View current conditions for Wisconsin State Parks, Trails and Forests
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Snow has fallen over much of the state in the last week and while much of the snow that blanketed southern and central counties has melted it was continuing to fall Wednesday and Thursday in the north, with the Brule River and Flambeau River state forests reporting up to 4 inches. The snow and a rapid downturn in temperature are bringing December back to wintery life. As evening temperatures continue to drop over the next several nights, it looks like these layers of powder may be here to stay.
State forest and park staff have begun to roll and pack some ski trails, but as of yet there isn't enough snow for trails to open. The colder temperatures have allowed crews at the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest to begin snow-making this week.
The snow cover is good news for those looking to spot deer over the four-day antlerless-only hunt taking place statewide from Dec. 8 through 11. Hunters may fill any unused antlerless tag while hunting in the proper deer management zone, unit and land type specified on the tag. Deer are continuing to put on winter weight, meaning later season bow and crossbow hunters should also continue to see good hunting opportunities.
Fishing pressure has been low across much of the state as ice-anglers eagerly await the first deep-freeze. Most water bodies of size still have open water, though some skim ice has been developing in the last few days. There have still been some open water anglers out, with some decent walleye and crappie action reported on the Wolf River.
The single-digit low temperatures predicted for the coming week, particularly in the Northwoods, should start to form some good ice. While ice anglers look forward to early ice, most experienced anglers and recreational safety specialists say 3 to 4 inches is needed before people should venture out, and even then to be cautious for changing ice depths.
Pheasant stocking is now wrapping up on most stocked wildlife areas, but there are still some good hunting opportunities for birds that were stocked through the season. Those looking to hunt geese may want to take advantage of the remaining barren fields before the snow thickens. Trappers have reported some difficulty as a result of the wet season and fluctuating temperatures.
The cold weather has spurred on bird migrations with the first big group of divers, primarily mergansers, seen along Lake Michigan this week. Along the Mississippi, canvasbacks, bluebills and pelicans remain for the time being, but the cold front did provoke late season exits for sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans and more. It also heralds the arrival of the tundra swans to their chosen winter holdings. They have already been spotted in smaller groups around the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge.
People interested in cutting their own Christmas trees can obtain permits to cut trees from a number of northern state forests, including the Black River, Brule River, Flambeau River, Peshtigo River, Governor Knowles and Northern Highland-American Legion state forests. And 2017 Wisconsin State Park admission stickers are now on sale at park and forest offices and can also be purchased over the phone. The stickers make great holiday gifts for outdoor lovers. For details, search the DNR website for keyword "sticker."
Large numbers of sandhill cranes were on the move across much of the state both Wednesday and Thursday as snow, ice, and favorable-for-migration northwest winds pushed the birds south. Likewise, flocks of tundra swans were noted these same days from Madison to Green Bay and Milwaukee as they move east en route to wintering areas around the mid-Atlantic coast. Birders are also finding more late-season waterfowl like common mergansers, bufflehead, and common goldeneye. Many open fields and wetlands are hosting northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, and some short-eared owls near dusk. Killsnake SWA in eastern Wisconsin has been especially good. A few more snowy owl reports came in this week but only 13 have been reported in the state so far this year, compared to 94, 125, and 64 by this date in each of the past three irruption years. Rare birds spotted this week include harlequin ducks at Sheboygan, Anna's hummingbird and king eider in Milwaukee, rufous hummingbird in Dane, and a Townsend's warbler at a feeder in Kewaunee, only Wisconsin's 6th record of this western species. As always, find out what others are seeing and report your finds at www.ebird.org/wi. Good birding! - Ryan Brady, Bureau of Wildlife Management research scientist, Ashland
Saturday, Dec. 10, 9 a.m. to noon. Get outside and cut and burn up buckthorn at Whitewater Oak Opening, part of the Clifford Messinger Dry Prairie & Savanna Preserve SNA . Help volunteers during our monthly Southern Kettle Moraine SNA workdays on the second Saturday. Protect some majestic oaks in the process. Buckthorn can spread and shade out savanna plants at this site. We will have fires going if there is snow. Bring a bag lunch to eat afterwards. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. Click for more information. Check the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program page of the DNR website for details. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane
Superior DNR Service Center area
Brule River State Forest - Winter seems as if it's finally here. The forest received some snow Wednesday night and snow was still falling Thursday morning. Temperatures are also more in line with what is normal for December. In the coming week we may have overnight temperatures below zero. That should make some ice on the area ponds and lakes! More snow is in the forecast as well. While the ski trails aren't open yet, the colder temperatures and snow are making the cross-country ski enthusiasts anxious to get out there. Work continues on the new warming shelter. The building is enclosed and interior work is progressing. Just a reminder — the Application deadline for 2017 bear and spring season turkey permits is December 10. People who you would like to cut a Christmas tree or collect boughs from the Brule River State Forest, Forest Product permits can be obtained from the Brule DNR Headquarters. The cost for each permit is $5. Click here to learn more. - Diane Gobin, visitor services associate
Ashland DNR Service Center area
Iron County - Iron County hunters were happy to see an increase in deer this year. A lot of hunters stated that they saw doe with two fawns, suggesting that does had an easy winter last year, the fawns survived predation of predators in the spring/summer months, and the herd is healthy. Hunters saw bucks on their trail cam coming in after hours and were happy to see that a few still were moving during the daytime resulting in the hunter filling his/her tag. Hunters also stated that deer started moving later in the nine-day. Since deer moved well during the bow season prior to the nine-day, some hunters wondered if this was because there was less bait on the ground, forcing deer to move more often and farther. Temperatures are dropping, ice is forming, and the salt is on the roads. Skiers, snowmobilers and businesses alike are itching for more snow here. Let's get the winter started! - Jenna Kosnicki, wildlife biologist, Mercer
Amnicon Falls State Park - Prior to this week's snowfall, snowshoe hares had been sticking out like a sore thumb at Amnicon Falls State Park. The park also had an unexpected visitor this week. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor
Park Falls DNR Service Center area
Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - The generally mild weather of the late fall period has kept most lakes and flowages free of any form of ice cover. A few of the smaller and shallower lakes have developed some skim ice in the last few days, but nothing is even close to thick enough for any kind of ice travel. Single-digit low temperatures are predicted for the next week and this may allow some good first-ice to form. Most early-season ice anglers wait for a solid 3 to 4 inches of ice before venturing out and that may be a week or so away yet. This month's words of advice - better safe than sorry! - Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls
Flambeau River State Forest - It seems like winter truly has set in and we are accumulating inches of snow and there is a light layer of ice on the. The Flambeau Hills Cross Country Ski Trail is being packed. It is not ready for use yet. There are approximately 4 inches of snow on the ground and there is more in the forecast. Snowmobile trails will open when there is enough snow to groom the trails. December is the Little Spirit Moon. Tracks from rabbits, squirrels, weasels, deer and elk are just a few of the animals roaming the forest. The deer and elk are feeding heavily to fatten up in preparation for the deep winter months. There are cow and calf groups with some of the young bulls. The big bulls are forming bachelor groups. Archery and crossbow deer season is open till Jan. 8, 2017. Snow levels allow for very good tracking conditions. Small game season is open till the end of February and ruffed grouse is open till the end of January. There are quite a few logging operations on the Forest right now. The weather forecast for this week is cloudy and chance of snow with colder temperatures - Diane Stowell, forestry technician advanced and visitor services associate
Peshtigo DNR Service Center area
Shawano County - In farmland deer units you could emphasize that the 4 day antlerless hunt is a prime opportunity to get youth and novice hunters out on the landscape to harvest an antlerless deer. There is no pressure to "go for the horns" and so people can focus on just providing for a successful hunt. This is also a chance for the Quality Deer Management folks to focus getting their herds in line with buck to doe ratios and maintain a healthy forest. Doe management is forest management! - Eric Roers, forester, Shawano
Green Bay DNR Service Center area
Brown County - Just a reminder to hunters that blaze orange is still required for the antlerless hunt and holiday hunt. Brown County is one of the Deer management units included in the holiday hunt . The only exceptions are waterfowl hunters - goose season is still open in the southern zone until December 21st. Validating carcass tags (write the date and circle AM/PM on the tag) for deer, bear, and turkey is still required immediately upon finding your animal, along with registration by 5pm the day after harvest. While hunting, practice the four rules of firearm safety: TABK - treat every firearm as if it were loaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction, be certain of your target and beyond, and keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to fire. - Ka Yeng Vue, conservation warden, Brown County
Wautoma DNR Service Center area
Waupaca County - There has been no fishing activity. So far there is no ice at all although that will change shorty as lows are approaching single digits for the weekend. There are 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground and conditions are excellent for deer hunting. Still plenty of geese around for those that like to hunt them. Not enough snow for silent sports just yet. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma
Area trappers have reported they are having difficulty enjoying their sport this year as the wet weather and high water have been tough this year. Due to low fur prices, there have not been a lot of trappers out, but a few are still trying. Walleye and crappie anglers are still enjoying good success on the Wolf River. Good catches have been reported from Lake Poygon to New London. There are a lot of bald eagles migrating through Central Wisconsin at this time. - Ted Dremel, conservation warden, Wautoma
Plymouth DNR Service Center area
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - The forest has received up to 2 inches of wet heavy snow - our first accumulation for the season. Warm temperatures will not allow any ski trail grooming at this time, and the snowmobile trails remain closed. The snow has made for slippery and muddy conditions, and we are asking horse riders and mountain bikers to stay off the trails until Thursday, Dec. 8 when freezing temperatures are expected to set in. The last deer-gun season will wrap-up Sunday, Dec. 11, and firearms will again be prohibited in Zillmer Trail area. Pheasant and turkey seasons close Dec. 31, squirrel closes Jan. 31, and rabbit season closes Feb. 28. Visitors might consider wearing brightly-colored clothing when venturing outside of the closed hunting areas. A limited number of blaze orange vests are available to borrow at the Ice Age Visitor Center. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate
Washington County - The last pheasant stocking for the year was done this week on Theresa, Allenton and Jackson Wildlife Areas. The floating boat ramps on each side of the Theresa Marsh dam have been raised out of the water and the floating cattail barrier in front of the dam was removed in preparation for winter. The water level above the marsh dam is kept several inches below full pool over the winter months. Except for the main river channels and large water bodies, most area wetlands have begun to freeze over. A pair of bald eagles continues to hang around Theresa Marsh along Highway 28 west of Highway 41. Many of the geese, ducks, sandhill cranes and other migrant birds that were using the marsh have left on their winter migration, but a few birds remain. Deer hunters are encouraged to take advantage of the four-day antlerless only hunt that runs Dec 8-11 throughout our area. We encourage Washington County deer hunters to drop off their deer heads for CWD sampling at the self-service kiosk located at the Pike Lake DNR office. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford
Sturtevant DNR Service Center area
Racine County - On Lake Michigan this week we saw our first big rafts of divers, mostly mergansers. The fields are still free of snow enough especially by Lake Michigan to be of interest to geese. Staff have also been seeing many late exiting sandhill cranes this week and a couple large flocks of trumpeter swans with the coming of the colder weather. The ponds around here (1-5 acres) have just got their first full ice covering this morning; all the bigger lakes are still completely open. The pheasant stocking where our office is at Bong recreation area continues through next week. There's an opportunity to do some late season hunting here especially since the daily pass goes down in cost after they stop stocking. We have scattered snow cover that makes spotting some deer for late season bow hunting a little easier. - Trent Leaf, conservation biologist, Kansasville
Pheasant stocking at Richard Bong Recreation Area is coming to an end the weekend of Dec. 10. Stocking levels at Bong have been running at over 200 birds a day for the most of the season and hunter participation has been slightly ahead of 2015. By the end of November this year 6,337 hunting permits were sold compared to 6,276 in 2015. Once stocking ends the Bong hunting fee will drop to $5 a day thru the end of the pheasant season, Dec. 31. For questions about hunting at Richard Bong please call 262-878-5600. The week of Dec. 5 is also the last week pheasants will be stocked on public hunting grounds for this pheasant season. People may be noticing a flush of activity recently on the east side of Marsh Road on the Tichigan Wildlife Area. Timber crews have been working in the woodlands for the last week doing a tree thinning. The purpose of the cut is to open up the woods, creating space for the remaining trees to grow. Future work in the stand may include activities such as tree plantings, invasive plant management, and prescribed burns. Another timber cut is planned for the woodland area in the refuge sometime in the next year. If there are any questions about the timber harvest, please call Forester Mike Sieger at 262-594-6209 or Biologist Marty Johnson at 262-945-9461. - Marty Johnson, wildlife biologist, Sturtevant
Lower Wisconsin State Riverway - Weekly Riverway Video Report. River levels continue to be up, but have peaked at Muscoda and should be trending downward. Cold temperatures should have ice beginning to form on the riverway. - Mark Cupp, executive director Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board
Dodgeville DNR Service Center area
Wyalusing State Park -Campers have reported watching the bald eagles soaring over the Bluffs of the Mississippi River and Wisconsin River from their camp site. With the new snow fall, the breathtaking view from Point Look out has a broad view, of the bluffs of Wisconsin. Hikers have been enjoying the first snow fall, being able to see the wildlife (deer, rabbits, and squirrels) at a close range. Water levels remain above average. Fishing has been slow. Duck hunters report lots of duck and a very successful hunt. Ski trails currently have not been groomed.- Pam Dressler, visitor services associate
Fitchburg DNR Service Center area
Columbia County - Winter definitely came in with a bang. The 4-5 inches of snow received over the weekend has melted back considerably, but there is still snow sticking around. Turkeys have formed their winter flocks. This is the first time in 10 years that Mud Lake has not been iced over when we've done our last pheasant stocking of the year. With the cold temps predicted, that will probably change quickly. The marshes are not yet frozen, which will make chasing pheasants a wet affair. This latest cold front appears to have geese and cranes moving south, many flocks were spotted flying this morning. Good numbers of deer are being spotted at dusk feeding in the fields. Make sure you dress warm for this weekend's antlerless hunt - it's going to be cold! - Sara Kehrli, wildlife biologist, Poynette
Dane County - With the snowfall we have excellent conditions for the antlerless hunt. Cold temps will likely move deer to food sources and snow makes for easy scouting and great tracking conditions. Still some late season pheasant opportunities on stocked properties. Geese are just now starting to build in numbers in Southern Wisconsin. For those that brave the cold there are some great opportunities. The Christmas Bird Count is soon approaching! The snow has made some of the field birds (horned larks and longspurs) easier to find. Recent drives in the area have been turning up good numbers of raptors including harriers and short-eared owls reported from various locations around the state. - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg
La Crosse DNR Service Center area
Vernon County - Waterfowl viewing opportunities still abound along the Mississippi River. Bluebills, canvasbacks, mallards, coot, tundra swans, and pelicans remain in the area and can be viewed from numerous areas along STH 35, especially in the Lynxville area. Binoculars or a spotting scope will greatly improve viewing. Keep a sharp eye out for golden and bald eagles, gulls, and other birds using the open waters and shorelines. Waterfowl viewing will rapidly decrease as cold weather intensifies and open water becomes ice-covered. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua
Perrot State Park - The leaves have finally made their way off the trees so you can enjoy the amazing sandstone cliffs of the bluffs in the park. With the first winter winds come the tundra swans. Early migrators have been here a few weeks but the larger groups are beginning to arrive. If they don't settle into Trempealeau Bay you may see them at the adjacent Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge or down the river at Brownsville, MN. All hiking trails are open and in good condition. Hike up the West Brady's Bluff Trail and walk the new section of trail constructed this year by the WisCorps Trail Crew. We recently finished an extension of the wooden stairway system. If you are looking for a trail that doesn't lead you to the top of the bluffs, take our new Perrot Ridge trail extension from Perrot Post that takes you on a loop back towards the east entrance where you can connect to the Riverview trail to enjoy great views of the Mississippi River. Water levels along the Mississippi River and in Trempealeau Bay have returned to normal. The dock has been removed for the winter season. Some areas of the park are open to certain hunting opportunities. For more information, see hunting in Wisconsin State Parks. - Lois Larson, park manager
Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area
Buckhorn State Park - Some snow fell on Sunday but not enough to groom ski and snowshoe trails. When we have at least 6 inches of snow, trails will be groomed. Snowshoes will also be available at the park office to check out. Pets are not allowed on the groomed ski trails. Dog walkers can park at the boat launch or parking lot for sites 26-29 and walk the campground road as the gate is now closed. Mark your calendars for the First Day Hike on Jan. 1, 2017. Meet at the south picnic shelter to hike or snowshoe the central sands nature trail at 1pm. Snacks, hot chocolate and coffee available at the shelter after to warm up. - Heather Wolf, park manager