decades, Bass Lake (sometimes called "East Bass") on Highway C in
Florence County, Wisconsin, was a slow-no-wake body of water.
|Some years ago I noticed motor boats and jet skis on Bass and
stupidly assumed the law had changed, and they were now permitted even
on small lakes. At the annual HPA meeting in July 2014, however, a resident
commented that he couldn’t understand why all the fast-moving powered
craft were on the lake—he thought it was supposed to be slow-no-wake.
comment motivated me to identify and send an e-mail to Warden Kelly
Crotty; Bass is in his jurisdiction. He replied that the lake was
"49.7 acres" (just under slow-no-wake cutoff of 50 acres).
“…but…” he continued, “...a DNR employee in Madison advised a lake
riparian owner that the state would allow above Slow-No-Wake activity
due to the size being very close to 50.”
decided Crotty wasn’t doing his job, so I contacted higher level DNR
managers thinking they would reprimand Crotty and make sure he enforced
the lake's slow-no-wake status. Instead, the DNR’s Bureau of
Water Quality, led by Carroll Schaal, quickly re-measured the lake and
discovered that its previous finding of 49.7 acres was wrong.
Bass Lake was 50.554842 acres Schaal said, slightly more
than 1/20 of an acre above the 50.49-acre cutoff below which the
acreage would be rounded to 50 and the lake’s slow-no-wake status
preserved. The new measurement was based on the ArcMap
image below produced by DNR GIS Analyst Dennis Weise, who said his measurement was plus or minus one acre in terms of accuracy.
The 50.55-acre measurement of Bass Lake Weise obtained is only the latest DNR effort.
Below are some earlier ones. (About the first on the list, DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor Thomas W. Wrasse [now retired] stated in an e-mail: "The one that does exist showing 55.5 acres was not done by any of the accepted methods of measurement that exist today.")
1. Wisconsin Conservation Department Biology Division July 1941—55.5 acres;
2. DNR Warden letter August 31 2001: ”...Wisconsin Lakes...a DNR publication...reports the area of
the lake to be 50 acres”;
3. Town of Homestead town board meeting minutes July 31, 2003—"...DNR apparently changed the
acreage of the lake down to 49.5 acres”;
4. DNR employee 1. e-mail 8-20-2014: "Hello—My Wisconsin Lakes book lists it at 50 acres. A 1971
DNR publication lists it as 49.7 acres”;
5. DNR employee 2. e-mail 8-20-2014: “East Bass is 49.7 acres…”; and
6. September 30, 2014 listing at http://dnr.wi.gov/lakes/lakepages Results.aspx—48 acres.
To check Weise's measurement, I hired two ArcMap consultants, not telling either about
the other or why I wanted the lake measured. The
first was Cason &
Associates (http://casonassociates.com), Berlin, Wisconsin. It produced
the ArcMap image below and found Bass Lake to be 49.07 acres, more then 1 acre
below the DNR measurement; the consultant also stated the
measurement was accurate and did not need a plus-minus error range.
I hired Mapping Specialists, Limited
(http://www.mappingspecialists.com), Fitchburg, Wisconsin. Its
ArcMap analysis of Bass (below) found the lake to be 49.18
acres. Mapping Specialists, too, stated the
measurement was accurate and did not need a plus-minus error range. The two consultant measurements (49.07 and 49.18)
are about 1/10 acre apart from each other but more than 1.3 acres below
the DNR's 50.55 measurement.
Photoshop Elements to superimpose the Mapping Specialists, Limited
effort over the DNR's (below), it's easy to see how much land the teal
outline includes. I paid the MS consultant to analyze the DNR
measurement without telling him who did it and he stated in an
"I took a look at the image you sent, and I have compared it to the one
I sent to you. It looks to me like whoever did this measurement
was very generalized in their approach. You can see the change in
detail between what I did (red) and the other measurement (teal).
There is a lot of land along the shore that would have added to that
50.6 acre measurement."
belief is the DNR made an indefensible mistake in 2004 when William G.
Engfer, Director, Recreation, Enforcement, and Education Section,
Bureau of Law Enforcement sent the letter stating Bass Lake was bigger
than 50 acres. That not one DNR employee other than Thomas W. Wrasse (see below) spoke
up is disappointing.
When I contacted higher DNR levels, rather than do the right thing,
Schaal’s Bureau of Water Quality circled the wagons, quickly
re-measured, and proclaimed Bass Lake was actually 51 acres so it officially
did not qualify as slow-no-wake.
The DNR measurement was not only wrong but purposefully
inflated. Proof is the fact that two consultants working
independently came up with findings just 1/10-acre apart but more than
1.3 acres below the DNR measurement coupled with DNR Conservation Warden Supervisor Thomas W. Wrasse's (now retired) statement from 2004: "We had water regulations and fisheries staff take the stance
that this body of water was at best 50 acres, and that was rounded up.”
Additional evidence are the DNR’s result, which is barely (suspiciously) enough to round up to
51, and Weise’s plus or minus one-acre inaccuracy. Given the
admitted imprecision, shouldn’t an agency once called the “Wisconsin
Conservation Department” err on the side of caution and conclude the
lake was no bigger than 49.55 acres—which is much closer to its actual
You might think I’m splitting hairs and 49 acres is barely different
from 51 so let the motor boats and jet skis go. Evidently this is
what many at the DNR think, but there are reasons for statutes and the time-honored “letter of
the law.” The cutoff for slow-no-wake status is 50 acres, Bass
Lake is barely bigger than 49 acres, therefore it qualifies as a
One of the DNR wardens I spoke with actually said, “Well, it’s like
giving drivers leeway on the road; you don’t write a ticket for going
50 in a 45 zone.” Sounded good—to him at least—until I asked if
he thinks the DNR should practice the same leniency, for example, with
trout bag limits? “Well, that’s different.” Indeed, and so
* * *
|Though Bass Lake is 49 acres in overall size, the aerial below makes it clear the expanse of water in the basin deep enough
for motor boating is much smaller.
time, jet skis and motor boats coupled with continually expanding population will change the character of this Land of Sky Blue
Waters lake; that’s a shame, and I blame it on the DNR.
Its actions, powered by incompetence, malfeasance, some of both, or
something I haven’t thought of, are encouraging the ruin of a fragile
The lake just isn't large enough to absorb the
mechanical-combustion-engine pressure—this is particularly evident on
holiday weekends throughout the summer.
The excerpts below were taken from an article that cites a Wisconsin DNR study. I found it (ironically) on a Minnesota website (https://www.rmbel.info/boat-motors-and-water-quality/):
"The Wisconsin DNR did a study on
the effects of motorized watercraft on aquatic ecosystems. Boats can
affect water quality in a few different aspects. First, they can add
metals and chemicals to the water column. A certain amount of the fuel
that enters into a motor is discharged unburned and ends up in the
water. Two stroke motors can emit 25-30% of their unburned gas and oil
mixture into the water. In contrast, four-stroke motors emit 97% less
air and water pollution than old two-stroke motors. This pollution can
affect the pH and dissolved oxygen in the lake, which can influence the
type and abundance of fish and wildlife."
|"Another main impact by motors is churning up the lake bottom in shallow
areas. This action stirs up the lake sediment, re-suspending nutrients
(phosphorus) that are at the lake’s bottom. When these nutrients reach
the surface of the water where the algae are, they can feed algae and
cause and algal bloom. This stirring can also decrease the water
clarity because of additional particles suspended in the water column.
"So what can you do to protect your lake? 1) Establish no-wake zones in
shallow areas with waterfowl nesting and bulrush stands. 'Slow no wake'
means operation of a watercraft at the slowest possible speed necessary
to maintain steerage, but in no case greater than 5 miles per hour. 2)
Educate lake users to avoid sensitive areas and drive slowly through
shallow areas. 3) Upgrade your boat motor from an old two-stroke engine
to a four-stroke engine. Four-stroke engines use fuel more efficiently,
produce cleaner exhaust, and run more quietly than traditional
two-stroke engines." Click for the entire Wisconsin DNR study.
In addition, fast-moving craft on Bass Lake are a grave danger to loons and other water fowl in my opinion.
Returning Slow-No-Wake to Bass Lake
scheduling and attending two meetings in Madison with DNR personnel,
including April Dombrowski and Carroll Schaal, in 2015 and 2016, and
presenting PowerPoints and details of the consultants’ measurements,
and not making any progress, I gave up, began searching for legal help,
and became a client of the Madison law firm Pines Bach in
2017. The attorney I worked with reviewed the Bass Lake situation
carefully and filed a freedom of information request with the
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, I learned that the cards are stacked in favor of the
DNR. Accusing it of incompetence, malfeasance,
negligence, etc. and taking it to court likely would cost a minimum of
$50,000 with no guarantee of success. Just having an expert research options was expensive.
It's a frustrating situation made worse because not all agree slow-no-wake should be returned to Bass Lake, including members of my own family. If
you like motor boating, it's convenient to walk down to the dock, get
aboard, and go. However, it doesn’t seem all that burdensome to
travel 10 miles to Hilbert Lake just off Highway 101—its 278 acres
make it more able to absorb high speed traffic than Bass Lake.
Whenever the challenge of righting this wrong gets me down,
think about the defenseless ecosystem and its future. Who will speak
for and defend Bass Lake when its statutory, government protector
doesn't? Then, I think, I will…or, at least, I'll try.
It's been good to me, and I'd like to return the favor. If you
would like to see slow-no-wake restored to Bass Lake, please let me
If enough of us band together and put pressure on the DNR, perhaps we
can persuade it to re-measure the lake—this time with the goal of achieving an
accurate, no thumb-on-the-scale result.
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 414 795-6117 (I only
answer calls from people on my contact list, so please leave a message).