A Strategic Conservation Partnership

Aerial view of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area WildernessGlacial lakes (lakes formed by glacial activity) are a common feature on the Midwestern landscape. From small, productive potholes to the large windswept walleye "factories", glacial lakes are an integral part of the communities within which they are found and, taken collectively, are a resource of national importance.

Local economies depend on their fisheries and recreation value. Communities sometimes rely on them for dependable sources of water. Lakeshore property is more valuable than land off water.

Despite this value, lakes are commonly treated more as a commodity rather than a natural resource susceptible to degradation. Often viewed apart from the landscape within which they occupy, human activities on land – and in water – have compromised many of these systems. These threats can be grouped as the three C's: Corn, Cabins, and Concrete.


Tractor plowing a farm fieldAgriculture is a dominant land use in much of this partnership’s geography, topping 60 percent of land use in seven of the 11 ecoregions (an ecoregion is a recurring pattern of ecosystems associated with characteristic combinations of soil and landform that characterize that region). Lakes can be found in all eight states that are still suffering from the poor soil conservation practices of an earlier time.

Further, previous soil and water conservation gains are being lost as lands once retired to perennial vegetation (e.g., acres enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program) are being tilled again with today’s favorable biofuel economics.

An estimated 3.5 million acres or 40 percent of all CRP acres are scheduled to expire in the next three years in MGLP states. Returning a majority of these acres to row crops will have an effect on water quality, and subsequently fish habitat.


Lakeshore development on a representative Midwestern glacial lakeMuch of the development in the Midwest is focused on lakes. While some areas of the region actually lost population in recent years, lake-rich counties, especially in forested ecoregions, are seeing dramatic increases both in terms of year-round and seasonal residents.

Projections for future growth show this trend will continue. As building occurs around lakes, the footprint of development and the activities that go with them (e.g., native vegetative buffers replaced with “city-scaped” lawns, shallow-water boating, the use of large docks and the removal of fish habitat) combine to have adverse impacts to fish habitats and water quality.

Impervious Surfaces

Urban development on a lakeshoreImpervious surfaces — roads, rooftops and parking lots — in this region’s urban areas have dramatic impacts on lakes. Similar to drain tiles in farm fields, impervious surfaces decrease the amount of land available to filter storm water.

Direct discharge of storm water into lakes carries nutrients and other pollutants into these systems. Excessive nutrients can increase algae blooms resulting in decreased rooted aquatic plants—fish habitat— by decreasing water clarity.

Four ecoregions exceed 4 percent imperviousness, with 9.1 percent of the Central Cornbelt Plains ecoregion in an impervious state. Watersheds in major metropolitan areas such as Minneapolis, Madison and Detroit far exceed these levels, making water quality a major impediment to sustainable fish habitat.

Other Threats

Additional threats to sustainable fish habitat in Midwest Glacial Lakes include a legacy of logging and the loss of large woody habitat, invasive species introductions and range extensions, cumulative small habitat loss, and climate change

Sharing Ideas and Effort

Many good conservation efforts are occurring in every state; however, the coordination of programs and exchange of information and successful actions does not occur to the fullest extent possible. This partnership is developing a regional strategy for addressing aquatic habitat protection and restoration in glacial lakes.

Benefits of such an approach are many, not the least of is the first regionally based assessment of glacial lakes. This assessment results will allow us to focus conservation activities and resources in areas that make the best use of limited funds.

The partnership provides a forum for sharing programs, strategies and techniques that have proven their worth but have not yet been applied at a larger, regional scale.

Our Mission

The mission of the Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership is to work together to protect, rehabilitate, and enhance sustainable fish habitats in glacial lake of the Midwest for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations.