Trout Lake Station Welcomes Our New “Wisconsin Idea” Lakes Limnologist

by Adam Hinterthuer

This fall, Katie Hein, who spent more than a decade as the WI DNR’s Lake Monitoring Technical Lead, will be joining our staff at Trout Lake Station (TLS) as the first-ever “Wisconsin Idea” limnologist. The role was written with a mandate to “engage with communities [in order] to facilitate research on topics directly relevant to stakeholders and lake management within the Northwoods region.”

Katie will maintain strong collaborations with the WI DNR and expand our connections with tribal partners and regional lake groups as well as help mentor the 40 or so graduate and undergraduate students who spend their summers at the Station. Katie is very excited to head north for this new opportunity and took some time to answer our questions:

Tell us a little about your aquatic background.

I grew up in Cross Plains, WI and spent a lot of time on Lost Land Lake (east of Hayward) where my family’s cottage is. My family spent a lot of time on the water, and I think that is largely responsible for the career path I chose. I got started in limnology as an undergrad at UW-Madison, completed my Masters with Jake Vander Zanden, and even spent some summers doing fieldwork at TLS, so it is a special place to me. I went on to get my PhD in aquatic ecology at Utah State University studying streams in Puerto Rico, and then spent four years studying fish and climate change in Swedish lakes.

What excites you about this new position?

One thing I realized in my career before working at the WI DNR was that even though I tried to do applied research, I just wasn’t at the table where decisions were being made and wasn’t able to … influence policy and decisions. At the WI DNR, I learned that I really enjoy being tasked with a problem or a question that needs answers rather than coming up with my own questions. I always have lots of questions, but it felt more useful to be working on questions that would be directly used for decision making. This new position is a blend of both worlds. I really love doing science and I have really enjoyed building relationships with people who care about and work on water. This position represents a lovely marriage between science and the people and landscape we are trying to serve.

What are some areas of research you’re already hoping to pursue?

I would like to develop a framework for considering how different types of lakes are vulnerable to climate change and how one could tailor adaptation strategies to individual lakes. We have also been studying aquatic plant communities in Wisconsin and are now starting to work on understanding what specific aspects of aquatic plants provide good habitat for fish. This is especially important as we try to shift the mindset from nuisance weeds to beneficial aquatic plants.

I am also interested in learning more and contributing to research and management actions to sustain wild rice. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission has identified wild rice as one of the most vulnerable beings to climate change. In the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, I look forward to meeting with a lot of different groups when I first start my job to find out what questions they have.

Are you excited to be exchanging your southern Wisconsin lifestyle for a northern one?

My husband and I love the wild places. We look forward to having wilderness out our back door. We lived in Arctic Sweden for 4 years and could literally walk into the mountains and never be found again. We are excited to explore the American Legion State Forest, the Porcupine Mountains, and mighty Lake Superior on our sailboat. We love cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and ice skating on lakes. I can’t wait to road bike on the great trail system and maybe learn to mountain bike. And I can’t wait to swim and paddle on clearwater lakes and listen to the loons! We already feel welcomed by the community in the north. Since moving back to Wisconsin, we were always trying to find time to escape to the north, so it will be nice to just call it home.