Bad River Watershed Association

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Welcome to the Bad River Watershed Association

Started in 2002 by a group of local dedicated citizens, the Bad River Watershed Association was formed as a non-profit to promote a healthy relationship between the people and natural communities of the Bad River watershed by involving all citizens in assessing, maintaining and improving watershed integrity for future generations.

The Bad River Watershed (BRW) drains over 1,000 square miles along Wisconsin’s north shore. The headwaters are found in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The lower one-third of the watershed is land of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribes of Chippewa Indians Reservation. Small, rural communities including Mellen, Odanah, Gurney, Mason, Grand View, Delta and Marengo are scattered throughout the watershed. The Kakagon Slough/Bad River Slough, located at the mouth of the watershed on Lake Superior, is the largest and possibly most pristine freshwater estuary remaining on Lake Superior and is the only remaining extensive coastal wild rice wetland in the Great Lakes Basin. The Bad River watershed is home to sturgeon spawning grounds, pristine coldwater trout streams, prime wolf habitat, and many more outstanding plant, fish and wildlife communities.

The Bad River Watershed Association is pleased to announce our new vision for 2016 and beyond - including the expansion of our reach from Red Cliff to Michigan

As we consider the future of the BRWA, we realize the time for growth has arrived. Lake Superior and the Chequamegon Bay region in particular are precious to many. People count on clean water and healthy natural resources for their employment, recreation and daily life. The rivers and streams that empty into the Bay and Lake have an impact on these waters and the resources within, like fish and wild rice.

Click to continue reading our full statement..

Connecting People, Land, and Water

2015 Karen Danielsen Stewardship Award

by Valerie Damstra

In 2009 the Karen Danielsen Award was created to honor the memory of one of our founding members. Karen was a strong voice for the Association, and aside from serving as Board President, she 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 is not 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.

For the first time the Board has selected a volunteer team as the recipient of this award.  Water quality volunteers Bruce Prentice and Steve Baumgardner.

I can remember when Steve and Bruce first started to volunteer.  They got their start by coming to the spring macro training in 2011. When we pair people up for the sampling sites, we try to match new people with experienced volunteers.  But for Steve and Bruce, we didn't have anyone to pair them with, so we put them together, not knowing if they’d work well together or even get along.  But, it seemed to work out. They did their first season together, and continued to voluntarily be paired up and even became good friends. 

Bruce Prentice and Steve Baumgardner have continue monitoring together as a team.   Throughout the years, they’ve monitored Trout Brook, 20 Mile Creek, and 18 Mile Creek for macroinvertebrates; and they’ve helped with temperature monitoring on Spring Creek for the Culvert Program.

These guys have given a little extra too. Bruce was a huge help with the office move in 2013 and one of our consistent volunteers for the Adopt a Hwy cleanups.  After each season’s macro event was done, Steve would hand me a donation check to give another contribution. After giving those hours of time, he'd want to give just a little extra. "I just love the BRWA" is what he'd tell me.

From my time at BRWA as staff and now on the Board, I have always thought of the two together, "Steve and Bruce".   I am pleased and impressed the BRWA’s volunteerism has not only fostered service to conservation efforts but also new friendship.



Protectors of the Bad River Watershed Honored with Statewide Wetlands Award

Madison, WI – On Thursday, November 5, wetland enthusiasts from around Wisconsin will gather to recognize individuals whose work advances the protection, restoration, and enjoyment of Wisconsin’s wetlands at Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s (WWA) 2015 Annual Wetlands Awards Celebration.

A collective of individuals and organizations working for the wetlands of the Bad River Watershed are being recognized for their work promoting the importance of wetlands in protecting the Bad River Watershed, a watershed that includes the Bad River/Kakaogon Sloughs Estuary, and the Penokee Hills, an area recently considered for a controversial iron mine development. The efforts of the 2015 awards winners show how high quality wetland protection and care can happen in a working landscape. The Wetland Leaders in the Bad River Watershed include William Heart, the Bad River Tribal Environmental Program, the Bad River Watershed Association, John Coleman and Dawn White of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Environmental Section, and Jim Meeker (posthumously) and Joan Elias.

William Heart, an active fly fisherman and Trout Unlimited leader, has advocated for the importance of this area as a trout fishery, has been involved in years of field work in the wetlands of this watershed, and has been instrumental in organizing and helping others protect and care for the wetland resources of the Bad River Watershed.

The Bad River Tribal Natural Resources Program provides the science-based support needed to protect and care for the cultural and ecological resources of the region’s wetlands. Their work in the Bad River Watershed includes the development of a written water code to ensure the quality and quantity of Reservation waters, a wetland assessment and monitoring program, and extensive studies and management actions maintaining the health of the wild rice, fish, wildlife, and cultural resources in the Bad River/Kakagon Sloughs Estuary. Their efforts resulted in the sloughs’ designation as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

John Colemen and Dawn White of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Environmental Section – GLIFWC staff have been instrumental in extensively refining wetland and water resources mapping capabilities in the Upper Bad River Watershed. Their detailed work has identified and called attention to a large amount of wetlands and streams in the watershed that had previously been unmapped or unknown.

The Bad River Watershed Association has developed a citizen-science based water monitoring program documenting the baseline conditions of the water resources throughout the watershed. They have conducted tours and presentations to hundreds of individuals explaining the importance of the region’s wetlands to the health of the entire watershed.

Jim Meeker and Joan Elias – For decades, Jim and Joan have been involved in the monitoring, assessment, protection, and management of the wetlands of the Bad River Watershed in partnership with the Bad River Tribe. As a wetland scientist at Northland College, Jim published peer-reviewed hydrologic and wild rice studies conducted in the Bad River/Kakogon Sloughs Estuary, contributing greatly to the proper management of this area. In partnership with GLIFWC, Jim and Joan published a guide to the plants used by the Great Lakes Ojibwa, including many wetland plants. Jim passed away suddenly in December of 2014.

“We know there are many wetland crusaders whose good deeds have not been adequately recognized,” said Tracy Hames, WWA’s Executive Director. “Our Wetlands Awards are intended to help us thank a few of them and bring recognition to the wetland resources they promote as well.”

The Wetlands Awards Celebration will be held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Visitor Center, November 5, from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. Tickets are available for this event and can be purchased by visiting WWA’s website or calling 608-250-9971. The evening will also include a silent auction, buffet, desserts, and a cash bar.

The other winner of the 2015 Wetlands Awards is Travis Olson of the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.

“Wetlands play an important role in both the ecology and economy of Wisconsin. We hope that our Awards will help Wisconsinites appreciate and understand the value of our state’s wetland heritage, an important step toward ensuring protection for all of our wetlands,” Hames said.

Wisconsin Wetlands Association (WWA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and enjoyment of wetlands and associated ecosystems through science-based programs, education and advocacy. Its more than 1,700 members include wetland experts, natural resource professionals, conservationists, hunters and anglers, educators, concerned citizens, and local and regional organizations. Visit WWA online at


Soils, Landforms & Water

BRWA hosted Soils, Landforms & Water, the latest in our Watershed Walk series, on Saturday, September 12.  Ten people attended this fantastic hike led by Ulf Gafvert.

Great weather made for a great morning to tramp through the woods with Ulf and learn how soil, landforms and water are connected.  Ulf provided a history/geography/physical science lesson in the course of a short walk on a Bayfield County hillside.  He described soil permeability and how differing types of soils handle substances applied naturally (rain) or otherwise (manure) to their surface.

Walking down the hillside, Ulf dug cores a few feet below the topsoil.  Trip participants were able to see how the soils differed at various locations going down the hillside.  As water flows and seeps through the ground and downhill, it changes the characteristics of the soil.  The bottom of the hill, the flatland, was made up of heavy clay where drainage becomes much more challenging.  It is more difficult for water to seep through clay soil, and there is generally more surface run-off.

Ulf currently works for the National Park Service Great Lakes Monitoring Network.  He has also worked as a Soil Scientist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.


An Expanded Vision for the Bad River Watershed Association

The Bad River Watershed Association is excited to announce that we have just released a new vision for the organization, which we will work to establish over the next several years.  Read the full vision statement below, or click HERE to download the PDF.

Our History


The Bad River Watershed Association (BRWA) was founded 13 years ago in 2002 by concerned citizens who wanted to have a better understanding of the water quality in our area. There was a lot of anecdotal evidence about water conditions and problem areas, but data about the water quality of the region were sorely lacking. This group decided that a citizen-based watershed organization would be a valuable addition to the area. As they began their work, they decided that the Bad River watershed, which drains over 1000 square miles of land into Lake Superior, was just the right size for a new organization to take on.

Over the past 13 years, the Bad River Watershed Association has grown from an entirely volunteer driven organization to one with motivated staff, committed volunteers and a membership that reaches throughout the state and beyond. By coordinating and training volunteers, we have monitored water quality at 105 sites and have used these data to assist the State in naming several Exceptional and Outstanding Water Resources in the area. Our culvert program partners with townships and counties and has, to date, replaced 20 culverts that were causing sedimentation and creating fish barriers. To prioritize this work, we developed a culvert assessment protocol and have inventoried over 1000 culverts throughout the Bad River watershed. That protocol has now been adopted for use by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and is being used to prioritize culvert replacements statewide. Early in 2013 our Watershed Action Plan for the Marengo River was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency, bringing clear guidance and new funding opportunities for restoration along that river. This was a huge accomplishment that required coordination of many different parties and cooperation between state and tribal entities, each with its own federally approved water quality standards. The plan continues to be used to improve water quality of this sub-watershed of the Bad River.

During quiet times and turbulent times, the Bad River Watershed Association has held strong to our mission to involve citizens in assessing, maintaining and improving watershed integrity for future generations. We have spoken out for the rights of citizens to be involved in the decisions made about their water. The data collected by our staff and volunteers have informed the public and our representatives of the resources that might be at risk given various possible land uses. Today, we are a strong organization with state-wide name recognition, a strong set of skills and a proven track record of success.

Building on Success

2015 and Beyond

Expanding our reach- Red Cliff to Michigan

As we consider the future of the BRWA, we realize the time for growth has arrived. Lake Superior and the Chequamegon Bay region in particular are precious to many. People count on clean water and healthy natural resources for their employment, recreation and daily life. The rivers and streams that empty into the Bay and Lake have an impact on these waters and the resources within, like fish and wild rice.

Expanding our reach around the Chequamegon Bay, out to Madeline Island and east to the state line will allow us to bring our skills and expertise to a greater area, which suffers much of the same lack of data that motivated citizens to start the BRWA so many years ago. Growing the organization in this way we add another 60% of land to the area we cover while increasing the number of people living within our working area by approximately five times. Citizens in this region have always been interested in protecting the water they depend on, and awareness is growing rapidly as new risks to the resource emerge. By bringing our organization to a wider audience, the Association will engage citizens as a community and help develop the ties between individuals and the broader watershed system they depend on.

Click HERE to download this map.


The next step in the Penokee Range - Wild and Scenic Rivers

Since its inception, the Bad River Watershed Association has worked to monitor and protect the Penokee Range and the waters that run through it. Over the last four years, as the Penokee Range received statewide, and even national attention, other organizations and the larger northern Wisconsin community began to engage wholeheartedly in learning about this area and educating others about its beauty and importance. During this time our Association coordinated efforts with many different organizations and in doing so raised our organization’s profile and strengthened our statewide partnerships.

Growing knowledge of the region has made it clear that the Bad River, the Tyler Forks River and the land that they run through possess remarkable scenic value as well as providing critical habitat for fish and wildlife. Their current relatively pristine and free flowing condition makes them excellent candidates to be named by Congress as National Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, passed by Congress in 1968 is in place to protect such places “for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” The Bad River Watershed Association will work with our partners and the community at large to continue studies of this crucial region and assess the feasibility of having these rivers designated by Congress. It will take the collaboration of all these organizations and the compilation of the knowledge we continue to gain about the region to make this designation happen. It may well be a long and perhaps difficult process, but it is clear that these rivers are worthy of the recognition and protection accorded by the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation.

Building our citizen science water quality monitoring program- Increased cooperation with schools

The strength of the BRWA comes from our method of involving citizens in monitoring and protecting the waters they care about. When citizens dip their own feet in a river and are active in gathering data about the water they depend on, they are likely to become more engaged when land use issues threaten to put those waters at risk. Expansion of the Association will require increased numbers of volunteers to help with resource assessments and water quality monitoring. As the Watershed Association grows, we will provide the support and coordination required to safely engage citizens throughout the region in assessing, maintaining and improving watershed quality for future generations.

As an organization working within the bounds of the Bad River watershed, the BRWA has found many opportunities to work with youth such as assisting with the Indigenous Arts and Sciences Program and Bad River Youth Outdoors Program and leading educational outings for school environmental clubs. With the expanding reach of the organization, many schools will be added to our working area. We will partner with these schools to provide hands-on educational opportunities to school aged youth in the region. Through this collaboration we will begin to build young stewards of the land and water while providing youth with the chance to apply the science of their classrooms to real world issues.

Building on our strong restoration work

The Bad River Watershed Association is well known for our restoration work. We have proven our ability to prioritize restoration work and partner with cooperators to successfully improve watershed quality by replacing problem culverts, educating landowners about restoration opportunities, coordinating volunteers for shoreline planting days and leading major bank stabilization projects such as one we are currently working on along the Marengo River. As we expand our working territory, we will begin by assessing and prioritizing areas in need of attention and be prepared to lead restoration projects as funding becomes available.

Healthy Organization

In order to be successful in fulfilling our mission we must continue to maintain a healthy organization with strong finances, a satisfied and highly skilled staff and a Board of Directors with the energy, knowledge and motivation to fulfill its role. The Board of Directors and staff will work to increase and diversify funding sources and follow through with clearly defined annual budgets and fundraising plans. As we value the program work of the Association, we also value stable working conditions with living wages paid to our staff, and will work to plan our finances and staffing levels accordingly. We will strive to provide funding for employee and Board education in order to strengthen and sustain the organization. We will work to build our Board to include citizens from throughout our expanding work area who can contribute needed skills to the organization and we will establish a method of smooth transitions as Board member roles change over time.


Bad River Watershed Association Awarded 229K for Fish Passage Restoration

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), through the Sustain Our Great Lakes Program, has awarded $229,160 to the Bad River Watershed Association (BRWA) for stream restoration projects.

Sustain Our Great Lakes is a public-private partnership that supports habitat restoration throughout the Great Lakes basin. A significant portion of program funding is provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program designed to protect, restore and enhance the Great Lakes ecosystem.

This year, 20 organizations were awarded a total $5.7 million in funding for Great Lakes restoration projects. BRWA was one of four organizations in Wisconsin to receive funding. This funding will allow BRWA to work with local towns and counties to carry out stream restoration projects, including the replacement of five road/stream crossing culverts. The new culverts will improve passage for native fish such as brook trout, and also reduce road washouts and sedimentation during high flows The focus of these projects is to reconnect cold water streams that have been cut off by improperly installed, undersized or failing culverts. Brook trout and other cold water species require the full reach of streams for successful long-term spawning, and for access to colder water when sections of streams become too warm.

Climate and water temperature modeling studies have indicated that climate change may cause the lower reaches of many streams in the Bad River watershed to become too warm for cold water species in coming decades. Because of this, reconnection of fish passage to cold headwater sources has become an increasingly important restoration priority.

BRWA was previously awarded a NFWF grant for a culvert restoration project on Fred's Creek on North York Road in Ashland Township. This project is scheduled for completion later this summer. Since beginning the Culvert Program in 2005, BRWA and its partners have reconnected over 25 miles of stream habitat in the watershed.


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