Public meetings set for mid-February and early March to update sturgeon management plan

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OSHKOSH, Wis. – Wisconsin’s oldest fish species – lake sturgeon present when dinosaurs roamed the earth – is set for an updated management plan. Sturgeon lovers can help shape that plan by attending one of eight public meetings statewide in mid-February and early-March.

“Wisconsin’s sturgeon team is in the early stages of a process to update the sturgeon management plan and we want to hear from anglers and others interested in sturgeon,” says Ryan Koenigs, the sturgeon biologist who leads the Department of Natural Resources sturgeon team. “These meetings provide people an opportunity to comment on the state’s sturgeon management program and will set the stage for development of the plan.”

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Sturgeon facts and history

Lake sturgeon are currently managed under guidance from the 2000 Lake Sturgeon Management Plan. An updated plan will allow DNR staff and partners to continue to build on the previous plan’s success, set new goals, and include management strategies for both lake sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon management. It is important to note that the previous plan did not include shovelnose sturgeon.

Public meeting dates, locations and starting times are listed below:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 20Eau Claire, 6:30 p.m., DNR Eau Claire Service Center, 1300 W. Clairemont Ave.;
  • Tuesday, Feb. 20Fitchburg, 6:30 p.m., DNR Fitchburg Service Center, 3911 Fish Hatchery Road;
  • Tuesday, Feb. 20Webster, 6:30 p.m., Larsen Family Public Library, 7401 W. Main St.;
  • Wednesday, Feb. 21La Crosse, 6:30 p.m. DNR La Crosse Service Center, 3550 Mormon Coulee Road;
  • Wednesday, Feb. 21Oshkosh, 6:30 p.m., Coughlin Building, Conference rooms A and B, 625 E County Road Y;
  • Wednesday, Feb. 21Park Falls, 6 p.m. Public Library, 410 Division St.;
  • Tuesday, March 6Ashland, 6 p.m. Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, 2100 Beaser Ave.; and
  • Tuesday, March 6Oconto, 6 p.m., Oconto City Hall, 1210 Main St.

There also will be future opportunities for people to comment online, and materials prepared for the meetings will be posted online as they become available.

Wisconsin has long been regarded as a national and international leader in sturgeon protection, restoration and research – a reputation built since DNR began regulating sturgeon harvest on the Winnebago system in 1903.

Wisconsin offers a hook-and-line season on multiple major rivers with healthy, growing populations and boasts the world’s largest self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon. In locations where sturgeon populations are not as strong, DNR and partners are working to rebuild sturgeon populations.

For more information regarding sturgeon management, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword “sturgeon.”

Family, big fish and fun on tap for Feb. 10 Lake Winnebago system sturgeon season opener

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OSHKOSH, Wis. – Family, friends, big fish and fun are on tap Feb. 10 for the opening day of sturgeon spearing season on the Lake Winnebago system.

The Winnebago System is home to the world’s largest self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon, with an estimated 19,000 adult females and 24,000 adult males, and a unique spearing season dating back more than 85 years.

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Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago System sturgeon season brings together family and friends from across the state and beyond. Spearing licenses for 2018 were sold to spearers from 71 of 72 Wisconsin counties, 32 states and one Canadian province. - Photo credit: Darcy Kind
Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago System sturgeon season brings together family and friends from across the state and beyond. Spearing licenses for 2018 were sold to spearers from 71 of 72 Wisconsin counties, 32 states and one Canadian province.Photo credit: Darcy Kind

“Spearers in 2018 will have another great opportunity to renew traditions and go after some really big fish,” said Ryan Koenigs, Department of Natural Resources sturgeon biologist. “As always, water clarity and ice conditions determine spearer success, and we won’t definitively know conditions until the season draws closer. However, preliminary water clarity readings collected Jan. 8 averaged 9 feet, which is similar to the 2017 season where 552 fish were harvested from Lake Winnebago.”

Interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong, as 12,979 licenses (12,505 for Lake Winnebago and 474 for the Upriver Lakes) were sold for the 2018 season. Licenses were sold to spearers in 71 out of 72 Wisconsin counties and representatives from 32 U.S. states and one Canadian province.

For the Muche family and many others, the Lake Winnebago sturgeon season is all about family, fun and big fish. Rachael Mathwig celebrates her success with her grandfather, on the left, and her father on the right.   - Photo credit: Ryan Koenigs
For the Muche family and many others, the Lake Winnebago sturgeon season is all about family, fun and big fish. Rachael Mathwig celebrates her success with her grandfather, on the left, and her father on the right. Photo credit: Ryan Koenigs

“Spearers continually tell DNR staff that it’s the chance to get together with family and friends, to relive old memories and create new ones that keeps them coming back year after year,” Koenigs said. “The success of the fishery and the fish population is a testament to the successful co-management of the sturgeon resource among DNR, public stakeholder groups, and a passionate general public.”

According to Koenigs, there are more fish in the system now than there have been for decades, with an impressive complement of large fish that has been unrivaled since inception of the modern spearing season in 1932. In 2017, 19.3 percent of the female sturgeon handled during spawning stock assessments were larger than 70 inches. Fish harvested in 2017 had fed well on a strong gizzard shad hatch in 2016 while the forage base observed in 2017 assessments was not as strong as years past.

In 2017 54 fish exceeding 100 pounds were harvested, including an 83.4 inch, 154.9 pound fish harvested by Gerald Petersen and a 78.5 inch, 154.7 pound fish taken by Sandra Schumacher, both registered at Stockbridge Harbor.

Season and license details

Sturgeon spearing opens at 7 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 and may run for up to 16 days until Feb. 25. However, an earlier closure may be triggered if pre-set harvest caps are reached.

The system-wide harvest caps are similar to those set for the 2017 season: 430 juvenile females, 950 adult females and 1,200 males.

A sturgeon spearing license and tag is required to spear sturgeon. Spearing hours run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and all sturgeon must be presented at a DNR operated registration station by 2 p.m. of the same day the fish is harvested.

Successful spearers must immediately validate their carcass tag by removing the validation stub. They do not need to attach validated carcass tags to harvested fish before registration as long as the spearer stays with the fish until registration. However, the harvest tag must be attached to the sturgeon if the spearer leaves the fish prior to registration. DNR staff recommend that spearers bring a clear plastic zip-top bag and tie to protect and secure the paper tag to the fish.

More details regarding sturgeon spearing throughout the Lake Winnebago system, including the complete rules and regulations and a list of 10 registration stations can be found at dnr.wi.gov, keywords “Winnebago system sturgeon.”

Winter is an excellent time to prune hardwood trees

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MADISON – State forestry specialists say trees should be pruned throughout their entire lives to maintain strong structure and remove dead wood. Young trees should be pruned to establish good branch structure and shape, while older trees are pruned to remove dead and/or hazardous limbs.

“The best time to prune hardwood trees in Wisconsin is during winter when a tree is not actively growing,” said Paul Cigan, forest health specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Pruning is easier in winter when the leaves are gone, which makes it is easier to see damage on tree branches and limbs.”

“Pruning should not remove more than 25 percent of the live top of a tree. The lower third of trunks of hardwood trees, such as oak and maple trees, should be free of limbs,” Don Kissinger, a DNR urban forestry specialist, said. The DNR offers a pruning brochure that has more detailed, step-by-step tips for tree pruning. Find it by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for keywords “tree pruning [PDF].”

Another advantage is that many tree pests “hibernate” and cannot spread tree diseases during winter. The fungus that causes oak wilt, a fatal disease of oak trees, is spread in warmer months by tiny sap-feeding beetles, which carry the pathogen between oak trees as they feed where sap is leaking. Since the act of pruning causes some seepage, it is best to prune in winter when it is too cold for the beetles to be out.

“The DNR recommends pruning oak trees between October and March when the risk of spreading oak wilt is the lowest,” Cigan said.

Oak wilt is also spread in firewood. Several recent finds of infected trees in northern Wisconsin were likely the result of infected firewood brought from other areas where oak wilt is established. A good practice to prevent the spread of the disease is to keep oak firewood where it is cut for one year or until the bark is naturally loose. Besides oak wilt, Kissinger said firewood can carry many kinds of diseases and pathogens, so it is important people who move firewood in Wisconsin be aware of the risks, obey the law and take recommended precautions.

For additional information on oak wilt, visit dnr.wi.gov, keywords “oak wilt.” To view firewood regulations, search for the keyword “firewood.”

A list of certified arborists who offer pruning and other tree care services is available on the Wisconsin Arborist Association website at:

www.waa-isa.org/arborist-for-hire/ (exit DNR).

Bird lovers raise record amount for priority bird projects in 2018

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MADISON — Endangered Kirtland’s warblers, the Wisconsin Stopover Initiative, and the five-year Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas project to document birds that nest in Wisconsin will get more help in 2018 thanks to 49 teams of bird lovers across the state who raised more than $90,000 through the Great Wisconsin Birdathon in 2017.

“A group of dedicated birders came together, once again, to benefit important conservation efforts in their state,” said Drew Feldkirchner, who directs the Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Conservation Program. “We are grateful to everyone who participated, donated, and sponsored, along with our partners at the Natural Resources Foundation who created and led the effort.”

DNR is a partner in the birdathon, which is organized and run by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. The event is like a walkathon for birders: participating teams tally as many bird species as possible on a day of their choosing between April and June and collect pledges and donations.

The funds raised through the annual event allow for the continued advancement of priority bird initiatives in Wisconsin including monitoring and protection for the federally and state endangered Kirtland’s warbler.

View Slideshow SLIDE SHOW | 8 photos

How Birdathon donations benefit birds

Local birders also benefit: funds raised by the birdathon will go toward the creation of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II, a follow-up to the breeding bird survey from 1995-2000 that resulted in a reference book still used routinely today to guide species conservation and land management planning. Organizational teams such as several representing Madison Audubon Society that participated in the birdathon got to keep half the funds they raised for their own conservation efforts.

Diane Packett, foundation birdathon coordinator, described the event as a competition of who can spot the most bird species but also a fun way to enjoy the outdoors and spend time with friends and family. In 2017, a record number of teams participated across the state and saw donations from a total of 796 donors. The total amount raised was $91,000, exceeding the 2017 goal of $75,000.

“We’re so impressed with how Wisconsin birders mobilized for the birdathon last year, surpassing our goal by 20 percent,” said Packett. “We’ve set an ambitious goal of $100,000 for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon 2018, and we’re really excited to engage even more of the community to protect Wisconsin’s birds.”

A total of 10 priority local bird conservation projects received funding from the birdathon proceeds, including three new project recipients. These new projects involve bird conservation and monitoring in the Peruvian Amazon where many Wisconsin birds overwinter, colonial water bird monitoring in east-central Wisconsin, and water bird and waterfowl monitoring on Lake Michigan.

$2.5 million available for wetland restoration projects; apply through Feb. 28

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MADISON – Conservation groups, private landowners and government organizations are encouraged to apply for a share of $2.5 million available to fund wetland restoration and mitigation projects. Proposals for the current round of funding, available from the Wisconsin Wetland Conservation Trust administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, are due Feb. 28 and can be used to cover all aspects of restoration including land purchases, site construction and long-term maintenance and monitoring.

“We look forward to working with new partners to restore wetland functions and ecosystem services that will benefit local watersheds and communities, alike,” stated Sally Jarosz, DNR program ecologist for the trust.

Created in 2014, the Wisconsin Wetland Conservation Trust program allows for the purchase of wetland mitigation credits specified by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Wisconsin DNR wetland permits. The funds generated from credit sales then help offset the cost of wetland restoration projects. Funds are awarded to applicants through a competitive request for proposal process.

The trust is currently funding wetland restoration projects on over 450 acres statewide with work on these projects continuing this year.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Josh Brown at 608-266-1902 or JoshuaA.Brown@wisconsin.gov, to discuss prospective projects. Additional information can be found by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for “Wisconsin Wetland Conservation Trust.”

Effort to develop 10-year inland trout management plan gets underway

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MADISON – Work on developing a plan to guide inland trout management in Wisconsin over the next decade is getting underway, with an advisory team helping the Department of Natural Resources with that task meeting Jan. 27 for the first time.

The plan will address trout habitat, stocking, and other management issues in Wisconsin. The advisory team will meet at least twice this winter to help DNR staff brainstorm issues, set broad goals and define needs, says Joanna Griffin, DNR trout coordinator.

“We’re excited to get this effort underway to sustain our great trout fishing into the future,” Griffin says. “We want to thank everyone who is serving on the advisory team and everyone who applied to be an at-large member. We appreciate your time and dedication to inland trout management in Wisconsin.”

DNR randomly selected a volunteer from each of four districts, and these at-large members are serving alongside two anglers, landowners, business/tourism officials, people representing non-consumptive interests in trout waters, Wisconsin Conservation Congress members, and tribal representatives selected by DNR biologists to represent diverse interests.

For meeting location details and the first agenda search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for inland trout management. While the meeting is open to the public to attend there is no public comment opportunity scheduled; such opportunities are built-in later in the process.

Griffin says the stakeholder team will meet two to three times this winter. In the spring and summer, DNR’s trout team will write a draft plan which will go through DNR’s internal approval process.

Public hearings on the draft plan would be held in the fall, with a goal of bringing the finalized plan to DNR’s policymaking board for approval next fall or winter, Griffin says.

In recent years, DNR has been creating or updating management plans for different fish species and major waters. Management plans have recently been created for panfish and bass and for the Lake Michigan fishery, Griffin says.

Wisconsin has more than 13,000 miles of trout streams, including more than 5,300 miles, or 40 percent, that are Class 1 streams with naturally self-sustaining populations of wild trout. Another 46 percent, or 6,120 miles, are Class 2 trout streams that have some natural reproduction but require stocking to maintain a desirable sport fishery.

Hunters register 3,971 birds during 2017 fall turkey hunt

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MADISON – Hunters registered 3,971 birds during the fall 2017 wild turkey season, a decrease from 4,990 turkeys registered during the 2016 fall season.

The harvest success rate was 6.4 percent, compared to 7.3 percent in 2016. Success rate is calculated based on the number of harvest authorizations (formerly known as a tag or permit) sold and is not corrected for non-participation.

In total, 102,550 harvest authorizations were available within seven Turkey Management Zones in 2017, but only a 62,239 harvest authorizations were issued, down from 67,906 issued in 2016. Harvest authorization levels are determined by recent trends in harvest, hunter success and turkey reproduction, as well as hunter densities and field reports of turkey abundance.

“The fall turkey season provides a much different experience for turkey hunters than does the spring hunt, and we have a dedicated group of hunters that enjoy pursuing turkeys in the fall woods–in particular, those who hunt turkeys with dogs,” said Mark Witecha, Department of Natural Resources upland wildlife ecologist.

The department first initiated a fall turkey season in 1989 after an increase and expansion of turkeys throughout the state. Since then, hunters have been able to pursue turkeys during both fall and spring seasons.

“Total fall permit sales have declined from the highs of the early 2000s, and fewer turkeys are being harvested during the fall season as a result,” said Witecha. “Turkey harvest totals reflect a number of factors, including turkey population size, weather conditions, and hunter participation and effort, and we have seen participation decline as hunters balance fall turkey hunting with many other hunting opportunities available that time of year.”

To learn more about Wisconsin’s wild turkeys, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword “turkey.”

Cougar presence in Wisconsin carries into 2018

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MADISON – Department of Natural Resource staff confirmed trail camera photos of a cougar in Fond du Lac County in early January in addition to confirmation of a cougar moving through Lincoln and Langlade counties in mid-December.

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Trailcam photos of cougars

The December photos were captured on one property northeast of Merrill on the same day with two separate trail cameras. Eight days later, two separate photos were captured on a property south of Antigo. Later in January, cougar photo was confirmed near Rosendale.

The properties near Antigo and Merrill are roughly 23 miles apart, and these photos present the possibility that this was the same cougar, moving in an easterly direction. It is unknown whether these photos show the same animal photographed on multiple trail cameras in central Wisconsin between early August and late October 2017, or of the cougar reported in Douglas County in mid-November.

Cougars can travel long distances in a short time period. Without biological material for genetic testing, department staff are unable to confirm whether this is one or multiple cougars. As a reminder, suspected cougar sightings can be reported by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for large mammal observation form.

Confirmed cougar sightings August 2017-January 2018 - Photo credit: DNR
Confirmed cougar sightings August 2017-January 2018Click image for larger size.

There is currently no evidence that cougars are breeding in Wisconsin. Biologists believe the cougars known to have entered Wisconsin are male cougars dispersing from a breeding population in the western United States.

Cougars are a protected species in Wisconsin and hunting is not allowed. Cougars are not considered a threat to public safety, and in the unlikely event that a person is confronted by a cougar, face the animal and spread your arms and open your coat or jacket to appear larger. If a cougar approaches, make noise and throw rocks or sticks.

Confirmed cougar sighting trail camera photos and maps with confirmed sighting locations can be found on the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, by searching keyword “cougar.”

Registration opens for Northeast Wisconsin Woodland Owners Conference

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Five additional conferences scheduled around the state

GREEN BAY – The 2018 Northeast Wisconsin Woodland Owners Conference is scheduled for January 27 at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay. The conference will focus on topics of interest to private woodland owners. Registrations are due by January 24. Forest landowners and all those interested in forest management are welcome to attend.

“Private woodland owners hold the largest portion of forestland in Wisconsin,” said Scott Lyon, forest products specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Conferences like these are important to encourage the sharing of ideas so they can help collectively shape the future of Wisconsin’s landscape. The decisions made today impact the quality of resources for future generations.”

The Department of Natural Resources is a supporting partner of the conference and DNR staff will be presenting on a variety of topics.

Linda Williams, DNR forest health specialist for northeastern Wisconsin, will present “Forest Health Update/EAB Concerns.” Linda works with foresters and landowners to diagnose forest health problems from insect and disease issues to abiotic issues like weather and storm damage.

Greg Edge, DNR forest ecologist/silviculturist, will present “EAB and the Private Woodland Owner – What You Need to Know.” He has been involved in the development of “Wisconsin’s Forest Management Guidelines for Emerald Ash Borer” and in the creation of a stand assessment/decision tool for field foresters writing silvicultural prescriptions for lowland ash stands.

Scott Lyon, DNR forest products specialist located in Green Bay, will present “Ash Wood Markets – Impact of EAB on Wisconsin’s Wood Industry.” Lyon provides assistance to support and grow Wisconsin’s forest products industry.

Steve Kaufman, DNR forester covering Brown County, Outagamie County, and Navarino Wildlife Area, will talk about “Log-a-Load Event for Kids.”

For more information and to register for the conference, go to glacierlandrcd.org, under events, or call Glacierland RC&D at 920-465-3006. Conference registration will be $15 per person.

DNR foresters are assisting with these additional regional woodland owner conferences during the coming weeks:

  • February 3 – Fox Valley Winter Landowners Conference at La Sure’s Hall, 3125 S. Washburn St., Oshkosh (DNR contact: Tom Vanden Elzen, 920-424-3056)
  • February 3 – SE Wisconsin Woodland Owners Conference at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee (DNR contact: Julie Peltier, 262-670-3404)
  • February 10 – North Central Winter Woodland Owners Conference at Westwood Conference Center, 1800 Westwood Center Blvd., Wausau (DNR contact: Chad Keranen,715-359-3950)
  • February 17 – Madison Area Woodland Owners Conference at the American Family Insurance Training Headquarters in Madison (DNR contact: Sadie Brown, 608-275-3313)
  • March 3 – West Central Winter Woodland Owners Conference at UW-River Falls, University Center – Riverview Ballroom (DNR contact: Keith Krajewski, 715-839-3782)

Baiting and feeding ban to begin for Milwaukee County after first positive CWD detection

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MADISON – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has received confirmation that a wild deer has tested positive for chronic wasting disease in the West Allis metropolitan area of Milwaukee County.

As required by law, this finding will establish a baiting and feeding ban for Milwaukee County effective Feb. 1, 2018. Milwaukee County is already classified as a CWD-affected county due to being adjacent to a county with a detection; however, because of this finding, a new three-year baiting and feeding ban will go into effect.

A 4-year-old buck displaying clinical symptoms of CWD was tested from an urban setting in West Allis. It is the first confirmed positive in Milwaukee County. To determine if the disease is present in other wild deer in the area, the DNR will conduct disease surveillance within a 10-mile radius around the positive location. Milwaukee metro sub-unit deer hunters are encouraged to submit adult deer harvested for CWD sampling during the remainder of the metro sub-unit season.

For more information regarding baiting and feeding regulations and CWD in Wisconsin, and how to have adult deer testing during the remainder of the metro sub-unit season, visit the department’s website, dnr.wi.gov, and search keywords “bait” and “CWD sampling” respectively.