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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

February 2004

Readers Write

Lion's Den Gorge
Squirrel Hunting Views
A Tangled Tale
Black Squirrel Anomaly
More Than One Way to Skin a Squirrel
Thanks to Respectful Hunter
Another View of Fishers

Lion's Den Gorge

I read with great interest the October article mentioning Lion's Den Gorge in Ozaukee Co.

Over 30 years ago, while teaching in Grafton and acting as Scoutmaster of Troop 40, we used the property for a camping site and classroom instruction. We spent hours photographing wildflowers and observing bird life in the den. I was well aware of its diverse potential. I wrote letters, sent pictures and made phone calls to the DNR, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, the Ozaukee County Parks Department, the Sierra Club and the Southeast Regional Planning Commission, trying to get someone to realize the need to protect and preserve this natural Wisconsin gem. My efforts were in vain. Sometimes my letters were not even answered.

To say the least, I was highly disappointed at the lack of interest and the bureaucratic indifference. Thank God someone finally woke up before it was too late and began moving toward what I had suggested so many years ago.

The Lions Den is well worth preserving with its huge cedar trees, clear marl stream and assorted fauna and flora. There is also evidence of an underground water passageway throughout the park. Because of its wild and primitive aspect, I hope the powers that be will see fit to keep the den in an undisturbed, pristine and natural state. This property deserves the best we can offer it, as a monument to the earlier years of a wild and beautiful land.

Don W. Carter

Squirrel Hunting Views

Sure enjoyed Mary Kay Salwey's story about squirrel hunting (The Taste of Autumn, October 2003, p. 11-16). It reminded me of all the times my partner and I used to harvest squirrels in the Sheboygan Falls area when I was a teenager. And it felt good to help put Sunday dinner on the table now and then.

Fred Beisser
Parker, Colo.

I would like to congratulate Mary Kay Salwey on her wonderful article on hunting squirrels. It was much better than another article on baiting deer (The Bait Debate, December 1999, p. 4-9). In my opinion, hunting squirrel requires more skill than hunting over a corn pile. Hunting using four-wheelers, cell phones, mechanical duck decoys and baiting is a disgrace and should be outlawed. These methods add ammunition for anti-hunters to use against us.

If anyone wants a challenge, try photographing wildlife in the wild, not at a game farm. This is many times harder than any type of hunting.

Herbert J. Lange
Hazel Green

I truly enjoyed the article on squirrel hunting in the October issue. My son completed hunter safety last fall and squirrel hunting gives us time to spend together in the Wisconsin woods. I was worried about how to skin and prepare the squirrel when we got one. But that article made my worries disappear. The skinning technique described is easy, quick, and really works! Now that we have some squirrels in the freezer I'll be trying the recipe soon. How about a similar article on rabbit hunting?

Bob Gionet

Bob, we've carried three stories on rabbit hunting and the first one included some recipes (Rabbit hunting revival, February 1995). The second, (Adolescents, beagles and cottontails, February 2003) focused on teaching youngsters the pleasures of hunting with a good dog. The third, The digging out of Nip, February 1998, was a holiday tale of a young beagle who was rescued after he followed a rabbit right down a hole!

Bob's letter got us thinking that our readers harbor a wealth of knowledge of how-to basics of hunting raccoons, ruffed grouse or woodcock, to mention a few. If you would like to share some of your tips with our readers, please write us at Readers Write.

A Tangled Tale

Gray squirrels love to visit our back yard because we feed and enjoy their antics, so I built a "home" for them and fastened it to the trunk of a large pine tree. It was made of half-inch plywood, approximately 12 – by 12 – by 18 – high, with a hinged roof and a hole near the top. I put a shelf below, to make it convenient for entering and leaving. A mother squirrel decided to raise her young in it. All went well until one day, at the bottom of the tree, there was a clump of baby squirrels squealing and biting each other. A closer look revealed that their tails were tangled and tied together. I covered them with a towel and untangled them while my wife kept the mother squirrel at bay. We have noticed that some squirrels have short tails. Have these squirrels had this problem and have they gnawed their tails to get free?

Ort Henning

Our wildlife staff had neither seen nor read of such tangled tails.

Black Squirrel Anomaly?

I just finished reading the article about squirrels in the October issue and was wondering why the black squirrel wasn't mentioned. We have a cabin in northern Wisconsin southwest of Minocqua and on our way going through the trails in the woods, we see small squirrels about the size of a fox squirrel, but all black. In the past four years we have only seen about four or five of them. I was wondering if there was more information about them.

Ben Darkow

The black squirrel is actually a color phase of the eastern gray squirrel. The scientific term to describe an individual of a species with black pigmentation is melanism. While not considered abundant anywhere, they are more common in northern Wisconsin than in the south. One exception seems to be in Reedsburg, where they are reportedly more abundant than the gray phase. Reedsburg is one of five cities nationwide recently featured in the Detroit News with a predominant population of black squirrels. Several theories explain the reasons black squirrels are more prevalent in some places than in others. One theory concludes that they are more abundant in northern climates because their black fur more readily absorbs the sun's rays, making them better able to survive cold winters.

More Than One Way to Skin a Squirrel

I have been getting your magazine a good many years and enjoy it much. After seeing your article on how to skin a squirrel, I thought I'd write and tell you how I have helped train my grandson to do it after arthritis in my shoulders prevented me from helping too much. He got the idea of using the vise that is fastened down in his grandpa's tin shed. He uses the vise to hold the head steady, then with a pair of fisherman's pinchers, proceeds as your article described. When he gets the back half done, he turns the squirrel around and pulls the other half of the skin off. Then, if I am there to help, I usually do the gutting and remove the rest of the skin.

I hope you can pass this information on to other handicapped hunters as it may help make them more independent and they can enjoy hunting even more.

Keith Rakow and his Grandma, Elizabeth Rakow

Thanks to Respectful Hunter

Dawn crept across Palmer Lake toward the shoreline bringing another new day to this pristine Wisconsin wilderness lake. After my morning prayers for our American troops overseas, I spotted the duck hunter's decoys shimmering white in the new day's light.

I stepped outside briefly to refill one of five bird feeders and felt the biting cold chill my bones. I couldn't imagine how that duck hunter in the duck skiff could sit there in the frigid wind. Returning to my window table and a fresh cup of coffee, I focused my attention on the hunter braving the weather hoping for an unsuspecting flock of ducks. That's when I saw the white trumpeter swan floating about behind the weed bed!

I quickly called my neighbor lady who awaits the swan's return each year and alerted her. I wondered what the hunter would do when he or she saw this majestic bird. The trumpeter sat its ground, scouting the territory for a safe zone and peace.

Then the hunter moved and the skiff headed to the decoys. When he began picking them up, I could feel a heartwarming moment of joy, the first rush of joy I've humanly felt since the Vietnam War grabbed hold of my soul. I awaited the hunter's landing to thank him for respecting the swan's presence. Al Winiecki declined hot coffee and breakfast but told me he shared words with the majestic bird hoping he could convince it to stay. Al headed back to Green Bay, but before he left, he showed me his camera in his vehicle back at the landing. He had forgotten to take it to his duck blind. The memorable moment was captured just the same in his heart and mind forever, and in mine.

To all the Al Winieckis in this world, thank you for respecting and honoring our Wisconsin and federal protected wildlife.

Phil G. Smith
Palmer Lake

Another View of Fishers

I enjoyed your article on fishers in the August 2003 issue (A long journey for the night hunter). Unfortunately, there is another side to the fisher story.

Their introduction was a success. They were introduced into forests with ever-changing populations of prey species. With only minor, regulated interference from trappers, fishers moved through the forest like a vacuum cleaner. Where they lived, the forest looked normal, but prey species of all kinds disappeared and other predators like fox and coyotes left for lack of food.

Manuals tell us the fishers are a tree species that hunts at night, but that's not exactly true. Probably due to overpopulation they are abroad all day and only in trees when chasing other "tree" species.

As a result of overcrowding their natural habitat, they invaded urban areas and can be seen crossing streets within a few blocks of Main Street in some northern Wisconsin cities. Domestic cats and dogs disappear. In one instance a fisher invaded a kennel next to a home and so severely wounded a springer spaniel that the dog had to be euthanized.

Fishers are creatures of the forest that, in the natural order of things, would work like lightning-caused wildfires – they would clear and "purify" large sections of the forest for renewal. In the past, natural predators like wolves kept the fishers under control. Fishers disappeared from Wisconsin because they were suckers for a trap. Perhaps we should use that tool more vigorously to contain them.

George F. Ellis, Sr.
Eagle River

John F. Olson, DNR Furbearers Specialist responds: "Mr. Ellis has eloquently expressed the views of some other residents of northern Wisconsin as well. Although fishers consume a wide variety of prey items, they also eat plants (vegetation, berries) and dead things (carrion). Having lived in northern Wisconsin all my life (with the exception of college), I too can relate to how things were before and after fishers were reintroduced. Our landscapes have changed and will continue to do so as human populations increase and natural succession continues. Through forest succession we're now losing thousands of acres of aspen forest, an important timber type for many wildlife species, especially woodcock, snowshoe hare and ruffed grouse. At the same time, northern hardwood forests are increasing and are valuable to such critters as the endangered pine marten and many forest canopy songbirds.

The fisher is but one of many species that dwells in our forested landscapes. Other northern arrivals? Raccoon populations have never been so high and along with striped skunks are some of our most efficient predators of ground-nesting species. Folks see fisher because they can be active during daylight hours as well as evenings, but their actual densities are quite low compared to such predators as raccoons, striped skunks, or even weasels. Ruffed grouse populations have always been cyclic with or without the presence of fishers.

Fishers disappeared due to a combination of significant events – a total loss of habitat through uncontrolled logging of our vast pineries, and uncontrolled take through shooting and trapping. European immigrants felt predators were a threat.

Today this native has returned as a result of careful, steadfast management by private owners and public land managers. Controlled trapping combined with hundreds of dedicated wardens assure harvest control and protection that society now desires. Through this balance and management, we are allowed to carefully use this species with an eye to maintaining a healthy, diverse natural landscape for this generation and many that will follow. Fishers are Wisconsin natives and are truly a wild species, nothing more, nothing less. Hopefully they will continue to be part of our wildlife legacy."


Beach Tests Appreciated

County and health officials gave a thumbs-up to the first year of uniform bacterial testing on beaches in Wisconsin coastal communities. Results showed generally good water quality, but identified some problem areas in Sheboygan, Kewaunee and Manitowoc counties. This last year Brown County beaches did not report a single instance when bacterial counts exceeded federal limits. The biggest surprise was in Manitowoc County, where bacterial levels spiked simultaneously at several public beaches leading to postings that advised against swimming on those days.

Holly Wirick, of US Environmental Protection Agency's Chicago office said Wisconsin was one of the first to implement beach water quality testing for an entire season.

DNR Water Toxicologist Toni Glymph is again working to secure federal grants to defray the costs of regular testing during the swimming season. This year's testing program was subsidized by a $225,670 federal grant. Glymph said the DNR would begin organizing new methods of notifying the public about shoreline beach conditions such as a daily telephone hotline for residents and tourists.

"We hope all the counties will participate next year and we hope the bumps we experienced this year will be eliminated," Glymph said at the October meeting summarizing the swimming season monitoring results.

Promising Perch Hatch

Results of perch survey hatches from last summer are promising, but DNR fisheries managers say it's too early to judge if Lake Michigan and Green Bay perch populations are rebounding.

Justine Hasz, DNR fisheries biologist stationed in Peshtigo, said that near perfect weather for the small number of spawning adults led to the bumper crop in 2003. "Spring water temperatures brought a slow, gradual warming that was just about perfect for survival of the eggs. We saw large numbers of fish come back to reproduce, and good egg survival."

However, Hasz cautioned that large numbers of young-of-year don't always generate large numbers of adults. Those fish that hatched this year have to survive their first winter, which she notes, represents another potential hurdle.

Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologists want to extend until June 30, 2006, current rules that limit the daily sport bag to 10, and the annual commercial harvest to 20,000 pounds, of yellow perch from Green Bay. Extending those protections would safeguard the remaining adults while increasing the odds that fish hatched in the last few years will reach maturity and help rebuild the struggling yellow perch population.

"We don't think the adult population is strong enough to return to the more liberal limits in place in 2000, so we are proposing to continue with the 10 daily limit and the 20,000 pound annual commercial harvest with a sunset clause," Hasz says. "This will protect the adult population and give the fish from the 2001, 2002, and 2003 year classes protection to allow them to reach spawning age."

Surveys suggest that Green Bay's yellow perch population had plummeted 90 percent between 1988 and 2000. The estimated total biomass of yellow perch in Green Bay dropped from nearly 10 million pounds in 1988 to less than a million pounds in 2000. DNR's trawling surveys this summer showed that the 2003 year class is much stronger than preceding classes. In fact, Hasz says, the class this year "is off the chart. We have not seen anything like this since we started sampling in 1978."

A Willingness to Change

A northern Wisconsin representative on DNR's shoreland regulations advisory committee said the agency had shown commitment to diverse opinions and had backed away from eliminating nonconforming homes. Eagle River attorney and Vilas County Supervisor Chip Nielsen made his remarks to the Oneida County Zoning Committee in mid-November.

Shoreland zoning codes had limited homeowners to repairing or adding to shoreland homes up to 50 percent of their assessed value. Under the new proposals which still need to be reviewed by the Natural Resources Board, at public hearings, by the legislature and by the governor, unlimited maintenance repairs would be allowed on homes and structures located within 35-50 feet of the water's edge. Current limits on new construction only allow building farther than 75 feet from the shoreline.

The proposal recognizes that these older homes have value for their owners and will likely be here for the foreseeable future, Nielsen said.