The Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs in northern Wisconsin have been named a “Wetland of International Importance” by the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands. The official designation was made in December, 2011 and formally celebrated at the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin during a special luncheon on February 23.
The Wisconsin Wetlands Association played a significant role in this designation and says on its web site: “This is the first Ramsar designation in Wisconsin resulting from a strategic approach being led by Wisconsin Wetlands Association to nominate worthy Wisconsin wetlands for this prestigious international recognition. In 2009, Wisconsin Wetlands Association convened the Wisconsin Ramsar Committee, which identified the Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs as the #1 priority wetland site for Ramsar designation. “
Location of the Sloughs
Located at the mouths of the Kakagon and Bad Rivers along Lake Superior in Ashland County, Wisconsin, the large meandering river and wetland complex on the Bad River Reservation, comprises a large part of the Lake Superior coastal wetlands. Considered among the highest quality coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes, the Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs, were previously designated a National Natural Landmark, a Wisconsin Wetland Gem, and an Important Bird Area. It is no coincidence that the Kakagon and Bad River Slough have been cared for, for millennia, by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa.
The sloughs are significant because of the wide diversity of wetland habitats, plants, and animals and because they serve as “an important spawning and nursery area for many fish species as well as critical stopover habitat for migratory birds.” (Wetland Gems, page 124.)
The wetland complex supports a large natural wild rice bed that the Bad River Band has harvested for centuries. Wild rice is an important food source but also serves as a culturally important touchstone and is key to the Bad River Band’s way of life.
Although the wetlands are well-cared for within the reservation boundary, the area is still subject to cross-boundary influences from upstream. Such threats include watershed level human activities such as logging, farming, and mining, which can cause sedimentation and unwelcome nutrient enrichment (think algae buildup). Such upstream threats to this globally significant wetland are not imaginary or theoretical. An alarming and potentially damaging cross-boundary influence is the proposed Gegobic Taconite mine, also in Ashland County. If approved, the mine would be sited upstream of the Kakagon/Bad River Sloughs.
Toxic runoff from the proposed mine could have catastrophic consequences for the Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs. Despite official assurances, “accidents” do happen. Remember that BP promised government regulators that they had planned for and covered every eventuality in the Gulf of Mexico and that if there was an oil well blowout, they would fix it immediately. The record shows that neither promise came true. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that in Wisconsin.