Colorado mountains

Boater perceptions of environmental issues affecting lakes in the Northern Highlands of Wisconsin

Poster Number: 
Presenter/Primary Author: 
Ben Beardmore
Bill Provencher

Recreation is a primary use of many lakes in the Northern Highlands Lake District, and the NTL-LTER has committed to better understanding the interactions between these users and the ecology of the region, by integrating a user survey into the core data of the site. To this end, we conducted a boater survey during the 2011 boating season. As the first user survey these data form the base line in a planned effort to collect longitudinal data on the relationship between this important user group and the lakes of the NTL-LTER.  One research question addressed by the survey and the focus of this poster, concerns boaters perceptions of issues that affect the social and ecological character of the region.  Last summer, eight undergraduate students intercepted 1700 boaters at 136 lakes in Vilas and Oneida counties to recruit them into our study. At the end of the boating season, a mail survey was administered to assess heterogeneity among boaters in the region. In addition to socio-demographic information and evaluations of boating activities undertaken during the 2011 season, the survey included several attitudinal scales addressing aspects of recreation specialization, sense of place, and aquatic stewardship. The survey also employed an innovative Maximum Difference Conjoint (MDC) approach to assess boaters’ perception of the relative importance of 16 issues related to lakes in the region. Overall, issues related to water pollution appeared consistently to be of very high concern, particularly of pollutants identified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in fish consumption advisories. Ecological issues of importance included loss of natural habitat and invasion by aquatic invasive species. Latent-class analysis of MDC data identified five subgroups of respondents whose concerns differed substantially from the overall trend, and also in their socio-demographic, attitudinal and behavioral characteristics. As expected, public perceptions of issues pertaining to lakes are heavily mediated by their interactions with the lake environment. While anglers were most concerned about fishing quality, sightseers were concerned about lakeshore development and loss of natural habitat; however, the role of information provided through outreach campaigns related to fish consumption and aquatic invasive species may also be influential. Not only do these results provide insights into public perceptions of ecologically relevant issues, but they identify potential research and outreach opportunities for LTER scientists.

Background Photo by: Nicole Hansen - Jornada (JRN) LTER