In Door County Wisconsin: A Wetland of Global Significance

What do you call a formation of Door County wetlands which, like the Everglades in Florida, have been designated a “wetland of international importance?” You call it a World Class Wetland, that’s what.

With Mark Martin, leading a Natural Resources Foundation field trip of Moonlight Bay's Bedrock Beach, in May this year.

With Mark Martin, leading a Natural Resources Foundation field trip of Moonlight Bay’s Bedrock Beach, in May this year.

This new designation of an array of wetlands stretching from Bailey’s Harbor north to Europe Bay, has been granted under the Ramsar Convention. (It was officially granted in 2014.) Some of the potential benefits of this designation, according to the website of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association (WWA), are “increased funding opportunities, increased support for site protection, and increased science and tourism opportunities.”

The Bedrock Beach of Moonlight Bay (looking southwest), May 2015.

The Bedrock Beach of Moonlight Bay (looking southwest), May 2015.

At the Ramsar Wetlands Convention page maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I learned that the Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides “the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use” of these resources. The treaty was adopted in 1971, and the U.S. joined the Ramsar Convention in 1987. There are currently 37 U.S. sites that have been accepted to the Ramsar list.


For more specific information about the new Door County Ramsar Site, this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article details the area’s rich biological diversity, and the rare and endangered species that thrive there.



On Moonlight Bay's Bedrock Beach (looking northwest), late summer 2014.

On Moonlight Bay’s Bedrock Beach (looking northwest), late summer 2014.

The article also lists the numerous owners – both public entities and private individuals – of various parcels of the site. A partial listing includes: the Nature Conservancy, the Door County Land Trust, the University of Green Bay, the WI DNR, The Ridges Sanctuary.

Rieboldt's Creek, flowing from Mud Lake to Moonlight Bay; in January 2015.

Rieboldt’s Creek, flowing from Mud Lake to Moonlight Bay; in January 2015.

Two of the wetland communities within this newly-named “wetland of international significance” are also listed among the WWA’s “100 Wetland Gems.” These are the wetlands of both Moonlight Bay and North Bay. The Badger & the Whooping Crane featured these wetlands gems in an earlier post about the ecological good that flows from wetlands. The photos with this post are from a number of visits I’ve made to these “gems” during the past year.

Riebold's Creek, late summer 2014.

Riebold’s Creek, late summer 2014.

What about Wetlands?

One thing always leads to another, often in unpredictable ways.  For example, it’s a long-held and persistent interest in the environment – what sustains us on earth  – that has led me on a lot of “learning journeys,” including the one that ignited my fascination with the endangered whooping cranes, and the stories about the species’ reintroduction into Wisconsin. And it’s that interest in the whooping cranes in Wisconsin – how they’re doing here, why they’re here, what their habitat needs are, and why our state was chosen as the northern terminus of the re-introduction – that constantly leads me down new avenues of appreciation for the gifts of the natural world that bless Wisconsin. Like wetlands.

Rieboldt's Creek flowing from Mud Lake to Moonlight Bay in Door County.

Rieboldt’s Creek flowing from Mud Lake to Moonlight Bay in Door County.

“Until recently, wetlands were often viewed as wastelands,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “useful only when drained or filled.” But now we know better.

“Wetlands Benefit People and Nature,” the DNR proclaims,  listing what we know and celebrate about wetlands: that these unexpectedly special places “are nurseries for fish and wildlife, purifiers for lakes, rivers, and groundwater, and storage for floodwaters. They’re also playgrounds for birders, hikers, hunters, and paddlers, and a storehouse for carbon.”

A statewide advocacy group, the Wisconsin Wetlands Association (WWA) cites yet another benefit: “Wetlands protect our shorelines” – so important in tourism-conscious Wisconsin. Both the DNR, and the WWA offer wonderful resources for online learning about wetlands.

Moonlight Bay in Door County, Wisconsin; designated a Wetland Gem

Moonlight Bay in Door County, Wisconsin; designated a Wetland Gem

Each site has multiple pages and each page includes multiple links to more pages of information and yes, even more links.  There are literally dozens of ways to begin learning about wetlands!  Where to start depends on what you want to do or learn.  Do you want to explore wetlands, or learn how to identify them?  Do you own property with some wetland?  Do you want to protect a wetland, or restore one? I wanted some basic information – a definition of wetlands, and descriptions of them, and some historical context for wetlands in  Wisconsin. And I wanted to explore some wetlands in the real world, too. A wetland, as defined by the Wisconsin State Legislature in 1978, “is an area where water is at, near, or above the land surface long enough to be capable of supporting aquatic or hydrophytic (water-loving) vegetation and which has soils indicative of wet conditions.”

Part of the Moonlight Bay wetlands complex.

Part of the Moonlight Bay wetlands complex.

Types of wetlands, and their descriptions, are far more varied than the simple terms “marshes” and “swamps” that first come to mind. The WWA describes 12 different types of wetland communities that are found in Wisconsin, and the DNR uses nearly three times that. But let’s just look at WWA’s dozen terms. From the group’s Wetland Communities of Wisconsin page you can click to detailed descriptions of: marshes, sedge meadows, wet prairies, fens, shrub-carrs, alder thickets, floodplain forests, floodplain basins (also called ephemeral ponds), open bogs, coniferous bogs, lowland hardwood swamps and coniferous swamps. (Currently – for a quick and efficient introduction to wetland types – the Wisconsin Wetlands Association is running a 5-part series on its Facebook page, summarizing an abbreviated classification system.)

North Bay in Door County; designated a Wisconsin Wetland Gem.

North Bay in Door County; designated a Wisconsin Wetland Gem.

Wisconsin today has only about one half of the 10 million acres of wetlands that existed here (it’s been calculated) at the beginning of European settlement. Land surveys in the early state of Wisconsin helped identify where wetlands existed at that time, but not with accurate statistics. Soil scientists helped to provide a better estimate of the state’s pre-settlement wetland acreage.

The state completed its most current Wisconsin Wetland Inventory in 1985. This is where you can find wetlands acreage for every county in the state. Wetlands are distributed throughout the state. Each county has some, but seven of the eight counties that have the highest percentage of mapped wetlands (3% or more of the statewide total) are in the far north.

A rustic trail runs inland through a forested portion of the North Bay wetland complex.

A rustic trail runs inland through a forested portion of the North Bay wetland complex.

For a personal exploration of the state’s wetlands, the WWA’s 100 Wetland Gems of Wisconsin is definitely the place to start. Earlier this fall I used this guide to visit and take photos – and to see in a new way – two Door County wetland complexes that on other occasions I’ve driven right by. These gems, North Bay and Moonlight Bay, lend their names to the larger complex of swamp, sedge meadow, shrub carr, fen and marshland that comprise these extensive wetlands. Both these bays lie directly north of Bailey’s Harbor. They’re connected to the village and to each other by Door County’s scenic Highway Q. Knowing something about the many little ecological miracles that these wetland gems harbor within, makes their scenic wonders, all that more wonderful.

News briefs: Dates & updates

Look here, at the end of every week, for a collection of short news items and links to stories, events, and issues regarding Wisconsin’s whooping cranes, conservation issues, get-outdoors opportunities, and, perhaps other nature-based happenings.

Nesting Updates

Impatient for news of whooping crane chicks hatching, The Badger & the Whooping Crane is obsessively checking the Facebook pages of the International Crane Foundation, Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, and others.

Eggs are incubating in captive populations and wild whoopers are incubating their own eggs on nests in Wisconsin. The only news, though for today, is the not-unexpected report from Louisiana that a nest built and eggs incubated by one 3-year-old pair (in the new Louisiana Non-migrating Flock) has, after a month, been determined to hold infertile eggs. The fact that the very young pair was able to produce eggs and incubate them faithfully for the full month it would take for a chick to hatch, is still a fact to celebrate.

Dates to Save

Take your mom to the International Crane Foundation Sunday for Mother’s Day. She’ll get in for free! It’s regular price  ($9.50 for adults; $5 for children, 6 – 17) if you’re not somebody’s mom . . . . Another special day is planned at ICF for Endangered Species Day, Saturday, May 17; you’ll get all the details about ICF’s big role in helping bring the Whooping Crane species back from the brink of extinction, and THEN help REintroduce whoopers into the wild right here in Wisconsin . . . .

A Grey-Crowned Crane, one of the 15 species of cranes you will meet at An Evening ith the Cranes at ICF in Baraboo - or anytime you visit! (Photo courtesy ICF)

A Grey-Crowned Crane, one of the 15 species of cranes you will meet at An Evening with the Cranes at ICF in Baraboo – or anytime you visit! (Photo courtesy ICF)

And yet another special ICF event to put on your calendar: Buy your ticket ($50 per member, $60 non-members) and reserve your space at An Evening with The Cranes, Saturday, June 21st, from 5 to 8 p.m. at ICF in Baraboo.  You’ll meet the dedicated people who make ICF a worldwide leader in conservation today, and you’ll enjoy a gourmet dinner, craft beers, and wines from around the world (just like the cranes)!

Doesn’t the last Saturday in June sound like the perfect night to plan a backyard campout? That must have been what the National Wildlife Federation was thinking when they picked June 28th for the 10th annual Great American Backyard Campout. Get outside in your favorite backyard or park and enjoy the wonders of the natural world, and know that you’re helping to keep it wonderful. The NWF board of director’s and other NWF friends will give $2 for everyone who is out camping. The money goes to NWF’s wildlife conservation fund.

American Wetlands Month Updates

Do you own a little lakeshore property? Or know someone who does? Here is an opportunity to learn about the “living shoreline” and erosion control practices that protect the natural structure and function of shorelines through the strategic placing of such materials as native plants, sand, and stone. In celebration of American Wetlands Month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering this free webinar, “Living Shorelines – Types , Tools and Techniques,” online Wednesday, May 14, from 1 to 3 p.m. . . . .Here is a report from the Ashland Daily Press on the presentation that Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Executive Director Tracy Hames is giving around the state on the role of wetlands in the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin. This particular presentation, which more than 70 people attended in two sessions in the Town of Morse last Friday, and the Town of Delta on Saturday, was sponsored by the Bad River Watershed Association.

Egg Harbor: Eco-Town!

Egg Harbor in Door County has become the first municipality in that tourist-rich region to become a certified Eco-Municipality. It joins 24 other municipalities and 4 counties in Wisconsin that have received this certification. This is a program that began in Sweden in 1983. In 2005 Washburn, WI became the first American city to adopt the eco-municipality principles of reducing a community’s “encroachment on nature” while “meeting human needs fairly and efficiently.” Today Wisconsin has more eco-municipalities than any other state in the country.



News briefs: All about May, and more

Look here, at the end of every week, for a collection of short news items and links to stories, events, and issues regarding Wisconsin’s whooping cranes, conservation issues, get-outdoors opportunities, and, perhaps other nature-based happenings.

Eastern Migratory Population Update

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has issued the newest population update for the EMP, a period covering March 1 to April 30, 2014. It finds, “93 birds in Wisconsin, 4 not recently reported, 1 suspected mortality, and 3 long-term missing” for a possible maximum of 101 cranes.

The Badger & the Whooping Crane had focused earlier this spring on the return of the youngest cranes to Wisconsin, the ones making their first, unaided migration north, and is happy to report now that three more have been accounted for since that earlier report. The International Crane Foundation posted on its Facebook page that DAR chick, Mork, has been reported in Green Lake County, and the newest WCEP Update reports the two parent-reared chicks, # 22-13 and #24-13 back in the state.

May is American Wetlands Month

See the website of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association to learn why wetlands matter. Or visit their Facebook page to see the many reasons to explore a wetland: “Reason #1: Wetlands are watershed workhorses.” And if you happen to have any great wetland photos you’d be willing to share, email them at

May is “Magnificent whooping Crane Month” at the Patuxent Research Refuge

A series of free public programs at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland are planned as a celebration in May of Magnificent Whooping Crane Month. Migration stories will be shared by Brooke Pennypacker one of Operation Migration’s ultralight pilots, as the headline attraction for Saturday, May 17th. All the events (check them out at the Magnificent Whooping Crane Month link!) will be held at the National Wildlife Visitor Center, part of the Patuxent Refuge complex.


The 2014 Door County Festival of Nature, May 22 – 24

The Ridges Sanctuary is hosting the 12th annual Door County Festival of Nature. The celebration for 2014 will take place May 22, 23, and 24, and includes such diverse opportunities as a full-day birding outing on Washington Island, a chance to study lake ecology aboard a Great Lakes research vessel, a tour of the uninhabited, and usually-inaccessible Plum Island, and a tour of the certified-organic Waseda Farms.

The International Crane Foundation Celebrates Three New Honors

The Jerome J. Pratt Whooping Crane award has been presented to ICF Founder George Archibald by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. ICF’s Dr.K.S. Gopi Sunder was one of five conservation biologists in India to receive the Carl Zeiss Conservation Award, and the International Institute of Wisconsin is presenting its Corporate Citizen Award to ICF on Saturday, May 3rd.

“Discovering Wetlands” Conference in Lacrosse

Discovering Wetlands is the theme of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association 2014 conference underway in  La Crosse this week. Wetlands experts and enthusiasts from across the region are gathering for this annual event which includes presentations, working groups, field trips, and a banquet.  The WWA says that a growing regional collaboration for protecting and conserving Wisconsin’s wetlands has resulted from nearly two decades of the annual conferences.

John O. Anfinson of the National Park Service is giving the keynote address, “Trapped by HIstory:  The Past and Future of the Upper Mississippi River.  The presentations include Wetlands Restoration, Wetland Wildlife, a Mining Discussion, Native Wetland Flora, Wetland Mitigation, and Invasive Species.

In the Kettle Moraine, Northern Unit.

In the Kettle Moraine, Northern Unit.

The Wisconsin Wetlands Association was established in 1969 to preserve and restore wetlands – essential as pollution filters, and for flood control, and biodiversity.  The are “ecological wonderlands,” says the WWA web page devoted to answering the question “Why Save Wetlands?”

The association’s 1450 members include scientists, educators, conservationists, hunters, and concerned citizens. Among the many, many projects and activities this organization is involved with, you might check out Wisconsin’s Wetland Gems – a list of 100 special locations.  They are listed and mapped on the website, and this detail-rich project is also available as a book.