Personal Watercraft Threaten Loons on Michigan Lakes
by Joanne Williams and Bob Bowlus,
Michigan Loon Preservation Association
The loons need your help. New pressures are being placed on loons and their nesting and chick rearing activities. The problem stems from personal watercraft (PWC), the new toys for the lakes.
Many of our lakes are patrolled by Loon Rangers, a volunteer group of lake residents who spend their time, and sometimes their own money, to help protect loons and loon habitat. They make nesting rafts and place them next to buoys to alert boaters that there are loons nesting in the area. Rangers also prepare an activity report at the end of summer. The report lists new loon arrivals, notes when they fledged, and includes the date upon which they left the lake for the winter migration. Rangers also report threats to the loon. Aside from natural predators, these new threats now include PWC.
In 1986, there was only one report in Michigan of a problem with PWC. The Loon Ranger commented that there was heavy use of boats and PWC. This occurred in the lower half of the state. There were no other reported incidents until 1989. Rangers from two lakes then reported that PWCs could be a problem.
In 1990, two lakes again reported that PWC were a threat to loons, and the problem escalated. Rangers commented that the loons were able to tolerate boats and skiers, but were disturbed by PWC. A Loon Ranger from a lake in Otsego County reported that, "After 22 years of successful loon nesting, PWC arrived on the lake. In July, two young men on PWC literally terrorized the loons out of existence. After several hours of (continuous) harassment of the adults and babies, the skiers finally drove the adult loons from the lake. The recently hatched chicks sought shelter in the marsh; they were never seen again"
The problem accelerated in 1991 as the rangers from fifteen lakes reported problems. By contrast, reports for 1992 indicated only six lakes had problems. However, the incidents were more troubling. Two pair of loons left a lake in Alger County during PWC activity; one pair returned but no eggs were seen. The Grand Travers County report noted: "Because of loud and constant noise, the loons did not come out as often as they had. They are more timid than they were."
The 1993 ranger report listed 18 lakes; in 1994, there were 22; in 1995, 33 lakes, in 1996, 32 incidents. Rangers from 37 lakes reported problems in 1997 The report for 1999 indicated there were 33 incidents.
The rangers listed their concerns about perceived threats to loons and loon habitat from PWC and boats. Of these, 15 were PWC alone, six were boats alone, and eleven of both PWC and boats on the lake. Two reports described watercraft entering nesting areas. On one lake, PWC entered the nesting bay. Another incident was PWC and boats entering the information buoy area (these buoys warn to avoid the area because loon are nesting nearby). Other problems noted were: lake small for PWC; running 5-abreast through narrow channel where nesting site was located; nests swamped and abandoned because of excessive PWC activity; wave action from PWC threatened nest; and nest threatened by wake from boats running too close.
There were three incidents of loons hit by boats. Four loons were hit, three of them were killed. They were:
*A boat hit and killed one loon chick.
*One adult loon killed by a speedboat.
*Speeding boaters ran over loon with chicks on back, one chick was killed.
You can help.
How can I help, you ask? Call the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to report any problems of loon harassment. This is the (RAP) 24-hour a day phone number: . The report is entered into the MDNR computer and assigned to a Conservation Officer to investigate. When they ask for your name and how they can reach you, please give it to them. After they investigate the problem, they will personally give you a follow-up report on what they found and what action they have taken to correct it.
The Michigan Loon Preservation Association Board of Directors encourages the formation of lake associations. That is the only way that people can have legal recourse to make recommendations for what activities they want on their lakes, and to be able to approach their township to be heard.
Williams, Joanne C.: Jet-Skis on Michigan Loon-Populated Lakes: A report; Michigan LoonWatch, 1997, ed. Bob Bowlus.
Comfort, Peg: A Story of Successful Loon Protection; Report to the Michigan Loon Preservation Association/Michigan Loonwatch Board of Directors,1999, ed. Bob Bowlus.