Since 2010, Randy Lehr has been the Bro professor of sustainable regional development, leading and directing students, faculty, and staff in the field and in the classroom. In August, Lehr became the codirector of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation.
Q. Is it true you got hooked on science via fly fishing?
A. In many ways, you could say science found me via fishing. When I was in high school, I never had any intention of going into science. I always loved to fish, but in college I worked for one of my professors studying trout streams near Winona, Minnesota. That experience got me excited about science and the thought of grad school. After my junior year of college, I took a backpacking trip—fishing pole in hand—on Isle Royale. As chance would have it, on the ferry back to the mainland, I met a scientist who was studying the accumulation of chemical contaminants in Great Lakes fish. That scientist ultimately became my graduate school advisor—and now I am studying Lake Superior. It has been a pretty interesting journey.
Q. Do you still fish? Any favorite spots?
A. My wife and I just took our three-year-old son fishing for the first time. The sheer joy and excitement on his face when he caught his first “keeper” is something I will never forget—so Perch Lake will always be one of my favorite fishing holes.
Q. You’re currently working on a climate change adaptation project in Chequamegon Bay. What has surprised you most so far?
A. I have been most surprised by how diverse and complex the nearshore of Lake Superior is. The idea that the Chequamegon Bay and Apostle Islands ecosystem is a mosaic of water quality conditions that is constantly shifting in response to the wind, waves and tributary inputs is fascinating. Working to understand this system, and how it might be affected by climate change is exciting.
Q. What do you hope to discover?
A. Our work is focused on answering two questions: 1) are climate change impacts likely to negatively affect the Chequamegon Bay ecosystem; and, 2) is there a particular process through which climate change impacts are likely to occur? If we can answer these questions, I am hoping it will help communities in our region prepare for life in the presence of a changing climate.
Q. Water is one of the biggest issues facing the world – the demand for water and distribution. Do you anticipate a day when people are going to come knocking on the door for Lake Superior water?
A. I see the Lake Superior region as the future front lines of water resource science and management. Abundant freshwater, relatively inexpensive land and increasingly mild winters will undoubtedly attract more people to the region in the coming years. In many ways, this might be a good thing, but the challenge will be maintaining the quality of the region’s relatively pristine water resources as the population increases and land uses change.
Q. As you begin your job as codirector, what are you most excited about?
A. Because of the unique characteristics of the Chequamegon Bay and Apostle Islands ecosystem, I talk about this region as somewhat of a model system for understanding how science and policy can be integrated to sustainably manage water resources. It’s hard to envision a better location to study freshwater and the ability to integrate our students into this work is exciting.