Shoreline habitat consists of many natural elements woven into the lake ecosystem to form a web of life. Native vegetation, bottom materials, and natural debris play essential roles in the life cycles of a lake's fish and wildlife. Shoreline alterations that damage or destroy these habitat components sever essential strands in the web. As a result, the lake ecosystem is weakened, wildlife moves elsewhere, and fish numbers decline.
Lakeshore vegetation provides habitat for many wildlife species. Waterfowl nest in shoreline grasses, while songbirds build their nests in trees and shrubs. Natural shorelines are wildlife highways, or travel corridors, for animals such as mink.
By leaving a buffer strip of natural vegetation along the shoreline, property owners can reduce erosion, help maintain water quality, and provide habitat and travel corridors for wildlife.
On a gentle slope, at least a 30 foot strip of natural vegetation between the water and your lawn will accomodate the needs of wildlife. On steeper grades, leaving even more natural vegetation in place will stabilize soils and reduce the need for retaining walls or other erosion prevention.
Avoid using pesticides and fertilizers in the buffer strip, because harmful chemicals can leach into the lake.
Because most Minnesota lakes are surrounded by trees and shrubs, storms and wind often blow dead or dying branches, limbs, and trees into the water. This woody debris is important to lake ecosystems. Beneath the water's surface, woody debris is habitat for tiny aquatic organisms that feed bluegills and other fish. Water insects such as mayflies graze on algae that grows on decomposing wood. Dragonfly nymphs hunt for prey among the stems and branches. Large-mouth bass find food and shelter among fallen trees.
Above water, a fallen tree is like a dock for wildlife. Ducks and turtles loaf and sun themselves on the trunk. Muskrats use the the tree as a feeding platform. Predators such as mink and otter hunt for prey in the vicinity of the tree. Dead trees that remain along the shoreline are used by ospreys, belted kingfishers, herons, and songbirds.
Many lakeshore owners consider this woody debris unsightly and remove it. This takes away hiding and feeding areas for many fish and wildlife species. Unless the fallen tree is a hazard for navigation, consider leaving it in the water to improve fish and wildlife habitat.