MADISON - Wisconsin's winter Free Fishing Weekend is a great time to discover the fun of ice fishing or introduce family and friends to this hard water recreation.
During the weekend of Jan. 21-22, residents and visitors anywhere in the state can take advantage of opportunities to check out free loaner equipment or just head out to a local fishing spot. Several special events, listed below, are also scheduled. No fishing license or Great Lakes salmon and trout stamp is needed to fish most Wisconsin waters. This includes inland waters and Wisconsin's side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River and other boundary waters; spring trout ponds are not open, however.
Other fishing rules apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish you can keep and any seasons when you must release certain fish species. Given recent warm temperatures and rain in many parts of the state this week, anglers are urged to use caution and stay safe using tips found below.
"Ice fishing is a great way to get outside during the winter and fish anywhere without a boat," said Theresa Stabo, fisheries outreach coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "We want to encourage everyone to have fun this weekend while also using common sense before heading out on the ice. We also would suggest that people check the Free Fishing Weekend website for possible event or schedule changes due to changing conditions."
Anglers urged to use caution as ice conditions vary from location to location
Following several days of unseasonably warm temperatures and rain, DNR staff members are recommending caution on state waters. Ice conditions vary across the state and can also vary on the same water body.
Anglers should err on the side of caution and never assume consistent ice throughout the waterbody. The best sources for information on ice conditions in your area are local bait shops and fishing organizations.
So, what can people expect if they decide to head out? Thanks to careful management by DNR and cooperation from numerous partners, fish populations are healthy statewide with abundant opportunities to catch northern pike, walleye, yellow perch and other species.
In the west central part of the state, Lake Eau Claire is a 1,360 acre impoundment of the Eau Claire River that features yellow perch, crappie and walleye. Joseph Gerbyshak, a DNR fisheries biologist based in Eau Claire, said the perch fishery is the "bread and butter" of the lake. Most anglers target perch in the old river channel in 10 to 15 feet of water with small jigs tipped with plastics or wax worms. The lake also has a strong walleye population, which can be targeted with tip-ups and small suckers.
Gerbyshak noted Otter Lake in Chippewa County also has been providing good opportunities for ice anglers thanks to its healthy populations of bluegill and walleye. Meanwhile, Glen Loch in Chippewa Falls will host an official Free Fishing Weekend event Jan. 21 from noon to 4 p.m. with access from the Ojibwa Golf & Bowl, 8140 136th St. For more information contact Ron Bakken at 715-723-7770.
John Kubisiak, a DNR fisheries supervisor based in Rhinelander, said anglers in the north may want to check out an event sponsored by Oneida County 4H and DNR at Perch Lake Park for school-age youth and their families. Ice fishing equipment and bait will be provided.
Perch Lake is stocked annually by DNR with rainbow trout. It also contains bluegill, yellow perch and largemouth bass, Kubisiak said. Anglers have been catching bluegill and trout jigging with spikes or wax worms while trout may also be caught on small minnows. For this event, anglers are asked to pre-register if possible. The contact is Lynn Feldman, Lynn.Feldman@ces.uwex.edu, 715-365-2750.
Other Free Fishing Weekend events include:
DNR tackle loaner sites have ice fishing gear that groups and individuals can use, although ice augers to drill the holes are limited. To learn more, visit dnr.wi.gov and search "Free Fishing Weekend." Additional tips to keep anglers safe on the ice can be found by searching: ice safety.
Keep fishing with Go Wild!
For novices who would like to continue the thrill of "hard water" fishing after Free Fishing Weekend, "first-time buyer" resident licenses are available for just $5. Fishing licenses can be purchased online through GoWild.wi.gov.
MADISON - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is kicking off an effort to look at recreational opportunities and needs across Wisconsin. The project, officially called a Recreation Opportunities Analysis, or ROA, aims to identify future recreational needs across the state, and the role of DNR lands in helping to meet those needs.
The ROA will rely on the same eight regions that the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan -- known as SCORP -- uses to evaluate outdoor recreation trends and issues. Recommendations resulting from the Analysis will then be used to help inform decision-making about use of DNR lands, including in future master planning efforts.
One element of the effort is to facilitate full implementation of 2013 legislation requiring that roads on department property be designated as open or closed for motorized use. However, motorized recreation is not the primary purpose of the project. The department is using this opportunity to work with the public to evaluate the full spectrum of recreational opportunities and demands commonly sought on DNR lands.
"Taking a holistic view at the statewide level while engaging stakeholders allows the department to better understand the current opportunities and existing conditions, and position ourselves to make more informed decisions regarding the gaps, demands and where to best place recreational infrastructure to meet statewide needs," said Diane Brusoe, DNR master planning supervisor.
Initial steps of the phased project include gathering data on existing recreational opportunities currently available to the public, and working with key statewide stakeholder groups in developing the process to engage regional and local user groups. The goal is to create a regional-based recreational opportunity analysis that is inclusive in design and holistic in approach.
Public involvement in this effort will be extremely important. Open house meetings and outreach by the DNR early this year to user groups and others with an interest in the recreational uses of public lands will provide key opportunities for public involvement and ultimately the success of the project.
For more information about the recreational opportunities analysis and to sign up to receive information about the project and learn how you can participate, visit dnr.wi.gov and search keyword "ROA."
For more information about the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, visit dnr.wi.gov and search "SCORP."
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 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.
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.
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.
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."
MADISON - Looking to make good on your new year's resolutions to get outside and get more exercise? Join in volunteer workdays at more than two dozen state natural areas to help care for and enjoy some of Wisconsin's most pristine public lands.
Morning workdays are held throughout the winter to cut brush and burn it at these sites, including four where new volunteer groups are forming or recently underway. New signup lists have been added for people interested in helping out at these sites in Crawford, Marquette, Pepin, and Winnebago counties.
"Winter is a great time to get some exercise helping care for the state natural areas that belong to you," says Jared Urban, who coordinates the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program for the Department of Natural Resources.
"We have some exciting opportunities to get involved coming up, including some newer sites in Marquette, Pepin and Winnebago counties and one brand new volunteer effort at the Hogback Prairies in Crawford County."
Volunteers need no training beforehand but are provided equipment and training on site to do the work. Winter work typically involves helping cut, pile and burn brush or scattering prairies seeds on snow. Typical workdays run from 9 a.m. to noon and allow for breaks and snacks are often provided.
Find a list of workdays and flyers on each event on the SNA Volunteer webpage. From that web page, people also may sign up to receive email notices for workdays at state natural areas in different parts of the state.
Since starting in 2011, the DNR State Natural Areas Volunteer Program has grown to include volunteer groups caring for more than two dozen sites statewide.
Sites with new volunteer groups seeking helping hands
Hogback Prairies State Natural Area in Crawford County is known for its striking geology, dry prairie, rare plants, and rare animals. With brushy plants overtaking the prairie and prescribed fire limited to protect two endangered butterflies, the regal fritillary and the Ottoe skipper, DNR land managers turned to goats to help control the shrubs. The goats are carefully monitored and rotated through paddocks on site. Such restoration work by goats and DNR crews have helped contribute to high regal fritillary populations there.
"Due to efforts by DNR crews in recent years the site quality is improving and the prairie is expanding, but invasive brush remains a threat and more hands are needed to remove it and encourage native plants to thrive," Urban says.
The next volunteer workdays are set for Jan. 23 and Jan. 27 from 9 a.m. to noon at the site. Sign up for the Driftless email alerts to learn of future workdays.
Observatory Hill State Natural Area in Marquette County is one of the boyhood haunts of John Muir, the famed naturalist who is considered the father of the national park system. The site features a 300-foot outcropping that's the highest point in Marquette County. The valleys and ridges radiating out from that point are being restored to the cedar glade and oak savanna landscape that Muir enjoyed exploring in the 1850s.
Volunteers started working on the site in 2016 to help remove invasive plants. Though the site does not yet have workdays listed in January or February, check back or sign up for the Central Sands email to get notices about coming events.
Oshkosh-Larsen Trail Prairies State Natural Area in Winnebago County features a series of three low prairie remnants along a 4-mile segment of a former railroad right-of-way. The prairie contains a diversity of native prairie species ranging from little blue-stem, Indian grass, prairie drop-seed, and prairie cord grass, to heath aster, shooting-star, sunflowers and blazing-star. Restoration efforts got a boost there after volunteers trained through the DNR Rare Plant Monitoring Program were asked to check for rare plants. They found a few of the plants but also alerted DNR about a prairie in dire need of attention. DNR was able to secure a federal grant and DNR crews conducted a prescribed burn to knock back the brush. Volunteers will continue brush removal at that site.
Sign up for the Upper Lake Michigan email to get notices about workdays for this site.
Maiden Rock Bluff State Natural Area in Pepin County is renowned for its mile-long bluff rising 400 feet above the Mississippi River, and for its nesting peregrine falcons, a bird of prey listed as endangered in Wisconsin. Efforts there have strengthened the rich prairie and oak savanna communities found there. Work has included removing cedar and buckthorn from hill prairies, establishing new fire breaks, planting prairie, and thinning around oak trees. Buckthorn, an invasive shrub, is a big problem at the natural area and volunteers have been working since 2015 help remove it. The Lower Chippewa River Alliance, Lower Chippewa Invasive Partnership, the Pepin County Land Conservation Department and DNR have worked together to get the volunteer group going.
Sign up for the West Central email to get notices about workdays for this site.
Workdays are scheduled at other sites in the state. Go to dnr.wi.gov and search "SNA volunteers" to reach the page where you'll find links to flyers for each of these events and where you can sign up to receive email notifications. Or contact Jared Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if there are volunteer groups near you looking for help.
MADISON -- The replacement of the U.S. Highway 63 bridge over the Mississippi River may result in the "incidental taking" of a rare mussel 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 Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation propose to replace the Highway 63 bridge crossing of the Mississippi River at Redwing, Minn. The project encompasses removing the existing bridge and replacing it with a new bridge. The new bridge will be located immediately upstream of the existing bridge. The purpose of the proposed project is to provide a structurally sound bridge crossing of the Mississippi River, continuity of Highway 63 between Minnesota and Wisconsin and create a more accessible roadway to Trenton Island for emergency service vehicles.
The project will impact mussels during removal of the existing bridge and construction of the new bridge. A mussel survey indicated the only state listed mussel species found live along the Wisconsin side of the river was the state threatened wartyback (Quadrula nodulata). DNR staff determined that the proposed project will result in the incidental taking of this species.
Department staff concluded that the proposed project is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence or recovery of this species within the state, the whole plant-animal community of which it is 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 Wartyback mussel are available by searching the DNR website for incidental take public notice or upon request from Lisie Kitchel at 508-266-5248 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Public comments will be taken through Feb. 8, 2017, and should be sent to Lisie Kitchel, Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation, PO Box 7921, Madison WI 53707-7921.
The Weekly News is updated every Tuesday at noon.
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