Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

See the new Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas webpage at: http://wsobirds.org/atlas

We're Hiring - Motus Coordinator (Wisconsin and Adjacent States)

Swainsons Thrush

The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, Inc., an independent 501(c)(3) research, conservation, and advocacy organization is seeking a full-time Motus Coordinator for Wisconsin and adjacent states.

The complete job description is available in the downloadable pdf.

Motus Coordinator

Photo by Joel Trick

Love Our Great Lakes Day

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Just how important are the Great Lakes? Join us for a full day of exploring the many ways in which Lake Michigan, and all the Great Lakes, impact our daily lives. This year, three outstanding professionals involved in different aspects of water policy will bring clarity to what it is, why we need it, and the impact it has on the future.

Attendance is free, but registration is required. 



  • 8:45 AM Registration/Refreshments/Booths
  • 9:15 AM Welcome (Tom Mlada, LNRP)
  • 9:30 AM Melissa Scanlan: Water Management and Policy Resources
  • 10:00 AM Break/Booths
  • 10:10 AM Bill Davis: Implementing Wisconsin's Water Agenda
  • 10:40 AM Break/Booths
  • 10:50 AM Tim Ehlinger: Navigating Community and Conflict in Water Policy
  • 11:20 AM Wrap-up
  • Lunch Break
  • 1:00 & 2:30 PM Afternoon Field Site Visits


We are offering both in-person and online virtual options to hear presentations from 9:30– 11:30 AM. There is an impressive slate of speakers on the important topic of water policy and time for Q & A after each presentation. There will also be info tables from conservation organizations to let you know how they are working towards improved water quality in our area.

Susan Bence, Program Moderator

Susan Bence

Susan began her radio journalism career in 2008 after twenty years working in the nonprofit health field. Susan studied journalism at University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, interned at Milwaukee Public Radio and was then invited to join the news team. In 2009 she was asked to take on environmental reporting, becoming WUWM's first beat reporter. Susan has received multiple awards for her work, including from the Milwaukee Press Club and the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association.

Melissa Scanlon

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Presentation Title: Water Management and Policy Resources

Presentation Description: 

Fifty years ago, Wisconsin was one of a handful of states Professor Joseph Sax examined in his seminal article on the public trust doctrine because “[t]he Supreme Court of Wisconsin has

probably made a more conscientious effort to rise above rhetoric and to work out a reasonable meaning for the public trust doctrine than have the courts of any other state.” Joseph L. Sax, The Public Trust Doctrine in Natural Resource Law: Effective Judicial Intervention, 68 MICH. L. REV. 471, 509 (1970). Because Wisconsin has been on the forefront of developing the legal doctrine, an empirical study of how Wisconsin’s trustees are implementing the law illustrates the tensions and structures that impede or enhance public trust protections and may be relevant to those facing similar situations in other states.

This Article provides legal and policy analysis coupled with qualitative research interviews with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) water managers, elected officials, and the regulated community. As the third set of interviews with agency trustees of the state’s waters conducted over the past two decades, this latest round of research is set within the context of significant legislative loosening of state water laws and reforms in state administrative law.

Throughout the United States, there have been numerous efforts to reform the administrative state. Reform efforts have focused on streamlining legislative and executive branch processes and reducing burdens on the regulated community. Such a reform effort gathered steam in Wisconsin, culminating in the passage of Act 21 in the state’s 2011-12 legislative session. With close to a decade of application of this law, there have been divergent interpretations of its meaning by two of Wisconsin’s attorneys general and several court decisions. In 2021 the Wisconsin Supreme Court settled that Act 21 did not eliminate DNR’s ability to implement its explicit, yet broad, public trust duties; however, the research interviews show that Act 21 has had a substantial impact on the DNR. From this fuller understanding of the law’s impact, one can assess and craft administrative reforms that are narrowly tailored to accomplish goals set by the political branches.


Melissa K. Scanlan is the Lynde B. Uihlein Endowed Chair in Water Policy and the Director of the Center for Water Policy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. She is a Professor in the School of Freshwater Sciences and affiliated faculty at UW-Madison Law School.

 She was the co-lead consultant in launching the Center for Water Policy, which she started directing in 2021. She has shaped public policy in areas ranging from the Great Lakes Compact and water supply issues to enforcement and implementation of the Clean Water Act and the public trust doctrine. During that time, her peers selected her as a Wisconsin Super Lawyers' Rising Star (2006, 2007, and 2008).

Bill Davis

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Presentation Title: Thinking like a watershed– A proposed comprehensive watershed-based management structure

Presentation Description: 

If we want to protect our health and economy we need a better way to manage our water resources. River Alliance has initiated the Wisconsin Water Agenda. In defining a new path to clean water. The Core Team identified 12 elements for clean water in Wisconsin. Bill Davis will introduce the 12 goals of the agenda and provide inspiration on how to operationalize within your own watersheds to support clean water throughout the state. 

1. Embrace a single, statewide goal

2. Strengthen our statewide value for water

3. Engage ALL stakeholders and be inclusive

4. Manage water as it exists in nature

5. Prevent threats to people, plants, and wildlife

6. Connect benefits and harm

7. Emphasize education about water for all ages

8. Focus on causes of issue, not the symptoms

9. Regenerate and restore

10. Be sufficiently funded

11. Adapt and be flexible

12. Generate knowledge to solve problem



Bill Davis is the senior legal analyst at River Alliance. With over 30 years of experience, Bill works to advance new water policy and strategy during a critical time for Wisconsin’s waters.

Before joining River Alliance, Bill worked on environmental policy at the state and regional level including stints as Executive Director of Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade (now Clean Wisconsin), Citizens for a Better Environment and the State Environmental Leadership Program. Bill has an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Ecology and a Law degree, both from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Tim Ehlinger


Presentation Title: Navigating Community and Conflict in Water Policy

Presentation Description: how we can Engage friction as a generative force to help make a smoother surface


Timothy Ehlinger, PhD, William Collins Kohler Chair in Systems Change and Peacebuilding and associate professor at UW-Milwaukee.

As a behavioral evolutionary ecologist, Dr. Ehlinger’s early work focused on how species adapt to environmental change. Since arriving at UWM in 1990, his laboratory and students have been involved in numerous projects to restore damaged rivers, lakes and streams; these projects demonstrated that successful, sustainable restoration requires the cultivation of interconnections within social-ecological-economic-cultural systems that serve in turn to develop shared understandings and an adaptive learning community among diverse stakeholders.


Sign up for as many activities as you would like. There is a 15-minute transition time between locations. These outdoor activities take place in Port Washington from noon – 4:15 p.m.

12 – 1 p.m. Tour the Newport Shores rooftop restaurant and pub space and take in the breathtaking views of Port Washington.

1:00 & 2:30pm Tours all repeat

Valley Creek Corridor with Melissa Curran and Jon Crain 

Geological history of bluff at South Beach Park and current issues facing erosion. 

Stream Remeandering – Mineral Springs with Andrew StruckAfternoon Field Site Tours:


Have you heard about this Bee-friendly initiative? It’s one more easy way to help our communities become good stewards of our natural resources and secure a healthier future for ourselves and our children and the pollinators that assure us of abundant food supplies.

What is No Mow May? Why is it Important?

The goal of No Mow May is to allow herbicide and pesticide-free lawns to grow unmown for the month of May. This creates vitally important habitat and forage for early season pollinators, and is particularly important in urban areas where floral resources are often limited.

Is it Really Effective?

Two years ago in Appleton, WI, Lawrence University professors, Israel Del Toro and Relena Ribbons, undertook a research project to test whether leaving May lawns unmown would have an advantageous impact on the bee population. 435 registered property owners signed up to be part of the study.

“The research project collected data on the abundance (the number of individuals) and species richness (the number of species) of flowers and bees found in unmown yards of a subset of the properties participating in No Mow May. They then compared those numbers to the abundance and richness of flowers and bees found in nearby urban parks that are regularly mowed. The findings were impressive! Not only were the abundance and richness of bees higher in the yards of properties participating in No Mow May, but they were way higher. Participating yards had three-times higher bee species richness and five-times higher bee abundance than nearby parks  that had been mowed. This study was published in 2020 and is available for free download online.” 

Bee City USA

Best Practices for Mowing Beyond the Month of May

We might think that if No Mow May is good, then No Mow June, July and August are good too. Not so fast…  

“Other studies have looked into how reducing the frequency of mowing throughout the growing seasons impacts bees. In a recent experiment conducted by Susannah Lerman, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, Lerman and her collaborators explored whether different lawn mowing frequencies influenced bee abundance and diversity. The team mowed herbicide-free suburban lawns at different frequencies (every week, every other week, and once every three weeks) in Springfield, Massachusetts. The results of their study found bee abundance increased when lawns were mown every other week. Mowing every three weeks resulted in more than double the number of flowers available in lawns (mainly dandelions and clover), and increased bee diversity⁠—yet lowered overall bee abundance versus the every-other-week strategy. The researchers hypothesize that, while the three-week mowing cycle left more flowers in the lawn, the length of the competing turfgrasses made the flowers harder to find. Lerman and her colleagues documented a staggering 93 species of bees, with supplemental observations bringing the total number to 111 bee species⁠—nearly a quarter of all bee species native to the area!”

What does a Bee Lawn look like?

Just growing longer turf grass isn’t the point here. Beginning to alter the composition of your lawn to include more flowering species should be included in the plan.” A “bee lawn” may include Dutch clover (which captures nitrogen and helps feed the lawn) as well as other low-growing flowering plants such as creeping thyme (Thymus spp.), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), and others. Some plants, such as native violets (Viola spp.) may already be present and should be encouraged as they are valuable host plants for fritillary butterflies. 

Blue Thumb

Getting Community Support
It’s important to be strategic and intentional about your No Mow May. One of the major barriers we face when embracing a Now Mow May is the concern that our neighbors may view us as messy or neglectful. Here are some tips from the Xerces Society:
Educate your neighbors and passersby about your landscaping choices. Displaying a simple sign designating your yard as pollinator habitat can be the difference between it being seen as a neglected area to people viewing it as an important part of a thriving landscape. Xerces offers downloadable signs for No Mow May.
Engage with your city council, health department, or other local officials. Tell them what you are doing, why, and begin a conversation about how they can support natural landscapes in their community. This fact sheet from Penn State can help arm you with facts to overcome the common myths that have led to overly restrictive weed ordinances.
Suggest an “opt-in” program, such as a Natural Lawn Registration program to sidestep the need to re-write a health code ordinance. Under such a model, a homeowner may register their natural landscape with their local health department. The health department can then decline to fine registered properties as long as they are maintaining the natural landscape properly and not encouraging the spread of noxious weeds.
Maintain a mowed buffer. Keeping a mowed edge in front of or around a natural planting of a foot or two may be all that’s needed to define “lawn” from “garden” and keep you in step with local ordinances or Homeowner Association guidelines. Maintaining a tidy mowed edge also makes a busy natural planting look less overwhelming, and makes these spaces look intentional rather than neglectful. And remember, it’s better to start small than to not start at all. If not mowing your entire lawn seems too much for you the first year, why not consider carving out a smaller section of it to be a bee-friendly patch.


The Wisconsin Bird Conservation Partnership has hired Bradley M. Steger as its Important Bird Areas coordinator.

In this role, Steger will follow through on work that WBCP had partnered with Tom Prestby (Wisconsin Conservation Manager and Observatory Board member),  and GEI Consultants to assess the 93 IBAs in Wisconsin to determine strengths and weaknesses of each IBA’s bird conservation potential and identify those with high potential for accelerated, strategic conservation delivery. Factors relating to bird usage, landscape and climate change resilience and social capacity and support were analyzed with data from eBird, GIS-based landscape-level data, and a comprehensive survey that was distributed to contacts associated with each IBA.

The Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory has taken special interest in two Important Bird Areas along the shore of Lake Michigan and is exploring pilot projects to strengthen them. The Observatory also serves as the fiduciary for WBCP, further supporting this important work.  

Steger brings 30 plus years of professional skills from the private sector, focused on coordinating and managing delivery of complex projects for a variety of companies, along with a passion for birds. Before moving back to Wisconsin, he served on the board of the Colorado Field Ornithologists and coordinated an area for the 2nd Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas. Steger also has experience writing proposals and has assisted in writing grants.  

In applying for the position, Steger said: “I would love to have the opportunity to help Wisconsin protect and preserve some of the last remaining critical habitat for many of the rapidly declining bird species that call Wisconsin home.” He emphasized the importance of building long-term sustainability into the IBA plans that we develop.  

The WBCP Steering Committee, including representatives from the Observatory, created the IBA coordinator position to collaborate with partners to help ensure that IBA designations continue to play a meaningful role in bird conservation by protecting and enhancing valuable bird habitat. The coordinator will work with IBA stakeholders and partners (such as the DNR, land trusts, land managers, bird clubs, scientific organizations, like the Observatory, etc.) in tailored approaches to build conservation strategies that are the best fit for each unique priority IBA.  

The IBA program is an international effort, with a global network of more than 12,000 IBAs identified in 200 countries, that exists to identify and encourage voluntary protection of critical habitat for birds throughout their annual lifecycle — breeding, migration, wintering.