low levels of dissolved oxygen, less than the recommended 5 parts per million needed to ensure active and healthy aquatic life, were found at two of the sampling locations. Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (DILHR) figures cited in the IES report indicate a significant increase in the number of septic systems in the area. Since the underlying red clay soils are impermeable and the permeable layers are close to the water table, continuing development of private septic systems could threaten groundwater quality.

A New Odanah wastewater treatment facility came on line in 1996, replacing the old lagoon system that had fallen into disrepair. The New Odanah facility discharges directly to Denomie Creek from a sequencing batch reactor, twice a day; the reach receiving the discharge has low flow or is stagnant most of the year, which reduces the stream's capacity to assimilate the effluent (BRNRD2). Plans exist to expand the sequencing batch reactor to allow more hookups in the near future (BRNRD2)

Aspen, which is harvested for pulp production, is the primary tree species in the watershed. Forestry is the principal land use and erosion is the principal problem in the forested portions of the watershed. The use of best-management practices for forestry could minimize the impact on surface waters.

This watershed includes parts of the Bad River Slough, adjacent to where the Bad River enters Lake Superior. The IES students in their interviews with tribal elders were given the impression the quality of the wetlands may have declined, based on anecdotal evidence of decreased wild rice production.

The IES project interviewed members of the Bad River Band, with an emphasis on cultural needs the tribal lands serve; identified goals of establishing a water quality monitoring program, improving communication between Bad River Natural Resources Department and the public, evaluating tribal legal options such as zoning, developing a geographic information system (GIS) document and maps; and looked at the legal process for establishing water quality standards. Among general recommendations that resulted from the IES study, students proposed that land use analysis to protect water quality be done, especially for groundwater, and mapping be improved in the southern part of the reservation that serves as the recharge area for reservation drinking water wells, where groundwater is more susceptible to contamination. The IES plan makes the recommendations for the Denomie Creek sub-watershed for identifying the sources and sinks of phosphorus in the watershed and identifying sources of pollution to Denomie Creek.

The IES report suggested that potential point sources of pollution included septic tanks, sewage lagoons, underground storage tanks and abandoned wells and recommended against the use of septic systems, an inventory of existing and failed septic systems, an inspection of underground storage tanks, and monitoring of state and federal enforcement actions against non-Indian underground storage tanks on the reservation through public information requests.

Potential sources of polluted runoff the IES program identified included utility corridors, forestry practices and storm water runoff. The unstable clay soils on the reservation led to recommendations to ensure that all forest-management activities are conducted using best-management practices, that riparian management zones prohibit cutting within 100 feet of the ordinary high water mark, that no clear cutting or thinning occur on steep slopes leading down to streams on the reservation, that managed timber harvests be done instead of clearcuts and the focus be on aspen removal to leave a variety of seed trees for forest regeneration, that the tribe collect data on the forestry practices of the major industrial landowners on the reservation and monitor timber harvests on alienated land through remote sensing data and field reconnaissance to thus add data to the tribal geographical information system.

Additional recommendations included, minimizing the use of road salt and sand in favor of deicers such as calcium magnesium acetate and CG-90 and collecting waste oil, toxic household wastes and solid waste material for proper disposal.

Kakagon River

This river and its two principal tributaries, Wood and Beartrap Creeks, feed the western part of the Kakagon/Bad River sloughs, emptying into Chequamegon Bay. The Kakagon River may once have been the channel of the White River, or even the Bad River, from earlier times. The Lake Superior fish contaminant monitoring strategy includes walleye sampling from this river to help monitor for trends in fish contamination, and for the purpose of protecting human health. This river is a short, drainage stream that flows from around Odanah north into Kakagon Slough. Fish species known to inhabit the stream include northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, panfish, suckers, redhorse and minnows. Beaver and muskrat are present in the area, along with waterfowl. See the discussion at the beginning of this watershed's narrative for more information on this stream.

During survey work conducted as part of the coastal wetlands evaluation, one rare species of macroinvertebrate were found and overall taxa richness was moderate (5-24 species) (Epstein 1997). Aquatic plants were significant at the survey site.

Wood Creek Slough

This drainage stream flows into the Kakagon Slough, where it becomes broad and sluggish with a warm water fish population that includes a few northern pike. Bottom conditions are mainly unstable sand and muck, mixed with clay. Muskrat and beaver are active in the watershed and the waterbody supports waterfowl. This stream is considered by the Lake Superior Binational Program to supply an important fishery habitat. See the discussion at the beginning of this watershed narrative for more information.

During survey work conducted as part of the coastal wetlands evaluation, no rare species of macroinvertebrate were found and overall taxa richness was moderate (5-24 species) (Epstein 1997). Aquatic plants were significant at the survey site.

Last Revised: Thursday August 10 2006