Join DNR experts for online chat about upcoming Lake Winnebago System sturgeon spearing season

MADISON — Lake Winnebago’s sturgeon population is benefiting from a rebound in gizzard shad and other prey species heading into the 2017 spearing season.

Daniel Bloesl registered this 77-inch, 147.9-pound female sturgeon at Indian Point. It was the largest fish harvested during the 2016 season.
Daniel Bloesl registered this 77-inch, 147.9-pound female sturgeon at Indian Point. It was the largest fish harvested during the 2016 season.
Photo Credit: DNR

Sturgeon spearing opens on Feb. 11 at 7 a.m. and state fisheries biologists expect a season offering great opportunities to experience this unique tradition and pursue the fish of a lifetime. To answer questions about the season, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will host a live online chat with fisheries and law enforcement experts on Tuesday, Jan. 31 starting at noon.

“In terms of our sturgeon population, things continue to look very good with respect to both fish abundance and size structure of the population,” said Ryan Koenigs, DNR Lake Winnebago sturgeon biologist. “We continue to observe big fish in the system each spring during spawning stock assessments and we’re pleased with the results from bottom trawling and chironomid lake fly assessments indicating a strong forage base to sustain the population.”

Wisconsin’s current sturgeon ice spearing season dates to 1931, when the Legislature created a season after all sturgeon harvest had been banned in 1915. The DNR’s careful management provides spearers with annual sustainable harvests unparalleled in the U.S.

Interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong with 12,962 licenses sold for the 2017 season, including 12,479 for Lake Winnebago and 483 for the Upriver Lakes. For 2017, the system-wide harvest caps are similar to 2016 with 430 juvenile females; 950 adult females and 1,175 males. It takes at least 10 years for a sturgeon to reach the legal harvest size of 36 inches, while fish at the 100 pound mark are at least 45 years of age.

The season may run for up to 16 days until Feb. 26, 2017; however an earlier closure may be triggered when pre-set harvest caps are reached.

One important difference for successful spearers this year involves tagging procedures. Tag validation must occur immediately upon harvest by writing the date and time on the tag, but the tags do not need to be attached prior to registration unless the spearer leaves the fish before registration. If you leave it, tag it. DNR recommends spearers bring a clear plastic zip-top bag and tie to protect and secure the new paper tag to the fish.

Spearing hours run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and all sturgeon must be presented at a registration station by 2 p.m. on the same day they are harvested for registration by DNR personnel.

The online sturgeon spearing season chat will cover everything from tips on spearing techniques to the latest water clarity conditions. To join the chat, which runs from 12-1 p.m. Tuesday, visit dnr.wi.gov and look for the box on the right to enter the chat, or search the phrase “ask the experts.” Or, enter via DNR’s Facebook page by clicking the “Cover it Live Chat” box at the top. The online chats are archived and available for viewing after they are held.

To learn more about the upcoming sturgeon spearing season, tagging or to sign up for emails about Lake Winnebago management, visit dnr.wi.gov and search “Lake Winnebago Sturgeon.”

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Wisconsin birders, take a bow! One million bird sightings reported through eBird website

MADISON — Wisconsin birders identified and reported more birds through eBird, an internationally popular online bird observation website, than birders from most other states and nations in 2016.

The tropical kingbird, a flycatcher that is extremely common in the American tropics but barely reaches the United States in Texas and Arizona, was reported by birders for the first time in Wisconsin in 2016.
The tropical kingbird, a flycatcher that is extremely common in the American tropics but barely reaches the United States in Texas and Arizona, was reported by birders for the first time in Wisconsin in 2016.
Photo Credit: Ryan Brady

In 2016, eBird gathered 1,406,422 observations in Wisconsin from 4,111 birders who submitted 110,807 checklists. The Wisconsin eBird site (exit DNR) contains photos, interactive maps, and write-ups sharing the highlights from the year.

eBird users recorded the first ever tropical kingbird in Wisconsin, and documented a gyrfalcon in the Superior area that has set a longevity record for the species at 15 years and 8 months. Site submissions also helped bring hundreds of people to Trempealeau County in early 2016 to see a rare pinkish, greenish woodpecker more commonly found in Western states.

“Wisconsin’s citizens are some of the leading users of eBird and that’s something to celebrate. I strongly encourage other recreational birders to give it a try and record their own sightings to help bird conservation,” says Ryan Brady, Department of Natural Resources bird monitoring coordinator. “eBirding is fun, user friendly and the most simple form of avian citizen science you can participate in.You don’t have to be an expert to do it.”

eBird was launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society to maximize the utility and accessibility of the vast numbers of bird observations made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers.

Birders enter information via the eBird website (exit DNR) about when, where, and how they went birding. Then they can fill out a checklist of all birds seen and heard during each outing. Automated data quality filters developed by regional bird experts review all submissions before they enter the database and local experts review unusual records flagged by the filters.

eBird helps Wisconsin complete its breeding bird survey

In addition to being an easy way to record birding observations, information collected on eBird helps provide a richer data set for researchers and natural resource professionals from Wisconsin and around the globe. eBird data is used to help complete the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, a volunteer-based survey to help understand which birds breed in Wisconsin and how that has changed over the past 20 years since the last atlas survey was done.

For more information regarding eBird, visit ebird.org, People can also find the Wisconsin’s 2016 eBird year in review on the Wisconsin eBird (both links exit DNR).

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Wisconsin’s Deer Management Assistance Program now accepting applications for 2017

MADISON — Conservation-minded people throughout Wisconsin are encouraged to enroll in the Deer Management Assistance Program to improve wildlife habitat on property they own or hunt.

DMAP provides resources for wildlife habitat management, which complements land use activities like agriculture and timber management on properties of any size.

March 1, 2017 application deadline for properties over 160 acres

The application deadline is March 1 for properties larger than 160 acres, which may be eligible for a site visit and management plan in 2017. While applications may be submitted at any time, landowners are encouraged to apply now to receive immediate access to informational resources, including:

  • habitat and deer management information;
  • communication with local DNR staff;
  • annual DMAP reports and publications;
  • volunteer opportunities; and
  • invitations to DMAP workshops.

“DNR staff current work with more than 1,000 DMAP cooperators and two public land agencies on nearly 221,000 acres of land across the state to improve habitat for the wildlife resources we all enjoy,” said Bob Nack, DMAP coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources. “We continue to develop new ways for cooperators to get involved and expand their knowledge of habitat and wildlife management.”

Neighboring landowners with properties within one-half mile of each other are encouraged to enroll as a group cooperative. Landowners in a group cooperative with a combined acreage of 160 acres or more receive a site visit and management plan. Group cooperatives also provide an opportunity to monitor local wildlife populations and share costs and equipment on habitat projects to benefit deer and other wildlife over a greater area.

Another benefit open to all DMAP cooperators is a series of annual DMAP workshops held regionally throughout Wisconsin. Six deer and habitat workshops were offered to DMAP cooperators in 2016, and additional workshops are slated for spring and summer 2017. Topics range from invasive species management and how to conduct a timber harvest to aging deer by tooth wear.

“DMAP workshops are a great opportunity to network with other conservation-minded people,” said Nack. “DMAP cooperators share a common goal of promoting the principles of land stewardship and sharing their experiences with others.”

For more information regarding DMAP and to apply, go to dnr.wi.gov and search keyword “DMAP.”

To receive DMAP email updates and other information, visit dnr.wi.gov and click on the email icon near the bottom of the page for “subscribe for updates for DNR topics.” Follow the prompts and select the “Deer Management Assistance Program” option, found under Wildlife Management.

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Connections with food bond new and seasoned hunters

MADISON — Have a favorite wild turkey recipe that’s ready to be shared with new hunters? Share it during a spring Learn to Hunt Turkey event where food always is a major theme.

Learn to hunt events are about harvesting food by also learning how to hunt with a mentor.
Learn to hunt events are about harvesting food by also learning how to hunt with a mentor.
Photo Credit: DNR

“Food is a great way for new and experienced hunters to bond,” said Keith Warnke hunting and shooting coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “It’s the perfect bridge.”

Learn to hunt events are about harvesting food by also learning how to hunt with a mentor. Novices learn practical skills, such as gun handling and game cleaning, and get a primer in biology, regulations and ethics.

“Many adults who did not come from hunting families and are interested in hunting often have no idea how to start,” Warnke said. “These learn to hunt events are a great way for them to learn in a controlled and safe environment with an experienced hunter. If you are interested in a new and rewarding experience, give me a call.”

Winter: Ideal time to plan spring Learn to Hunt turkey event

Learn to Hunt events truly are for interested novices who would not otherwise have the chance to explore hunting which, Warnke says, is key to successfully preserving our conservation heritage. Eating nutritious and tasty wild game has always been a pivotal part of this heritage.

Another potential benefit of the Learn to Hunt goes to the experienced hunter whose passion for the outdoor activity may be recharged by serving as a mentor during an event, or organizing an event to share expertise with enthusiastic novices.

Eating and hunting are natural partners

Recruiting and retaining new hunters, along with reengaging hunters who have not enjoyed the outdoors in a while, is a high priority for the state’s and the national hunting community.

Learn to hunt events are one way to do this because they link the state’s hunting heritage with food – particularly local and sustainable food that can be enjoyed through hunting.

“The composition of learn to hunt events has continued to evolve, with increasing focus on food,” Warnke said. “We have seen a big demand for our classes from young adults and I think it would be really easy for groups, clubs, and mentors to copy our blueprint of reaching out to adults and families.”

Learn to hunt events may be scheduled before, during or after the six spring turkey periods. However, most are held in late March and early April. Interested individuals and clubs are urged to start organizing the events now to complete the necessary steps.

The department has made it easy for sponsors to organize learn to hunt events with on-line applications, reimbursement opportunities, assistance in finding event insurance and event promotions on the DNR’s website.

Sponsors will need to:

  • Submit a completed application form to the local wildlife biologist for approval; and,
  • Should make sure at least one of the event instructors is a certified Hunter Education Instructor.

Mentors assisting in the event will need to:

  • Submit an application to be a mentor.

Following the event, sponsors must:

  • Submit a report of event participants; and,
  • May apply for a $25 reimbursement per participant to assist with event costs.

In addition, Warnke says the program will help promote events by posting them on the Learn to Hunt page of the DNR website and the Hunter’s Network Facebook page.

More information on the Learn to Hunt program is available on the DNR website dnr.wi.gov, keyword “LTH.”

Interested in taking hunter education? More courses being offered now than other times of year, search dnr.wi.gov for keywords “hunter safety.”

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Natural Resources Board to meet January 25 in Madison

MADISON – A request for the approval of 2017 bear harvest quotas, proposed rules relating to cisco harvest in Lake Superior, approvals of master plans for the Horicon Marsh-Shaw and Northwest Barrens planning groups, and a request to reconsider a master plan amendment for Blue Mound State park are among the items the state Natural Resources Board will address when it meets January 25 in Madison.

The regular business meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 25, in Room G09 of the State Natural Resources Building (GEF 2), 101 South Webster St., Madison.

The agenda also includes: a request for changes to a series of rules related to the generation, transportation, recycling, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste, universal waste, and use oil; a request for adoption of proposed rules related to placement and use of tree stands and hunting blinds on DNR managed lands, hunting hours, and a review of 2016 wildlife management related spring hearing advisory questions; and a request for conditional approval related to establishing the 2017 migratory bird hunting seasons.

The complete January board agenda is available by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov for keyword “NRB” and clicking on the button for “view agendas.”

The public must pre-register with Laurie Ross, board liaison, to testify at the board meeting. The deadline to register to testify for this business meeting is 11 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. Registration information is available on the agenda on the DNR website. The deadline to submit written comments on the Blue Mound master plan amendment was Jan. 13, 2017, and the deadline to submit written comments on the remainder of the agenda items is 11 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.

Board meetings are webcast live. People can watch the meeting over the internet by going to the NRB agenda page of the DNR website and clicking on webcasts in the Related Links column on the right. Then click on this month’s meeting. After each meeting, the webcast will be permanently available on demand.

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Focus on habitat rather than feeding to help deer through winter

MADISON — Wisconsin residents should consider the impacts of wildlife feeding as well as potential alternatives that provide long-term benefits to help wildlife through a cold and snowy winter season.

“People want to see healthy deer on the landscape, but feeding is not the only solution,” said Tim Marien, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife health specialist. “Improving habitat can support deer and many other types of wildlife year-round.”

Even a mild Wisconsin winter can cause concerns for those living alongside deer and other wildlife, but deer and other wildlife commonly seen in Wisconsin adapt both physically and behaviorally to winter weather. Animals with adequate fat reserves and good winter cover are more likely to survive in good condition.

“Deer start preparing for winter during the summer, when nutritious natural food sources are abundant,” said Marien. “When winter arrives, they seek out shelter in stands of pine, cedar and fir that provide cover from snow and wind, and search for winter foods in the vicinity until spring.”

However, some winters can overly stress individual animals, and this can reduce their chances of survival. Especially during hard winters, concerned citizens may turn to feeding to help deer through the winter. While this can benefit individual animals, feeding often occurs on a scale too small to affect the overall condition of the deer herd. Feeding can also have a negative impact on deer, as it draws them out of winter range that offers the best food and cover to help deer conserve energy. Feeding also increases the risk of disease spread and severe digestive issues.

CWD-affected counties

As a reminder, deer feeding is illegal in counties affected by chronic wasting disease. Where it is legal, regulations restrict how much food may be placed and where feeding sites may be placed. Feeding deer is also prohibited when elk and bear are using the site. For a full list of wildlife feeding regulations, visit the DNR website at dnr.wi.gov and search “feeding regulations.”

“Feeding restrictions are in place to protect the health and safety of both humans and wildlife,” said Marien. “In areas where elk and bear are present, feeding can present a safety risk when these animals acclimate to people. Also, elk are susceptible to several diseases that deer carry, which can weaken the elk herds that Wisconsin has been working to grow over the past few decades.”

DNR staff do not recommend feeding deer, and the practice is currently prohibited in CWD-affected counties. For counties where feeding deer is allowed, the department provides guidance for feeding techniques at keyword “deer.” To view current baiting and feeding regulations, search keyword “bait.”

Citizens are encouraged to contact a local DNR wildlife biologist for additional information – contact information can be found at keywords “staff directory” – enter “wildlife biologist” in the subject line.

Improve habitat to help deer through a tough winter

Creating and improving habitat can give deer and other wildlife the resources they need during summer months and sustain them during the winter. Maintaining nutritious natural food sources, like oak, aspen and crabapple provides summer and fall food, while evergreen stands create winter cover and food for deer. Good habitat fulfills the needs of many deer, rather than individuals.

A variety of resources are available to help landowners improve their land for wildlife, including the Deer Management Assistance Program, Young Forest Initiative and the Landowner Incentive Program. More information on these programs and additional publications is available on the DNR website by searching keyword “landowner.”

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