views of the estuary area
The NERR System
The Second Reserve on the Great Lakes

The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve is a part of the larger National Estuarine Research Reserve System which protects more than 1.3 million acres in 28 reserves in 22 states and Puerto Rico. The Lake Superior NERR is the second reserve designated on the Great Lakes and the most recent addition to the reserve system. More information on the Reserve system can be found on the National Estuarine Research Reserve System website.


Lake Superior NERR

The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve is located on the St. Louis River Freshwater Estuary. The St. Louis River forms the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Its watershed covers about 1.8 million acres, which is largely forested. The St. Louis River is the largest tributary to Lake Superior and the lower area of the watershed (from the City of Cloquet to Lake Superior) is one of 43 Areas of Concern (AOC) in the Great Lakes. The freshwater estuary has a diverse array of habitat types and species. Many of the species are rare and/or declining across their ranges. Use of the freshwater estuary by humans and the complexity of biological resources make the Reserve both regionally and nationally significant.


The Lake Superior NERR was designated as a NERR in October 2010.



The Lake Superior NERR is an international leader in advancing understanding and stewardship of Great Lakes freshwater estuaries and coastal resources.


University of Wisconsin-Extension
The University of Wisconsin- Extension (UWEX) is the designated state agency in Wisconsin for the NERR and is responsible for the implementation of the management plan. UWEX is a unique partnership of counties, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the University of Wisconsin working together to help people put knowledge to work. UWEX has been working with Wisconsin Conservation Management Program and WDNR on the Wisconsin Freshwater Estuary Initiative. The Initiative is a statewide effort to increase our understanding and stewardship of Great Lakes freshwater estuaries. One means to reach the goal of the Initiative is through the designation of the LSNERR on Lake Superior. 


University of Wisconsin-Superior
UWEX has partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Superior (UWS) to house the Lake Superior NERR. Staff share apointments at both UW institutions and the Lake Superior NERR facilities, purchased with NOAA funds, are now part of the UWS campus. UWS is located in the northwest corner of Wisconsin in the City of Superior. Enrollment is approximately 2,800 students. In addition to the Lake Superior NERR, UWS is home to Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) as well as the Transportation & Logistics Research Center and the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute.


The 16,697-acre Lake Superior NERR exists today because of a number of innovative partnerships.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides federal funds to the State of Wisconsin through University of Wisconsin Extension (UWEX), the State’s designated lead agency.  The NERR consists of existing public property, which has an established system of authorities and management plans.  Lake Superior NERR, in cooperation with municipal, state, federal, and tribal partners, have developed a management plan following existing management plans and NOAA’s NERR guidelines. The landowners of the Reserve include: WDNR, UWS, Douglas County and the City of Superior. 


The Lake Superior NERR works in partnership to improve the understanding of Lake Superior freshwater estuaries and coastal resources, and to address the issues affecting them through an integrated program of research, education, outreach, and stewardship.

Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve Guiding Principles

  • Promote understanding, appreciation, and protection of the unique freshwater estuary ecosystems of Lake Superior
  • Demonstrate the application of watershed principles
  • Create a vital community asset and a destination for visitors
  • Become a model for long-term community involvement and inter-governmental cooperation
  • Conduct research of local, statewide, regional, national, and international importance
  • Provide leadership for integrated research, management, and educational outreach related to freshwater estuaries

The four goals identified are long-term intentions and extend beyond the five-year time frame of the Lake Superior NERR Management Plan. These goals, focusing on Lake Superior freshwater estuaries, coastal resources and issues, link closely to the NERRS program sectors of research, education and stewardship.

Goal 1 : Conduct applied research and monitoring to increase the understanding of Lake Superior freshwater estuaries and coastal ecosystems

Goal 2 : Educate youth, students, community members, and visitors about Lake Superior freshwater estuaries and coastal resources and improve their ability to address coastal issues

Goal 3 : Increase the ability of community leaders and other decision makers to address critical Lake Superior coastal management issues

Goal 4 : Protect and enhance the ecological health of the St. Louis River Watershed and Lake Superior coastal habitats


Protecting a Unique Resource

  • Lake Superior is, by surface area, the world's largest freshwater lake. It contains more water than all the other Great Lakes combined and represents 10% of all the earth's fresh surface water.
  • The St. Louis River is bordered by Wisconsin and Minnesota for 23 miles and has a largely forested watershed that is 1,872,807 acres in size. The combination of ecosystems within this area is unique and provide a number of valuable ecosystem services including:
    • floodwater storage and sediment removal;
    • nutrient and carbon transformation;
    • aesthetics;
    • food web support for fish and wildlife;
    • and valuable nesting, spawning, and nursery areas.

Providing Valuable Research and Education

  • National Estuarine Research Reserve sites conduct research, education, and management activities of local, national, and international significance. The Lake Superior NERR will provide ongoing shared leadership, in collaboration with other partners, for addressing Great Lakes and coastal resource issues.
  • The NERR will work with local schools to develop appropriate curriculum and train future generations of scientists and leaders.
  • The Lake Superior NERR will provide opportunities for faculty, staff, and student research at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and other institutions, including a Graduate Research Fellowship program.
  • The NERR will work with community decision-makers to understand and address important coastal resource issues, such as storm-water management and climate change.

Providing Economic Benefits

  • Designation of the Lake Superior NERR allows Wisconsin to capture approximately $500,000 annually in federal funding. Those federal funds will be used to support NERR staff to conduct and coordinate research, carry out education and outreach programs, and to work with partners to develop management actions that address important issues for coastal communities. The ultimate goal is to protect the St. Louis River and Lake Superior while maintaining a sustainable economic and healthy environment for our community.
  • The Lake Superior NERR is creating jobs and creating educational opportunities for students.
  • Our Educational program is working with area teachers to help them enrich their curricula and used place-based knowledge in their classrooms. We are also providing equipment and educational materials to teachers.
  • Our Science and Interpretive Center will be a regional tourist attraction.
  • Our classrooms and Visitor Center will provide a venue for local, national, and international conferences, workshops, and symposiums.

Updated: 8/15/2012