Here’s my recurring rant about land and water resources management. It was sparked by seeing a disgusting amount of mud and green slime this spring in some of the most beautiful rivers and lakes in the world. The condition of our streams and lakes is getting worse. It’s deplorable. After only an inch of rain, the Rush and the Kinnickinnic Rivers turn into churning chocolate with topsoil eroded off agricultural land. This is happening in formerly progressive Wisconsin, where we once led the nation and took pride in land and water conservation. Lakes like Wapogasset and Big Round in Polk County that once were clear with aquatic plants and with clean gravel bottoms where bluegills and crappies spawn, are now overrun with green slime. That green slime is filamentous algae. Much of it is cladophora, the same algae species that stinks up the beaches on Lake Erie. Good luck trying to jig for walleyes or throw a lure for bass in those lakes. The green slime is so bad in parts of Big Round Lake that huge gobs of it cling to the anchor lines of anglers. When the water clears after runoff events in the Kinnickinnic and Rush Rivers green slime proliferates, forming mats that float on the surface in quiet parts of the streams. Waving tendrils of filamentous algae grow on the rocks and on the recently deposited silt on the river bottoms. Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring element and plant nutrient. Phosphorus fertilizer is applied in excess on agricultural row crop land. Phosphorus attaches to soil particles. When soil is eroded into waterways it takes phosphorus with it. Phosphorus is usually the limiting nutrient for algae in fresh water. One pound of phosphorus can grow 300 to 500 pounds of algae. In addition to the filamentous green algae, lakes in Wisconsin have so much toxic blue green algae in the summer that the water looks like oil paint and poses a health risk to people and animals. All that algae is growing in our lakes and rivers, the result of inexcusable land management. Plowing up highly erodible land with bad farming practices, planting through formerly grassed waterways and allowing massive erosion to occur destroys the fertility of the soil, sends mud and nutrients down our rivers, and denies use of fertile soil to our descendants. This is greedy, unethical behavior. One rainstorm can wash away a millimeter of dirt from the topsoil of a plowed field. That amounts to about 13 tons of topsoil eroded from a hectare (2.5 acres). It would take 20 years or more to replace that loss if left to natural soil-forming processes. The U.S. is losing soil 10 times faster than the natural rate of soil formation. The economic impact of soil losses in the U.S. is approximately $37 billion each year. About 60 percent of soil that is washed away ends up in lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries and coastal zones, making waterways more prone to flooding and to contamination from fertilizers and pesticides applied to soils. Federal subsidies for commodity crops, making ethanol from corn, and reduction in land in the Conservation Reserve Program have greatly expanded the area planted in row crops. Increased prices for corn and soybeans in previous years had farmers plowing up extensive areas of grasslands and highly erodible land and growing row crops year after year instead of rotating row crops with hay and other types of perennial cover. Now despite lower commodity prices, many “producers” continue to play the federal programs and perpetuate industrial monocultures of corn and soybeans. The results are ugly. Many farmers today rent their land and don’t seem to be very interested in protecting the soil. A tour of the countryside today shows rills and gullies in fields all over the landscape. Unacceptable rates of soil loss are occurring off some of the best agricultural ground in the world, filling valley bottoms with sediment, choking streams with mud and growing huge amounts of green slime in our rivers and lakes. The solutions are simple. Plant wide, grassed waterways and buffer strips along streams. Plant more perennial cover crops. Don’t plow steep slopes. Practice conservation tillage and contour farming. Keep cattle out of the woods, streams and off steep hillsides. Don’t be greedy for short-term profit. Have respect for the land and for future generations. Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at rfjsports@rivertowns.net.  

 --Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist Here’s my recurring rant about land and water resources management. It was sparked by seeing a disgusting amount of mud and green slime this spring in some of the most beautiful rivers and lakes in the world.The condition of our streams and lakes is getting worse. It’s deplorable. After only an inch of rain, the Rush and the Kinnickinnic Rivers turn into churning chocolate with topsoil eroded off agricultural land. This is happening in formerly progressive Wisconsin, where we once led the nation and took pride in land and water conservation.Lakes like Wapogasset and Big Round in Polk County that once were clear with aquatic plants and with clean gravel bottoms where bluegills and crappies spawn, are now overrun with green slime. That green slime is filamentous algae. Much of it is cladophora, the same algae species that stinks up the beaches on Lake Erie.Good luck trying to jig for walleyes or throw a lure for bass in those lakes. The green slime is so bad in parts of Big Round Lake that huge gobs of it cling to the anchor lines of anglers. When the water clears after runoff events in the Kinnickinnic and Rush Rivers green slime proliferates, forming mats that float on the surface in quiet parts of the streams. Waving tendrils of filamentous algae grow on the rocks and on the recently deposited silt on the river bottoms.Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring element and plant nutrient. Phosphorus fertilizer is applied in excess on agricultural row crop land. Phosphorus attaches to soil particles. When soil is eroded into waterways it takes phosphorus with it.Phosphorus is usually the limiting nutrient for algae in fresh water. One pound of phosphorus can grow 300 to 500 pounds of algae. In addition to the filamentous green algae, lakes in Wisconsin have so much toxic blue green algae in the summer that the water looks like oil paint and poses a health risk to people and animals.All that algae is growing in our lakes and rivers, the result of inexcusable land management. Plowing up highly erodible land with bad farming practices, planting through formerly grassed waterways and allowing massive erosion to occur destroys the fertility of the soil, sends mud and nutrients down our rivers, and denies use of fertile soil to our descendants. This is greedy, unethical behavior.One rainstorm can wash away a millimeter of dirt from the topsoil of a plowed field. That amounts to about 13 tons of topsoil eroded from a hectare (2.5 acres). It would take 20 years or more to replace that loss if left to natural soil-forming processes.The U.S. is losing soil 10 times faster than the natural rate of soil formation. The economic impact of soil losses in the U.S. is approximately $37 billion each year. About 60 percent of soil that is washed away ends up in lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries and coastal zones, making waterways more prone to flooding and to contamination from fertilizers and pesticides applied to soils.Federal subsidies for commodity crops, making ethanol from corn, and reduction in land in the Conservation Reserve Program have greatly expanded the area planted in row crops. Increased prices for corn and soybeans in previous years had farmers plowing up extensive areas of grasslands and highly erodible land and growing row crops year after year instead of rotating row crops with hay and other types of perennial cover. Now despite lower commodity prices, many “producers” continue to play the federal programs and perpetuate industrial monocultures of corn and soybeans.The results are ugly. Many farmers today rent their land and don’t seem to be very interested in protecting the soil. A tour of the countryside today shows rills and gullies in fields all over the landscape. Unacceptable rates of soil loss are occurring off some of the best agricultural ground in the world, filling valley bottoms with sediment, choking streams with mud and growing huge amounts of green slime in our rivers and lakes.The solutions are simple. Plant wide, grassed waterways and buffer strips along streams. Plant more perennial cover crops. Don’t plow steep slopes. Practice conservation tillage and contour farming. Keep cattle out of the woods, streams and off steep hillsides. Don’t be greedy for short-term profit. Have respect for the land and for future generations.Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at rfjsports@rivertowns.net

 --Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist

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