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Star Home Conservation Program

"Conservation Star Home" project aims at preservation of area shorelines

Courtesy of the Sawyer County Record Newspaper

A peer-to-peer process to help preserve natural shorelines and keep pollutants from flowing into the lakes is “gaining momentum” in its second year, according to Sawyer County Conservationist Dale Olson.

Chippewa Flowage homeowner Dennis Clagett and Olson spoke about the county’s “Conservation Star Home” project at the recent Northwest Lakes Conference at Telemark.

Eleven years ago, Clagett and his wife Barbara purchased a home on Woodland Drive on the south-central portion of the flowage. They have lived there full-time since October 2004.

“We decided to live with nature and not against it,” Clagett said. “First we established a no-cut zone from our home to the shoreline. In fewer than five years, the diversity of native plant life that’s emerged has been amazing, fascinating. Every spring there’s a new ‘friend’ out there that we can hardly wait to look into our books and see what it is.”

He’s found that a “soft-sell approach works” in encouraging fellow shoreowners to restore shorelines and create a 30-foot viewing corridor, Clagett said. “It’s better than taking a strident, high-handed environmentalist position.

“It’s important that we encourage as many lakeshore homeowners as possible to develop a stewardship plan for their property,” Clagett said. “We all need to devote more time to thinking about how we use our property and what it will look like in the future.

“It’s easy to start small and make a big difference in the quality of our lake environment,” Clagett added. “Ongoing lakeshore stewardship by cabin owners will be passed down to future generations.”

Mr. Clagett also is chair of the purple loosestrife control project for the Chippewa Flowage Area Property Owners Association. He raises thousands of Galurachella beetles each year which are transferred from cages on his lawn out to sites that are infested with loosestrife.

The Conservation Star Home project was selected by the Sawyer County Lakes Forum as something “they would like to move forward with,” Olson said. It relies on volunteers to be “shoreline stewards and ambassadors.”

So far, he and his staff have trained 17 Conservation Star Home ambassadors and they have evaluated 150 properties for shoreline practices, Olson said.

Volunteers attend a four-hour training session, then make site visits to interested property owners. They are referred to the county land and water conservation department for further information.

He keeps the criteria for what is a good shoreline simple and consistent, Olson said. “We’ve had a lot of experience with restored buffers. We used to go with the three-layer vegetative approach. Now we go with no-mow and maybe some trees and shrubs to stick in so they won’t mow it again.”

Each homeowner who meets the shoreline preservation criteria gets a “Conservation Star Home” sign to post on the property.

The idea is “very low cost and really good for new property owners,” Olson said. “It gives them a chance to meet their neighbors and learn more about their lake.

“We don’t have enough ticket pads to write citations for every buffer that’s not in compliance with state and county policy,” Olson said. As an alternative, each applicant for a land use permit is required to have an intact shoreline buffer.

“Most of the time we don’t have a huge problem,” Olson added. “Our big problems come from condominiums. It’s tough to get six to eight people to agree on anything. But we’re working to get good, thick vibrant buffers.”

With the land-use permit approach, “we’re batting .500. People say they won’t mow, but when we go out and look at it, it’s whacked,” Olson said.

“I tell (new shoreowners) ‘You’re going to have mosquitoes and ticks — it’s just the way it is up here.’”

He encourages shoreowners to restore and maintain a healthy shoreline buffer by “letting it grow.”

For each 100 feet of shoreline, a property owner is allowed a 30-foot cleared “viewing corridor” to the lake.

Ecology practices

Olson also cited the following eco-friendly practices:

  • Local businesses have been encouraged to offer “lake-friendly, no-phosphorus” lawn fertilizer for the past 10 years. A new state law bans phosphorus in lawn fertilizer.
  • Well-maintained septic systems. Sawyer County’s lakeshore septic system inspections by summertime zoning department interns have revealed a 20 percent failure rate. A whole-lake inspection requires permission from at least 51 percent of the property owners. To date, a dozen large lakes have had these inspections.

New protocols require systems to be pumped at least every three years.

  • To reduce water pollution, Olson also advocates keeping a well-maintained outboard motor so gas and oil don’t leak. “Four-stroke motors have been a blessing for us.”
  • Controlling runoff from construction sites is a “big issue in Sawyer County,” Olson added.
  • Limiting impervious/ paved surfaces is another key, Olson added: “For an entire watershed, we want to keep them considerably less than 8 percent.”
  • Homeowners have been encouraged to shield outdoor lights so the light points downward rather than outward or toward the sky.

More information on lakeshore protection and use may be obtained from the Sawyer County Land and Water Conservation Department. A shoreland information kiosk is placed in the courthouse lobby. People also may visit the Sawyer County Lakes Forum website at, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources web site at


Issue 10  Shoreland Residential Water Management 101: Introduction to saving your lake