MADISON - The first statewide survey for freshwater mussels in 40 years in Wisconsin gets underway this month as conservation biologists scan streambeds for aquatic animals once sought-after for buttons and pearls and now recognized as critical cogs in aquatic ecosystems and indicators of those systems' health.
"While native mussel populations in some Wisconsin streams have been surveyed, for the most part there is very limited information," says Jesse Weinzinger, the Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist coordinating the survey and conducting it at dozens of sites.
"This survey will help us understand population trends, threats and species distribution statewide and will give resource managers information that can help them more effectively conserve some of our most globally important and imperiled species."
Mussels and clams are part of a larger group of aquatic animals known as "bivalves" for their two external shells. Our native mussels must have a host species, like a fish, to complete their life cycle, while clams and invasive zebra mussels do not. The focus of these surveys will be on native mussels, not the invasive ones.
Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of animals on the planet, with 70 percent of the world's mussel species declining. In Wisconsin, more than half of the 51 native mussel species are endangered, threatened or listed as species of concern, Weinzinger says.
Mussels declined in the 20th century due to factors including water pollution, dams that blocked the flowing water mussels need, and overharvesting. From the 1880s to the 1940s, mussels in Wisconsin were used to make buttons, until plastic buttons replaced them. After that era, mussels from the Upper Mississippi River because a mainstay of Japan's cultured pearl industry. Mussel shells collected from the river were shipped to Japan where they were cut up and turned into the seed from which pearls were cultured until overharvest of mussels on the Upper Mississippi River lead to closing the commercial harvest of mussels, according to Lisie Kitchel, a DNR conservation biologist who works on mussel conservation.
Now, mussel populations are increasing in some of these waters again, thanks to protections afforded by the state and federal endangered species acts, to improved water quality since the 1972 Clean Water Act started controlling wastewater discharges to streams and rivers, and to efforts by DNR, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, dam owners and other partners to save mussels stranded from reservoir drawdowns and to propagate mussels at the federal Genoa Fish Hatchery for release back into state waters.
42-plus sites, same survey methods look for Wisconsin's "underwater tractors"
The statewide survey this summer is funded through a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grant received by the DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program and will use the same standardized methods, Weinzinger says. The previous statewide survey in the 1970s used methods that varied by location, making it harder to compare results across locations and over time.
Weinzinger and other conservation biologists will visit at least two stream sites per major watershed, collecting data from a minimum of 42 and up to 70 sites this summer. Using wetsuits and snorkeling gear, they'll zig-zag through the streams, scanning the streambeds visually and searching the stream bottom to uncover any mussels that have buried themselves. They'll count and identify species, noting any juveniles that indicate producing populations. In the future the program hopes to involve volunteer citizen monitors in helping to conduct the surveys.
The survey results will give DNR and partners a good platform from which to assess mussel population trends and to address needs in specific watersheds as well as to judge stream health overall. By measuring mussels and mussel habitat relationships, models can be developed to predict potential changes in mussel communities associated with predicted changes in habitat. "Mussels are a great indicator of stream health," Weinzinger says.
Mussels also play many important roles in ecosystems: They serve as freshwater filters, removing sediment and nutrients that can fuel algae blooms, as well as pesticides and heavy metals like mercury that can build up in fish and wildlife and the people who eat them. They move by using their "foot," just like a snail, that tills up the stream bottom, incorporating more oxygen into that substrate and stirring up nutrients for the other aquatic creatures that form the base of the food chain.
As well, mussels provide food for many animals, including muskrats, otters, raccoon, ducks, wading birds and fish, and habitat for caddisflies and mayflies that are food for fish.
"The more I learned about mussels, the more fascinated I become," says Weinzinger, a wildlife biologist who started specializing in mussels in graduate school.
MADISON -- The Fourth of July weekend is one of Wisconsin's busiest boating holidays and this year, citizen volunteers will mark the eighth annual landing blitz campaign by helping boaters learn how they can stop aquatic hitchhikers.
The effort, organized by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin-Extension, highlights simple steps that can help keep aquatic invaders out of Wisconsin's waterways, said Tim Campbell, DNR aquatic invasive species communications specialist.
"The landing blitz provides the opportunity to reach thousands of boaters, including many that may not have previously heard the aquatic invasive species message," Campbell said. "The effort helps reinforce that everyone, from frequent boaters to those that only get out one weekend a year, can take actions to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species."
Landing blitz volunteers will be stationed at hundreds of boat landings statewide where they will spread friendly reminders to ensure that boaters are taking actions, such as removing plants and draining water, to stop invasive species and protect the waters they enjoy.
The 2015 landing blitz involved inspections of more than 10,000 boats and contacts with more than 23,000 people during the three-day effort. Additionally, almost 3,500 hours were logged by volunteers and staff helping protect our waters from the negative impacts of invasive species.
The 2016 landing blitz is shaping up to be an equally successful effort. Campbell encouraged all boaters to help share the simple steps boaters can take to keep Wisconsin waterways free of aquatic invasive species:
Anglers are advised that leftover minnows may only be used under certain conditions. You may take leftover minnows away from any state water and use them again on that same water. You may use leftover minnows on other waters only if no lake or river water or other fish were added to the container.
MADISON - People planning on camping in a Wisconsin state park or forest for the Fourth of July should enjoy fireworks displays in nearby communities -- not at picnic areas, campsites or other areas within state parks, forests and trails.
Fireworks are illegal in Wisconsin state parks and forests, according to Robert "Chris" Madison, chief ranger for the Wisconsin Bureau of Parks and Recreation.
"For the safety of our guests and our natural resources, our rangers strictly enforce Wisconsin no fireworks laws," Madison said. "Fourth of July favorites, the sparkler and the snake, are not defined as "fireworks" per state law, but most park and forest rangers and superintendents discourage their use because they are a fire hazard."
A citation for illegal fireworks in a state park or forest can cost up to $200 and parents could be liable for the full costs of putting out a fire started by their children playing with or setting off fireworks.
In fact, anyone responsible for starting a wildfire in Wisconsin is liable not only for the cost of putting the fire out but also for any damages, said Catherine Koele, forest fire prevention specialist with the Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry.
As of the last week of June, fire dangers levels throughout Wisconsin were low across the state, but even in low fire danger times, fireworks can start wildfires. So far in 2016, DNR records show 545 fires have burned more nearly 600 acres in DNR fire protection areas of Wisconsin. Wildfires caused by fireworks only amount to 5 percent of the annual total; however, these fires typically occur in a condensed timeframe around the Fourth of July holiday.
More information on fireworks and fire danger is available in a "Fireworks cause forest fires and more... [PDF]" brochure available for download from the DNR website.
For more information on fireworks, including air quality and health issues, search the DNR website for "fireworks."
OSHKOSH, Wis. - Construction on the first segment of the Lake Poygan breakwall is slated to begin by early July.
Phase I of the project, a cooperative effort involving the state, Lake Poygan Sportsmen's Club and Winnebago County, will create a breakwall starting from the east shore at the mouth of the Wolf River and extend 1,170 feet south into Lake Poygan. The structure will be built roughly following the course of the old river bank as it used to exist prior to the system's water level being raised by the construction of the dams at Neenah and Menasha.
This structure will be the first of a number of similar structures to be built between the river's mouth and the "Boom Cut" navigation channel over time. When the entire project is completed, the broken limestone structures will dissipate wave energy, stop erosion of the shoreland marsh edge and allow rooted aquatic plants to take root and grow, forming a quiet water area with quality habitat for fish and wildlife.
This first structure will serve as an engineering test of the construction technique and will be the cornerstone, anchoring the structure to the shoreline.
Todd Kalish, DNR fisheries bureau deputy director, said when completed, the entire project will protect 400 acres of critical habitat including deep water marsh and an eroding marsh edge. The area receives little boat traffic because of the shallow water and the project is not expected to affect navigation in the area or at the mouth of the river as the main navigation route to the Wolf River is through the "Boom Cut" channel, located 1.5 miles east of the actual river mouth.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board accepted a $90,000 donation from the Lake Poygan Sportsmen's Club to advance the total $378,700 project.
"The generous support and involvement of the Lake Poygan Sportsmen's Club has been critical in moving this project forward, Kalish said. "The club has worked in partnership with the department over many years and this donation again highlights the important role stakeholder groups play in supporting habitat restoration."
Kendall Kamke, fisheries team supervisor in Oshkosh said the project will protect and start to restore important habitat that has been lost over time.
"The complete project will benefit fish, wildlife and water quality in Lake Poygan and the entire ecosystem in the upper lakes," Kamke said. "In turn, that is good for anglers, hunters and all recreational users of the area as well as lake property owners and will positively contribute to the local economy."
The project has been 15 years in the making and has strong local support, said Matt Harp, president of the Lake Poygan Sportsmen's Club.
"Our club is focused on protecting and improving lake and wetland habitats on Lake Poygan and the other upper pool lakes of the Winnebago system," Harp said. "Habitat projects such as the Poygan breakwall help improve water quality and enhance habitat for fish and wildlife. Partnering with the DNR and the county on these types of projects is a natural fit for our club."
CORRECTION: The original news release stated that applications must be submitted before 5 p.m. Aug. 1 - please note that applications will be accepted until midnight Aug. 1.
MADISON - In 2016, 25 sharp-tailed grouse harvest permits have been made available for Game Management Unit 8 in northwestern Wisconsin.
Those interested in hunting sharp-tailed grouse in Unit 8 must submit an application before midnight Aug. 1 to enter the permit drawing - applications cost $3. Hunters are encouraged to carefully review the zone map [PDF] and submit an application for Unit 8 only. Permit availability decisions are made on an annual basis and incorporate sharp-tailed grouse survey data, past permit levels, and success rates.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Sharp-tailed Grouse Advisory Committee, made up of department staff and key stakeholders, is hopeful that the sharp-tailed grouse population will continue to respond positively to habitat management efforts in Wisconsin. Conservative harvest permit availability is aimed at providing an opportunity to pursue the species sustainably.
"We have a very dedicated group of sharp-tailed grouse hunters in Wisconsin," said Mark Witecha, DNR upland wildlife ecologist. "This limited season should provide those grouse enthusiasts with a chance to pursue the species while not impacting the long-term sustainability of the population."
In northwestern Wisconsin, sharp-tailed grouse are found primarily in association with large blocks of barrens habitat on public lands. Wisconsin's Sharp-tailed Grouse Management Plan provides framework to combine habitat development for barrens-dependent wildlife species with working forests, with a goal to expand the suitable habitat for sharp-tails and reconnect isolated populations wherever possible.
Barrens habitat in northwestern Wisconsin is recognized internationally as a key conservation opportunity area. Sharp-tails are a popular game bird species, and also well known for dramatic breeding displays. The birds attract many visitors to the northwestern part of the state each year.
"Biologists will continue to assess the status of our sharp-tailed grouse population on an annual basis," said Witecha. "We would like to thank those who remain passionate about Wisconsin's strong and historic tradition of sharp-tailed grouse hunting, and wish all hunters who successfully draw a permit the best of luck in the field."
For more information, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "sharp-tailed grouse."
The Public Access Lands atlas is a great tool for finding new public lands and creating new memories. The atlas includes all DNR properties as well as nearly all federal and county-owned lands. You can download and print these maps free of charge from your home computer.
The University Book Store's digital storefront provides a web-based option for those interested in purchasing a PAL Atlas. The original PAL Atlas, with 441 maps, two indexes and a glossary is available for $89.95. A separate PAL atlas is also available for each of Wisconsin's 72 counties for $24.95. Lastly, a DVD with over 450 pages of public lands access data is available for $5.95.
For orders using a check, a mail order form [PDF] is available on the University Book Store's website. Please do not send cash or credit card information with a mail order form.
To place an order by phone using a credit card, call: 1-800-993-2665 EXT 5929. In order to simplify the purchasing process, be sure to mention the item number (099127660) in your call.
For more information, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword "atlas."
MADISON- Eligible hunters with an interest in participating in the 2016 gun deer hunt for hunters with disabilities are encouraged to contact a land sponsor and sign up for a hunt before the Sept. 1 hunter participation deadline.
As of the June 1 sponsor application deadline, 75 landowners have enrolled nearly 77,000 acres of land across 42 counties [PDF] for this year's hunt, which takes place October 1-9. For a complete list of 2016 sponsors, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "disabled deer hunt."
"We are thrilled with the number of sponsors that are willing to provide opportunities for our hunters," said DNR assistant big game ecologist Derek Johnson. "Giving hunters access to 77,000 acres of land is instrumental in making this unique opportunity a success and continuing Wisconsin's deer hunting traditions."
Hunters or assistants should contact sponsors directly to sign up for a hunt. Interested hunters must provide their name, contact information, and DNR customer ID number. To be eligible, hunters must possess a valid Class A, Class B long-term permit that allows shooting from a vehicle, or Class C or D disabled hunting permit. Eligible hunters must possess a gun deer license.
It is important for hunters to note that some properties are able to accommodate more hunters than others. Smaller properties may only support the minimum number of hunters (three), so hunters are advised to contact potential sponsors as early as possible to determine if space is available.
MADISON -- The construction of the Badger Coulee Transmission Line (Segments 1-4) may result in the "incidental taking" of a rare snake and lizard under an authorization the Department of Natural Resources proposes to issue for the project. Incidental take refers to the unintentional loss of individual endangered or threatened animals or plants that does not put the overall population of the species at risk.
The Badger Coulee 345 kV Transmission Line Project is a proposed transmission line between northern La Crosse County and northern Dane County. The Project is jointly owned by American Transmission Company; Dairyland Power Cooperative; Northern States Power Company, a Wisconsin corporation; SMMPA Wisconsin, LLC, and WPPI Energy. The entire project consists of eight construction segments (Segments 1 through 8) and also extends through Columbia, Sauk, Juneau, Monroe, Jackson, and Trempealeau counties for a total length of approximately 187 miles.
This proposed Incidental Take Authorization covers Segments 1-4 of the Badger Coulee Transmission Line and is an amendment to a previously approved authorization for Segments 1-4 of the Badger Coulee Transmission Line. This amendment adds the eastern massasauga - this species was re-discovered in the area after the previous authorization was issued. This amendment also slightly updates the area of suitable habitat for the slender glass lizard from what was included in the original authorization.
The presence of the state endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) and the state endangered slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus)] have been confirmed in the vicinity of the project site. DNR staff determined that the proposed project may result in the incidental taking of some snakes and lizards.
Department staff concluded that the proposed project will minimize the impacts to the species by adhering to conservation measures; is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence and recovery of the state population of the species or the whole plant-animal community of which they are a part; and has benefit to the public health, safety or welfare that justifies the action.
The conservation measures to minimize the adverse effect on the endangered species will be incorporated into the proposed Incidental Take Authorization. Copies of the jeopardy assessment and background information on the eastern massasauga and slender glass lizard are available by searching the DNR website for incidental take public notice or upon request from Rori Paloski (608-264-6040 or firstname.lastname@example.org). The department is requesting comments from the public through July 19. Public comments should be sent to Rori Paloski, WDNR, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921or email@example.com.
The Weekly News is updated every Tuesday at noon.
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