Fire, high winds, extreme cold, a changing climate--these factors have influenced the composition, structure and function of ecosystems within Voyageurs National Park for many thousands of years. Today, in addition to these ongoing natural processes we must also consider the effects of human decisions, both locally and globally, on the park environment.
Logging, mining, fire suppression, dam building, the introduction of invasive non-native species, and a variety of industrial activities have all had an effect on the plants, animals, water and air quality within the boundaries of the park.
The National Park Service is responsible for conserving the natural and cultural resources within the park, and providing for their enjoyment by this and future generations. In order to make informed decisions that support better land management, the park works with a number of partners to conduct research and monitor the health of Voyageurs' natural and human environment.
One of the most significant natural resource issues at Voyageurs National Park is the management of water levels in the Rainy Lake and Namakan basins. Water levels are regulated by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a board with representatives from the United States and Canada. Water levels are controlled by a hydroelectric dam at the outlet of Rainy Lake and by regulatory dams on Namakan Lake's two outlets. These privately owned dams have been in place since the early 1900's.
Past research indicated that the management of the dams had created changes to the lake levels in the Rainy and Namakan basin that were resulting in negative impacts to the aquatic ecosystem. In 2000 the IJC modified how it manages lake levels in a way that is expected to improve environmental conditions in the park. Voyageurs is currently working with a variety of partners to conduct research on several environmental factors that have been affected by lake levels in the past, including: fish communities, benthic organisms, common loon hatching success, muskrat abundance and survival, and wetland vegetation monitoring. If the new lake level management system results in measurable benefits to the aquatic ecosystem it will likely remain in place.