Serving the interests of
Lac Courte Oreilles
and Little Lac Courte Oreilles,
Sawyer County, Wisconsin


COLA Annual Meeting

Saturday, June ?, 2017
St. Francis Solanus Mission 13885 Mission Rd., Stone Lake, WI 54876

To help us provide seating & refreshments, please RSVP:


COLA Summer Picnic

Saturday, July ?, 2017
Trails End Resort



Report on the 2016 Fishkill

The 2016 fishkill on Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) is the largest in terms of numbers of fish mortality and duration ever recorded for LCO.  This Report is in two parts. Part 1 documents the duration, extent and magnitude of the fishkill based upon reports prepared by and received from eye witnesses to events as they unfolded. Part 2, which will appear at a later date, will provide an assessment of the cause(s) of the fish mortality based upon review of LCO water quality monitoring data collected by the Lac Courte Oreilles Conservation Department (LCOCD) before, during and after the 2016 die-off event. 
Part 1:   Duration, Extent, and Magnitude of the 2016 fishkill on LCO

Background:  COLA became aware of the 2016 fishkill on August 31 thru a phone call from LCOCD notifying COLA that while doing routine water sampling on August 26 in the East Basin, LCOCD personnel observed 3 dead lake whitefish floating off the Center Bar. COLA immediately contacted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Hayward office to learn what WDNR knew about the situation.  WDNR informed COLA that they had received 5 reports of dead or dying whitefish and/or cisco on LCO, the first report coming to WDNR on August 22nd.  COLA on September 9 then sent an email to the entire COLA membership (450 plus members) requesting that anyone who had witnessed dead or dying fish on LCO in the past 2/3 weeks to please contact COLA immediately. 

From that email plea to the COLA membership, COLA received 17 positive responses.  COLA then sent standardized witness report to the 17 respondents and asked that they complete and return their account of what they had observed. The compiled 17 eye witness reports provide the facts and observation behind the following summary and conclusion relating to duration, extent and magnitude of the 2016 fishkill on LCO.


A review of the 17 witness reports shows that the first observed fish mortality was on August 12, 2016 in Anchor Bay.  On the evening of August 13, a local fisherman reports seeing 60-80 floating dead lake whitefish while trolling between the Center Bar and Striker Bar in the East Basin.  With a good degree of certainty, August 12/13 marks the beginning of the 2016 fishkill on LCO.

From August 12 going forward in time there are continuous eye witness reports of dead or dying whitefish and cisco either in the water or washing ashore in the East Basin of LCO.  According to the witness reports, the shoreline in Anchor Bay beginning near the Grindstone creek inlet around to Blue Goose Point and the shoreline by Broken Arrow Road is where the dead fish were being washed ashore.

September 6, 2016 was the date of the last sighting of floating or washed ashore whitefish or cisco.  Five other witnesses reported seeing dead whitefish and/or cisco over the 3 day Labor Day (September 5th) weekend.  With a good degree of certainty, September 5/6 marks the end of the 2016 fishkill on LCO.

The 2016 cold-water fish fishkill on LCO lasted from August 12 thru September 6, 2016 .… some 26 days in duration.


LCO has a surface area of some 5,039 Acres, with three major basins, the West, Central, and East basins.  Each of the three basins has a similar depth profile with the East basin having the deepest point in the lake at 90 feet.  All three basins have sufficient cold water habitat necessary to support LCO’s resident population of lake whitefish and cisco. 

Of the 17 eye witness reports, 16 reported dead or dying fish or fish washing ashore in the East Basin.  All 16 witness reports place the epicenter of fish mortality in the area of Anchor Bay, Blue Goose point, the Center Bar and the Broken Arrow Road area of the East Basin.

One eye witness did report 2 dead fish (8/29 and 9/12) in the West Basin along the western shore of LCO, but was unable to confirm species.

In a discussion with Max Wolter, WDNR Regional Fish Biologist, on September 15, 2016, Mr. Wolter said that as of 9/15/16, WDNR had not received any reports of fishkill(s) on other Sawyer County area lakes during the duration of the die-off on LCO.  Mr. Wolter did indicate that there were reports of cisco die-offs in a number of lakes further to the east in Northeast Wisconsin.

From the eye witness reports it is quite certain the extent of the 2016 LCO fishkill was confined to the East Basin of LCO.  In addition, from information provided by WDNR, there were no other reported/recorded lake whitefish or cisco fishkills in other Sawyer County area lakes known to harbor these cold water fishes.


In an attempt to quantify the number of lake whitefish and cisco involved in the 2016 LCO fishkill, COLA asked that each eye witness estimate the number of dead or dying fish by species that they observed and record those numbers on the COLA provided witness report.

Whitefish: A review of the 17 reports shows that over the 26 days of the LCO fishkill event, eye witness reporting of numbers of dead whitefish range from 80 dead whitefish to 1 dead whitefish and everything in between. Descriptors of dead whitefish numbers include:  >40, 10? 40, 3, 5, 12-18, 9?, dozens and dozens.  Fish size descriptors include: 2 feet long, 18-20 inches, many large fish, whitefish 18” to 24”
Cisco:  A review of the 17 report shows that over the 26 days of the LCO fishkill event, eye witness reporting of numbers of dead cisco range from:  > 40 to 25.  Other descriptors of dead cisco numbers include:  too numerous to count, dozens and dozens, many dead cisco on our beach.  Photos of dead cisco show the fish ranged in size from approximately 15” to 3”.

Many of the witness reports put the timeframe for their observation in terms days and weeks as opposed to single date and time observation.  Descriptors of timeframe of observation include: dead fish washing up on our shoreline for a couple of weeks, 2 weeks starting end of August, the weekend of the 26th to 28th was the worst, 3 weekends starting Aug. 27. 

A number of witness reports commented on how quickly and efficiently the gulls, eagles and cranes were cleaning up dead fish from the water and along the East Basin shoreline.

While it is not possible to place an exact number on the dead whitefish and cisco over the 26 days of the die-off, it is reasonable to say from the COLA witness reports that the number of dead fish reached into the hundreds for each species.
Part II:  Causation

We are very fortunate in that LimnoTech and the LCO Tribal Conservation Department have been collecting and analyzing water samples in many locations of LCO during August and September.  Data include temperature, dissolved oxygen, phosphorus concentrations along with several other variables throughout the depth profile.  We should be able to determine with some certainty the cause(s) of the fishkill within the next several weeks, and we will send out a follow-up to this eBlast at that time.

COLA Mission: 1) to protect, preserve and enhance the quality of Lac Courte Oreilles and Little Lac Courte Oreilles, their shorelands and surrounding areas, while respecting the interests of property owners and the rights of the general public; and 2) to consider, study, survey and respond to issues deemed relevant by COLA's membership.

P.O. Box 702
Hayward, WI 54843

COLA has been working to resolve the problem of excess phosphorous in LCO and the affect it has had on the lake’s unique cold water fishery, increasing algae and aquatic plant growth and loss of musky and walleye spawning habitat.

One source of these excess nutrients are cranberry bogs which require millions of gallons of water throughout the year. The water is pumped into the bogs directly from lakes and other waters on which these operations are located. But, that deep water is not needed all the time, so each time a bog is flooded with lake water for a frost protection, pest control, or harvesting, the water level needs to be adjusted down again. The excess water is returned back to the lake, potentially containing phosphorus, nitrogen, and pesticides all used in the growing of cranberries. The impact is visible in the May, 2016 aerial photo of Stucky Bay. Click here to view.

The solution is a closed system where the water that is drained from the bogs is pumped to a constructed holding basin rather than back into the lake, thereby giving cranberry growers the ability to store and re-use the water they need to grow and harvest cranberries. Two forward thinking LCO growers have recently implemented closed systems. Click here to view. Two bogs down and two bogs to go. Progress is being made. To view the press release thanking these growers, click here to view.

The Golf Tournament scheduled for September 17th has been cancelled.

 The COLA Letter to EPA Supporting Midwest Environmental Advocates Petition for Corrective Action can be found under the 'Impaired Waters' tab. Click on 'Background' or click HERE to go directly.

The 2016 COLA Annual Meeting presentations can be viewed under the 'About Us' tab. Click on 'Meetings' or click HERE to go directly.

The May minutes have been posted under the 'Minutes' tab or click HERE to go directly.

From Kim Becken, UW Extension Lakes Partnership, Stevens Point, WI  54481

Introduction to shoreland zoning and recent changes to required shoreland lot sizes.

From Kim Becken, UW Extension Lakes Partnership, Stevens Point, WI  54481

Changes to shoreland setbacks, vegetation protection and impervious surface standards.

Why Shoreline Restoration is a Big Deal.

The phosphorus criteria currently applied by the Wisconsin DNR to Lac Courte Oreilles and Musky Bay are not sufficient to restore and protect the aquatic life and recreational uses. The proposed total phosphorus Site Specific Criteria for Lac Courte Orielles, to be applied as a lake-wide average in its entirety including Musky Bay, is 10 μg/L. This is more protective than the existing water quality criterion of 15 μg/L applied to Lac Courte Oreilles and the 40 μg/L criterion applied separately to Musky Bay by the Wisconsin DNR. Click on the 'Site Specific Criteriion for LCO' tab for more information.

The April minutes have been posted under the 'Minutes' tab

COLA issues Press Release: 'Assembly Bill 600'. Click HERE to view.

COLA issues Press Release: 'Lake Association Foots $200,000 Bill for DNR Study'. Click HERE to view.

From The Guardian: A cranberry politics primer by a Washington, DC based tribal rights attorney. Click HERE to view.

COLA issues Press Release on Shoreland Restoration Grant. Click HERE to view.

COLA Issues Press Release on Saving Lac Courte Oreilles Monster Musky and Walleye Fishing. Click HERE to view.

COLA Comments on the Northwoods Beach Public Reserve Strip Draft Ordinance. Click HERE for redirect to Town of Bass Lake web site.

COLA Issues Press Release Supporting the Resolution to Protect the County’s Right to Govern its Own Lakes.  Click HERE for details.

The July minutes are posted under the "Minutes" tab.
The 2015 COLA picnic photos are available under the "Photos" button, top left. Be patient; the photos take awhile to load.
The first six issues of Short Ears, Long Tales are available under the "About Us" tab.

The Battle For Clean Water Continues

Under Revision. Check back later.

Annual Meeting Summary

Update on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Response to COLA TMDL and SSC Documents
After three years of study and a year of waiting on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) for review and comment, COLA is releasing the draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study report that has been prepared to address the “impairment” of Musky Bay and the continuing decline in water quality of the LCO lakes.   COLA has also been informed by the WDNR that it will take them “two or more years” to consider advancing COLA’s proposed “Site Specific” phosphorus criteria for LCO that is intended to set the bar for preservation of the LCO lakes for many generations to come.

Learn more

Lac Courte Oreilles Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Study Report

View PDF

COLA objects to the Wisconsin Legislature, Joint Committee on Finance action to gut County shoreland regulatory authority
Without any public notice or input, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has included a provision in the Wisconsin state budget bill that would prohibit every county across Wisconsin from enacting shoreland zoning ordinances stronger than the state minimums. Currently every county is protecting, preserving, and in many cases improving its lakes—i.e. trying to keep pace with growth and development—in ways that are backed by proven conservation principles. This provision threatens to remove longstanding safeguards from one of Wisconsin's finest resources—our lakes. Click the link below to view the letter; COLA’s request to the WI Joint Finance Committee to drop the offending provision.

View PDF

Check out the educational buffer zone video on Shue's Pond.

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Wild & Scenic Film Festival on tour
From our friends at the Couderay Waters Regional Land Trust: Wild & Scenic Film Festival on tour. The Park Center, Hayward, WI, Saturday, April 11, 2015, Doors open at 6 PM – Films begin at 7 PM

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Two Conservation Easements on Lac Courte Oreilles
Couderay Waters Regional Land Trust announces two Conservation Easements on Lac Courte Oreilles

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Connected Waters: A History of the Battle for Clean Water

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