Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

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
  • 12 PM Newport Shores Rooftop Tour
  • 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 North Beach Park and current issues facing erosion. 

Stream Remeandering – Mineral Springs with Andrew Struck