EagleHerald staff writer

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article represents the second story in a two-part series concerning the endeavor to establish the Bay of Green Bay as a National Estuarine Research Reserve. Part one can be found in Friday’s (April 14) print edition or by following this link: NERR

MARINETTE—Where the rivers meet the deep blue waters exists a fruitful and diverse world upon which countless lifeforms rely—including human (see “Estuary inventory”).

As such, a regional push is underway, spearheaded by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay through a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) and many coastal community members, leaders and businesses—including several in the Marinette/Peshtigo areas—to establish the bay the Green Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GB-NERR). It would place the region into a nationwide network of NERRS and open up many benefits.

According to NOAA, estuaries are critical, funneling billions of dollars annually into the economic centers for coastal U.S. populations. They provide habitat for over 75 percent of the U.S. commercial fish catch, “and an even greater percentage of the recreational fish catch.”

“It will bring in resources, make grant money available and I think it will be a real boon for the are,” said Keith West, Associate Professor of Geo-science at UWGB-Marinette Campus. “This is going to be a big thing for this community and it is going to greatly increase our understanding of the remarkable resource that we are right next door.”

NERR ECONOMY OF SCALING, LOCALLY

Establishing the bay as a “non-regulatory” research reserve holds far-reaching benefits from improving the understanding of the bay’s estuary environments (such as Peshtigo River estuary, see photos), to resource management, innovative educational opportunities, training and further development of coastal ecosystems. Together these benefits can safeguard the tangible assets estuaries provide to local communities

Moreover, if local educators, leaders and other interested entities are successful in their efforts to make the Peshtigo/Marinette region the focal point of the GB-NERR, it could bring the development of an innovative and technologically advanced research/visitor center to the area.

“I would love for the actual center to be located here. But even if it is not I think we will actually benefit,” said West.

President of the Peshtigo Area Chamber of Commerce, Tony O’Neill, resides among the community leaders intrigued by what a NERR and its associated research/visitor center might offer.

After more than 20 years in law enforcement covering much of the approximately 1,400 square miles of Marinette County, O’Neill spent a lot of time traveling throughout its communities.

“After retiring, just getting out to all these different locations … and taking in what I probably missed a lot of overall those years (on the job), gave me that interest,” O’Neill said. “And more so, I gained a better understanding and appreciation for what we have here … Once you see those things, you understand a lot more.”

Now, as president of the Peshtigo Chamber, he also envisions what the NERR designation might do, not only for the environment and recreation but also for business.

“It’s an economy booster,” O’Neill said. “(NERR) will bring forth education, professionals (to address) environmental concerns and add more jobs; and it will give (the area) more opportunity for grants. From manufacturing and business point of view, it brings forth a lot of interests globally.”

SCIENCE THAT MATTERS IN SAFEGUARDING ENVIRONMENT

When it comes to the environmental benefits imparted by NERR research and awareness, one word fits the bill: “monitoring.”

Many waterfront communities face coastal management challenges: Harmful algal blooms, lake level variability, emerging toxic chemicals and others. Addressing those challenges, requires “science and stewardship that matters,” according to NOAA literature.

Closer to home, “water issues surrounding Northeast Wisconsin in recent years make a project like the NERR even more significant for area waterways,” stated a recent UWGB press release. Establishing a GB-NERR can help address human-related environmental stressors and other climate change processes issues.

Emily Tyner, UWGB Director of Freshwater Strategy emphasized that a NERR is a “non-regulatory” reserve, meaning no additional regulatory restrictions will be placed on the activities in which people already engage in coastal communities, like fishing, hunting and etc. However, the close scientific and educational monitoring systems and research that results from NERR designation, can serve as a litmus test for human activities adversely affecting estuarine environments. It might also point to subsequent preventions.

“It will bring in an environmental monitoring system that (our area) would probably never have until it was more of a reactive type thing rather than proactive,” O’Neill said. “I think having that proactive (aspect) will at least provide us with the knowledge about what exactly is in our water systems and what we can do to improve them.”

For example, locally it might help advance research that addressing emerging issues like PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and other shoreline stressors.

Kristen Edgar, Town of Peshtigo (TOP) supervisor—also involved in the GB-NERR discussions—feels that with NERR designation, the area could become eligible for competitive grants focused on research addressing those issues, like shoreline erosion.

Data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Detroit District show that in about 2014, water levels on Lake Michigan began experiencing a sharp increase, rising over 580 feet, which exceeds the long-term average (tracked since 1918). Current seasonal projections put additional increases of 2 to 7 inches for all (the Great Lakes) over the next month as spring sweeps in. And according to the DNR, those increases raise the potential for shoreline erosion and bluff failure, a growing issue in some areas along Great Lakes’ coastal regions.

“The NERR will allow access to grant opportunities such as grants for shoreline erosion,” Edgar said. “I hear about this concern regularly as a Town supervisor, as the shoreline is continuing to erode.”

Additionally, as a TOP resident, Edgar remains all too familiar with the plume of PFAS-contaminated groundwater beneath a large portion of TOP.

“I also see the potential of the NERR for studying emerging contaminants such as PFAS,” she said. “This (NERR) initiative could open a vast pool of resources such as national experts to help navigate the PFAS issues this community is facing.”

SURROUNDED BY EDUCATION POTENTIAL

Another research reserve, the Lake Superior NERR (LS-NERR) established in 2010 and encompassing 16,697 acres in the northwestern corner of Wisconsin demonstrates the value of NERRs as immersive learning ecosystems.

Research data collected on the LS-NERR provides firsthand experience for students in the amazing environmental conditions and science that occur along coastal regions. Field trips offer young minds (and the public) life-changing experiences through immersive natural laboratories where students utilize all five senses to learn. It gives a more intimate idea of what makes estuaries such intriguing and necessary ecosystems. And what holds true for the LS-NERR and education will likely translate to students at the UWGB-Marinette campus and also to the local elementary and high schools.

“How could (a GB-NERR designation) not enhance the curriculum for the UWGB-Marinette campus to be a little more diversified as far as marine science goes?” O’Neill said. “If we are selected will bring a lot of attention ... it will bring in professionals doing laboratory research … it will definitely improve what we will see in the curriculums being taught.”

And West, who possesses firsthand experience teaching geoscience to young minds at UWGB-Marinette Campus—a curriculum that often overlaps with marine sciences—whole-heartedly agreed.

“I think (O’Neill) is spot on,” West said. “And that is my hope, too. I see this (NERR) as having incredible potential as far as enhancing our ability to focus not only on the bay but on all the waters that flow into it.”

Out among the community, some area residents carry similar opinions. On a brisk, sunny morning, somewhere between the Peshtigo and Marinette River, walking her three dogs, Remmy, Rosco and Reggie along the bay shore, TOP resident Emily Boettcher first heard about the push for a NERR designation on the bay. As one who enjoys the recreation offered by the bay and its coastline, and as someone who attended Marinette High School, she can appreciate the unique opportunities that NERR might bring to area schools and colleges.

“It would be beneficial for environmental studies for the high school kids,” she said. “And while I don’t know what sort of environmental courses they offer at the UWGB-Marinette Campus, the (GB-NERR designation) couldn’t hurt them.”

As for Remmy, Rosco and Reggie, perhaps the simple joy of a wide-open recreational space with clean air, safe water and diverse wildlife—which occasionally offers the canine mind a playful chase—offers all the necessary estuary benefits into a single morning stroll. Aside from a few invigorated “yelps” and “barks,” they mostly remained contentedly preoccupied … and mum on the topic.