Bad River Watershed Association

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Connecting People, Land, and Water

BRWA Featured in On Wisconsin Outdoors Blog

Sjana Schanning and Bobbi Rongstad of BRWA were recently featured in an article for On Wisconsin Outdoors. John Luthens accompanied them as they conducted macroinvertebrate monitoring this Fall. The article can be found at


Bad River Biology

by John Luthens

It was a rolling, late-autumn laboratory of trees and hills and sparkling rivers that stretched east of Mellen, Wisconsin and along the northern borders of Ashland and Iron Counties. An Indian-summer sun slanted through a maze of fallen leaves and logs. Along the banks of a winding stream small enough to leap over, balsam pines contested positions with birch trees and alder brush. It couldn’t have been a finer setting in which to wet my boots in the currents of watershed biology.

I tagged into the beautiful fall morning with Bobbi Rongstad and Sjana Schanning; members of the Bad River Watershed Association, a citizen-based organization that strives to sustain water quality in nearly 1000 square miles of tributary waters flowing from the Chequamegon National Forest and into the Lake Superior Basin.

Schanning, the association’s president, currently works for the U.S. Forestry Service out of Hayward, while Rongstad serves as treasurer and lives and works in the beautiful wilds of Iron County. As is the case with many of the Bad River Watershed members, both women are well-versed in data collection and water-quality monitoring.

The group maintains baseline data throughout the Bad River Watershed, monitoring pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen content, charting the ongoing health of the system and identifying potential water-quality issues.

Founded in 2001, the Watershed Association’s research has proved a valuable liaison between local land owners and government resource agencies, improving erosion control by replacing outdated road culverts and helping farmers establish beneficial agricultural practices, while at the same time fostering a healthy relationship between the needs of the local community and the goals of watershed management.

One of the best ways to gauge the quality of a waterway, and the reason I found myself on a pristine, natural-reproducing trout stream that has no name (I’m not being secretive – it really doesn’t) is to monitor the abundance and type of the aquatic insects found in various streambed habitat.

The proper and scientific title of our sampling was ‘Macroinvertebrate Monitoring’ – meaning collecting organisms that lack internal skeletons or backbones, but are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. And while I’ve been told a time or two that I could loosely fit the bill on this type of specimen circuit, what we’re really talking is stonefly nymphs, worms, freshwater shrimp, and other terrestrial fish food here.

As I inspected dip nets of aquatic life from the stream bottom, tentatively probing the net with a finger, looking for any wiggling signs life, Rongstad waited on the bank with a lab bucket and tweezers for picking out the tiny critters. She laughingly offered up advice. “Really dig in with your boots. You gotta be dancing to stir those bugs up.”

Schanning, meanwhile, told me that one of the central reasons she enjoyed her line of work, was the access it provided to form educated and scientific decisions about the environment. She entered data on a log sheet: mapping stream vegetation, measuring velocity flow, and characterizing the structure and habitat that made up a one-hundred meter study-stretch of curling water.

Both of my biologist companions were far more adept at finding and categorizing the bugs, and as far as entering the data on the log sheets, well, let’s just say that after I managed to lose the pencil twice amongst the piles of fallen leaves, I was soundly relieved of further clerical duties.

Schanning’s scientific entries were especially meticulous, doubtless a product of her environmental science background. Her notes went down clear and concise. They also never went down silent and static.

As I danced along the stream bottom, bringing samples in the net to be plucked out with tweezers, Sjana Schanning sang out tune after tune. Our lowland-forest biology classroom was treated to mediocre dancing and a very pretty voice, although it must be said that some of the songs were ribald enough to make a sailor blush.

By the end of the day, we‘d acquired an impressive collection of bugs to go along with a well-documented set of statistics. Myself, I got to spend a wonderful autumn day on a trout stream in one of the most untouched wilderness lands Wisconsin has to offer.

And thanks to two fine researchers, I got to participate in some fascinating stream biology that will hopefully serve to protect the pristine watershed of the Bad River for generations to come.


Fall 2014 "Watershed Waves" Newsletter

It has been a busy Fall here at BRWA. Check out our most recent edition of the "Watershed Waves" newsletter to see what's new!


Click HERE to view the Fall 2014 edition of "Watershed Waves!"


Paddling to DC

Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, spoke to an audience of around 40 people at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute on September 9th.  Among their many adventures, the Freemans are currently traveling from Ely, MN by canoe and sailboat to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness of the issues related to ​sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters and ​Lake Superior region.

The canoe carrying the Freemans​ to their destination is covered with signatures of people from Minnesota and surrounding states who are opposed to sulfide mining within the watersheds of the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior. Their concerns include potential damage to delicate ecosystems as a result of acid mine drainage, and resulting threats to the more than 18,000 tourism-based jobs in these wilderness areas sustained by the quality of the water and outdoor experience​.

Dave and Amy will continue to collect signatures along their journey, and will present the canoe to President Obama when they reach Washington, D.C. The petition canoe was on display at the presentation, and will be leaving Ashland with a few more signatures.


Dave and Amy's journey commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which was responsible for the establishment of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This canoe trip mirrors ​Chief Buffalo's journey to Washington, D.C. in 1852, which successfully stopped attempts to remove the Lake Superior Chippewa from the region ​and led to a treaty in 1854. Professor Joe Rose, Bad River Elder, shared​ the story of Chief Buffalo's amazing journey at the presentation.​



The presentation also included stories from Dave and Amy’s North American Odyssey, a three-year expedition they embarked upon as newlyweds. They traveled 11,700 miles by dogsled, canoe, and kayak from the Pacific Northwest to Key West, FL via the Arctic. They shared their experience remotely through their educational nonprofit organization, The Wilderness Classroom. The Freemans’ progress during their Paddle to D.C. can also be followed through The Wilderness Classroom. They chose to make the trip while school is in session so that students and teachers could share in the adventure. For more information, visit and Click HERE to sign the petition online.

​The Freemans’ presentation was hosted by the Bad River Watershed Association and Northland College.​


April Stone Dahl Receives Karen Danielson Award

In 2009 the Karen Danielson Award was created to honor the memory of one of our founding board members.  Karen was a strong voice for the Association, and aside from serving as Board President, she also was a field volunteer, committee member, and helped with event planning.  She showed a passion for the Bad River Watershed Association and her time and commitment will not be forgotten.  Each year the Karen Danielson Award is given to a dedicated volunteer who shows the same energy and passion for the Bad River Watershed Association.

This year the Board has selected April Stone Dahl as the recipient of this award.  April served as the first treasurer on the board of the Association when we were founded in 2002.  Although she quickly discovered that this was not her passion, she stepped up when she saw the need.  April also performed Water Quality monitoring starting in 2002 and often included her whole family. She has taken on large roles planning and catering events and very much enjoyed serving good food and bringing people together who all cared about the watershed.  April is a skilled basket weaver and donated some of her pieces for silent auctions and other fundraisers.  Sometimes she was doing what she loved, and sometimes she was helping out where help was needed, but her commitment has lasted over so many years and reached across so many areas that the board is very pleased to recognize her with this award.  Please tell April congratulations and thank you if you see her out and about.


Culvert Restoration News

Culvert restoration progress continues around the watershed.  Recently, a large restoration project was completed on Albert Mattson Road, in the Town of Ashland.  The Marengo River tributary stream that crosses the road has been an ongoing source of problems and expense for the township because high spring flows cause flooding, erosion and road failure.  A grant to BRWA from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, along with funding and services from the State of Wisconsin and Ashland County, led to the completion of restoration in July.  This is a significant long-term cost saver for the township, and is another great step in reducing the amount of damaging sediment flowing into the Marengo River.


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