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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

April 2004

Readers Write

On Birch Bark
Pesky Woodpeckers
Questions Hunting Practices
Painting Bat Houses
UPDATE: Where Budget Cuts Hit

On Birch Bark

I've read and enjoyed Anita Carpenter's charming articles these many years and always found them entertaining and often enlightening. Still do, but I must take mild issue with your unfounded pity for birches, (Standing out from the crowd December 2003) the "fragile-looking tree with the thin bark" and its ability to "survive our long cold winters."

The "thin" bark is superficial, and the total bark layer is often considerable and, diameter for diameter, compares fairly well with many other tree species. The outer white bark can be up to 3/16-inch thick, but such thickness is rare and reserved for older-growth trees in northern climes. In Wisconsin, 1/8-inch is normal and I'd usually save such thickness for large mococks [containers] or even canoes.

In any case, the total bark covering is usually ½ – ¾ inches in mature trees in our area, which appears to be quite sufficient to survive our -25° weather of last week.

Regarding the question of "why white?" you might want to investigate local Indian legends which often cite the primeval birch that was unblemished white, but whose pride in its purity led ultimately to its being scratched by more common trees. These scars persist on birches to the present day.

Richard C. Schneider
Stevens Point

Readers may recall a 1995 piece by Professor Schneider on cutting and milling one's own wood and drying it in a homemade solar kiln.

Pesky Woodpeckers

I read in the December issue about the book "The Critter Control Handbook." I have a problem with a woodpecker that is making holes in the cedar wood siding on my house. I'm wondering if there is a solution to that problem.

Kenneth Sellnow

The woodpeckers may be hammering to sound out their territory, but this time of year are more often looking for food and grubs in your siding. Grooved siding is a great place for insects to lay their eggs or maybe the siding is getting older and a few bugs are holding out there. You have several options, but you need to break the woodpeckers' bad habits:

  1. Noise, owl decoys and streamers may scare the woodpeckers away.

  2. Apply wood stains or preservatives to make the siding less attractive sites for boring insects.

  3. Offer the woodpeckers a better source of food that is easier to get to. Some people have success by hanging a suet feeder on a tree near the area where the siding is damaged. The woodpeckers are drawn to that food source and may leave your siding alone if they become habituated to the suet which provides their energy needs for a lot less work. Try making one of the suet feeders we showed in the December issue or you can buy one for less than $10 at stores selling bird seed and other birding supplies.

  4. Contact your county extension office and ask for appropriate publications. "Controlling Woodpecker Damage" by Extension Wildlife Specialist Scott Craven (Publication G3117) will surely help you set strategies.

  5. Consider products you can spray on the siding that make it less attractive to both birds and insects. Woodpeckers don't like a sticky product called Tanglefoot. The problem is that that product may stain or discolor your siding, which would not be an improvement.

  6. As a last resort, some people try spraying the affected areas of siding with an insecticide that kills the bugs the woodpeckers are seeking. The drawback here is that you don't know what else you might be harming in the process. We surely do not recommend this as a first alternative.

Questions Hunting Practices

Having just finished reading the letters in the last issue, I feel forced to write a magazine for the first time in 62 years.

I've heard every reason to justify [continued hunts like doves]. I'm at a loss to come up with explanations to excuse behavior that hinges on the taking of lives as a means of having good life experiences, meeting with family and friends, or coming to know and enjoy nature. If you are suffering from lack of human contact, I suggest visits, play cards, use the telephone, join a club or volunteer in your town or village. Want to learn about nature? Read books, go to lectures, watch the Animal Planet Channel or go out into nature with cameras and binoculars.

If you just have to fire a gun, shoot at cans or join a gun club. To those who truly need to hunt to feed your families because of real poverty, this doesn't apply to you.

Gail Hathaway

Hunts and hunting remain a vital, legitimate activity that provides millions of enjoyable hours afield in Wisconsin. The combined challenges of the hunt, honing outdoor skills, the joy of camaraderie, exercise, the opportunity for outdoor observation, the change of pace from everyday chores and the added bonus of wild foods that can only be acquired through hunting and gathering all contribute to a rewarding experience. Certainly some of these same feelings could be satisfied in other ways, but that does not lessen the value of these opportunities.

Painting Bat Houses

I intend to build two bat houses after reading the December issue (Habitat at Home) that provided building instructions. I intend to put them on the south end of our barn, which is painted white. If I stain the inside of the bat house dark as recommended, can I paint the outside white to match the barn?

Theodore A. Waak

It's sure worth a try. We suspect that placing the bat house on a south wall with southern exposure will help it warm up. Given that bats prefer their quarters quite warm, most bat house designs recommend darker paints and stains so the houses heat up more quickly and stay warmer during the evening.

Update: Where Budget Cuts Hit

The state's budget shortfall forced the Department of Natural Resources to cut more than 20 positions last fall. The next round of layoffs could total almost 100 positions. Many of these cuts were targeted for DNR administrative and technology positions and will hit especially hard in positions supporting field staff, activities and computer technology services.

DNR Secretary Scott Hassett listed several areas of future emphasis, including environmental restoration of rivers, dam removals and groundwater protection.

"We have a program for the future of fishing and hunting, and I don't want that to take a back seat," Hassett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in late January. "By the same token, we have to recognize changing demographics in the state and other resource users – whether it is backpackers, people using trails or birders – they are potential sources of funding. We've got to start reaching out and working with more organizations that can help with funding."

The DNR noted where cuts would come in areas more visible to the public. Chief Warden Randy Stark noted that although 2004 marks the 125th anniversary of the warden service, field wardens are operating with budgets that are down 24 percent from 1995 levels. Budget reductions reduced the warden force by five wardens and four enforcement support positions. Another 16 warden vacancies will be held open and by January of 2005, there could be as many as 35 warden vacancies.

Tom Hauge, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Management said managers are operating with 16 vacancies and field managers have cut back about 70 percent in their operations budget. Hauge said DNR wildlife programs cut back all habitat improvement programs except those funded by special earmarked funds such as pheasant and waterfowl stamps.

Mike Staggs, DNR director of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection said fisheries had to cut programs that anglers will notice. "We had to reduce our fisheries budget by $1.7 million and eliminate eight fisheries positions," he said. The fisheries budget for angler education and outreach was reduced 25-50 percent, and cutbacks will reduce trout stocking on put-and-take streams by 25 percent, reduce musky fingerling production and cut walleye fingerling production. Staff will not be raising any bass or northern pike until some funding can be restored and will cut back on brook trout production for Lake Michigan and brown trout production for Lake Superior.