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Designated wildlife lakes managed to provide habitat for ducks, geese

Lake Hassel, north of Benson on state Highway 29, is a 706-acre shallow lake that was designated as a wildlife lake by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in May 1986. Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt

Lakes are for fishing and boating, right?

Not always.

Forty-four lakes in the state of Minnesota are Designated Wildlife Lakes. While they still may allow fishing and some other recreational pursuits, the main focus of these shallow bodies of water is the promotion of wildlife.

Mainly waterfowl.

Wildlife lakes fit certain characteristics that make them suitable for management. Almost all of them are shallow lakes.

"Ideally, they are lakes in the three- to six-foot neighborhood. The ones we're able to manage lend themselves to draw downs or rotenone," said Leroy Dahlke, area wildlife manager at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources office at Sibley State Park.

These suitable lakes are more like reclamation projects. Most were great waterfowl rest stops at one time, but fell out of favor with ducks and geese as the vegetation died out and the water quality worsened.

"The purpose is for waterfowl management so they have a stopping place to eat in the spring and fall," said Dahlke. "You need all of those things for the ducks to put on the weight for energy when they migrate. Ducklings also need a high-protein food source."

He also said the key to restoring a lake to a quality waterfowl habitat is to reverse the chain of events. Ducks favor lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation, which produces the invertebrates they feed on. Agricultural runoff in the watershed produces too many nutrients for the water to handle.

"One pound of phosphorus can give you 300-400 pounds of algae. If you don't have sunlight penetration, you don't have vegetation," he said. "We have too many shallow lakes that are green with algae. But they have a limited capacity. The shallow lakes around here are overloaded with nutrients and rough fish. You don't have any plant growth and no invertebrates."

Rough fish, like carp and bullheads, are bottom feeders and root up the vegetation.

Of the 44 designated wildlife lakes in Minnesota, most are in the southern half of the state. Only one is in the immediate area - Hassel Lake in northern Swift County. However, there are a number of lakes that are being managed with wildlife in mind.

Wakanda Lake, south and east of Willmar, has been a location of interest recently. Dahkle said there is no specific plan to designated Wakanda, but improvements are needed.

"We'd like to improve it for waterfowl purposes, but we really want to improve the water quality. But right now, the carp and bullheads are winning," he said.

Plans are in the works for Little Kandiyohi and Kasota lakes, which are just east of Wakanda. But the process to designate a lake is long. "We've been working on it for several years, doing surveys and some design work," Dahlke said. "But we need to finalize those plans and have public input meetings and find out the opinions of the landowners."

Once that is done, funding for the work needs to be found. Dahlke estimated a project could take three years to complete.

But in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, can't a few be tabbed for waterfowl?