US Long-Term Ecological Research Network

Much of the recreational activity in the NHLD centers around boating on many of the 7500+ lakes in the region. NTL-LTER is now collecting longitudinal data on the relationship between this important user group and the lakes of the NTL-LTER. In the 2011 season, we intercepted 1700 boaters at 136 lakes in Vilas and Oneida counties, ultimately receiving logbooks documenting over 5900 trips taken by 834 participants. In addition to sociodemographic information and evaluations of boating activities undertaken during the 2011 season, the survey addressed aspects of recreation specialization, sense of place, attitudes towards aquatic stewardship, the relative importance of 16 issues affecting freshwater systems in the NHLD.

Intercepted boaters were on average identified as middle-aged (mean age 51 years (s.d. = 11 years) males (80%) with a median income of $65,000-$80,000. While the sample was approximately evenly split between those whose highest level of education resulted in a high school diploma or associate degree (54%) and those with a bachelor’s or graduate degree (46%). Approximately half of all boaters intercepted at landings indicated their boating activities were related to recreational fishing.

The survey also employed an innovative maximum difference conjoint approach (Flynn et al., 2007) to assess boaters’ perception of the relative importance of several issues related to lakes in the region. Latent-class analysis (referred to as finite mixture modeling by natural scientists) of these data was used to address heterogeneity in the level of concern for these issues among boaters, by identifying subgroups of respondents whose concerns most differ (Swait, 1994). The result of this analysis is an interval-scaled ranking of the importance placed on each of 16 issues concerning lake ecology and use (Fig. 2).

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. 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. These results provide a gauge to measure the extent that public perceptions reflect actual changes in ecological states and processes identified by LTER scientists, and may guide future outreach campaigns related to managing issues that are dependent on public awareness and support.

LTER Keywords