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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

June 2008

Readers Write

Senior fishing fees explained
Human intervention caused cormorant problem
Puffball enthusiast
Add Winneconne to eagle list
Praise for new license system premature

Senior fishing fees explained

I notice that one provision of the fishing regulations is that people born before 1927 do not require a license. When I first saw this, I assumed that it was a moving date that meant that people of a certain age did not require a license. Now after watching it for several years, I realize that it appears to be a fixed date. My conclusion is that this is some sort of "grandfather" clause that may relate to the fact that the licensing regulation came into being in 1927 and that people who were alive then didn't need licenses. Do you know the history and purpose of this regulation?

Herb Gaede

DNR's Tim Simonson, fisheries and lake sampling coordinator, provided the following explanation: Mr.Gaede is correct, 1927 is not a rolling date. Up through 1991, all residents over the age of 65 were exempt from purchasing a fishing license. Effective with the 1992 fishing season, the legislature removed that exemption from state law, meaning that everyone 16 years and older was required to purchase a fishing license. The 1927 date "grandfathered" all those anglers who were 65 and older in 1992 from the license exemption. Concurrently in 1992, a $5 senior citizen fishing license was established for persons 65 and older. In 1995, that license was combined with 16 and 17 year old anglers and re-named the "reduced-rate fishing license," which is $7 today, versus $20 for the regular resident fishing license. The current law states: "No fishing license is required for any resident born before January 1, 1927, to fish subject to all other provisions of law."

Human intervention caused cormorant problem

The article on cormorants (Cormorant conundrum, February 2008) was informative, but only to a point. I am well aware of the concerns that an "overpopulation" of a species, cormorants or other species, can bring about to the natural environment.

The article outlined the decline of these voracious predators from the 1950s-1970s, and the "help" they received from well-intentioned wildlife managers to recover to population numbers that have now maxed out certain breeding areas. Now, wildlife managers feel the need to diminish the breeding population, as was made clear in the article.

My questions are these: How was the initial determination to erect 1,269 artificial nesting platforms arrived at? Was a 5-, 10-, 20-year population growth calculated? How many birds can an area cover or a bay handle? I'm sure several other population questions are evident to your astute readers. Now that the numbers are deemed excessive again, human intervention is again called for. My suggestion requires less intervention: let nature set the pace for population growth cycles instead of feel-good, budget-minded bureaucrats. Why not gather up some "excessive" coyotes and reintroduce them to the areas in question, or perhaps bobcats or skunks? Then back off and figure out what to do with all of it in 10-20 years.

This type of problem has similarities with the "excess" seal populations on the East Coast and on the Pacific Coast.

Patrick Mehr
Old Town, Fla. and Charlotte, Maine

DNR regional wildlife team leader Jeff Pritzl responded: Artificial platforms were developed to provide stable nesting habitat at a time when Wisconsin had very few cormorants. When cormorants nest in dying trees, the trunks typically fall over and these colonial birds then nest on the ground next to the fallen trees. At the time, the ground underneath these dead trees was not stable and was not conducive for ground nesting. The platforms maintained the nesting habitat that allowed several small colonies to remain.

That was not the reason for the tremendous population growth of cormorants on the Great Lakes as a whole or for cormorant concentrations on a few secluded islands in Green Bay and off the Door County coast. Cormorants are simply responding to habitat and forage that are available. They seek out relatively small islands that do not support potential predators, like raccoons, near areas where fish populations are abundant enough to support their needs and feed their chicks. Five Lake Michigan island colonies in Wisconsin support between 2,000 and 4,000 nesting pairs each. Inland colonies tend to have only dozens to a few hundred nests. On our largest inland lake,Winnebago, two relatively new colonies have quickly grown to over 500 and 1,100 nesting pairs.

You ask why in places where concentrations are now deemed excessive, DNR does not just allow nature to set the pace for population growth cycles. In most inland waters that is exactly what we do, but the cormorant population growth in portions of Green Bay and Door County are not exactly "natural." The growth is caused by human introduced factors to the ecosystem like the abundant exotic forage fish (alewives and round gobies, among others) in the Great Lakes or catfish aquaculture in southern states that are also near the cormorants wintering grounds. The tremendous increase in cormorant nesting effort has drastically changed some unique island plant communities to the detriment of other wildlife that depended on them. That raised concerns for commercial fishers and recreational anglers about the volume of fish eaten by cormorants.

You also asked why we don't just introduce predators like coyotes, bobcats or skunks to the islands where cormorant populations are growing and let these predator/prey populations settle out over a few decades. The small size of the islands where colonies exist would not support mammalian predators for an extended period. And it may prove devastating to other species nesting on these islands. Not to mention it would be inhumane treatment toward the predators that would likely perish themselves for lack of food after the birds left. Colonial waterbirds often abandon a site due to predator disturbance. This would not result in controlling cormorant numbers; it would just move them to another location. Further, predators would not have a regular means of coming to or leaving these small islands. This might set the stage for wholesale cormorant decimation rather than more measured population destruction. This kind of stress would lead cormorants to leave the nesting colonies and disperse to other new areas, which is exactly what managers want to avoid.

Puffball enthusiast

My husband, Norm, and I live in Kettle Heights Village, part of a retirement residential and rehabilitation facility nestled into the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin, near the shores of Big Cedar Lake. It's a wonderful place to live if one truly enjoys Wisconsin's outdoor environment and wildlife. I've been writing brief articles for the Cedar Citizen, our monthly community publication, for about five years. During that time I've especially enjoyed reading your magazine and found it to be a great resource for my column. I have suggested gift subscriptions for shut-in nature lovers. Anita Carpenter's articles have informed and inspired me to a great extent, and I've probably quoted them more frequently than others. I really enjoyed Smoke from a bald giant (October 2007) partly because I sensed Anita's enthusiasm and even more, because I have had that same excitement every year since we found puffballs growing in profusion here in our wooded kettles and moraines. I'd like to invite Anita to come visit us here at Cedar Community and enjoy a tour of our lovely natural environment.

Doris J. Alff
West Bend

Add Winneconne to eagle list

I just finished reading the story about the recovery of eagles here in Wisconsin (Bald and beautiful, December 2007). On page 9 there is an inset story and map showing places where eagles can be observed easily. I would like to add Winneconne to that list. On the Wolf River between Lakes Poygan and Butte des Morts, Winneconne has been a winter home to many bald eagles over the past several seasons. They can be seen soaring over the river regularly in search of food, primarily the plentiful fish in the Wolf River and surrounding lakes. As a person in my mid- 50's, I too remember the years when birds of prey were almost nonexistent and rejoice in their spectacular comeback. Hopefully, we and the generations to come will not take them for granted ever again.

Ken Mueller

Praise for new license system premature

I've been a Conservation Patron for a number of years, and receive Wisconsin Natural Resources as part of my license. While I often enjoy the variety of the articles printed, consistently I enjoy the "Readers Write" portion. When the April 2008 issue arrived, I did my usual flip through, but was particularly interested in seeing what the readers had to say concerning the February issue. I expected License to Thrill had brought some feedback. It all sounded good, but let's face it, there have been considerable problems in the licensing system in recent years. Examples abound, but in just the weeks since the article was published there have been issues. The "new and improved" touch screen license sales system was inoperable for nearly a week at the retailer at which I purchased my patron's license. The bonus turkey tag sale was a disaster (again). I expect budget issues and outsourcing are among the problems. I also expect there are many good people doing many good things. All the same, I believe it was premature to print an article such as License to Thrill. Private sector organizations certainly would not be content with the level of service we've grown accustomed to. Statements such as "Our customers are going to love this system because it allows them to do business with us much more quickly" sound silly considering the reality of people waiting hours and days for the system to work. I can't imagine I'm the only one who found License to Thrill to be a bit off the mark.

Rob Kessen

We acknowledge, Rob, that the licensing systems have had some glitches but assure you that the folks who design these systems spend a lot of time building and testing the systems for many months before they bring them online. They try to anticipate problem areas and test the equipment and supplies. They also train the licensing agents on how to use new equipment and procedures. Customer service staff were every bit as frustrated with problems that caused several hour delays during the initial shakedown period, and we are truly sorry that our customers suffered lost time and aggravation in purchasing extra turkey permits. At the start of the day they were handling less than 1,000 transactions an hour statewide and by the end of the day that had improved to better than 3,000 transactions an hour, but that sure does not make a customer feel better who has been waiting online for two hours just to buy a permit.

On the whole, automation has enabled DNR to offer our customers many more opportunities to buy the permits and licenses they need to get outdoors much more quickly. The public no longer has to make the trip to a DNR station to get many of the licenses. They can get them at more than 1,500 licensing outlets, online at home or even over the phone when they are traveling to their recreational destination. Customer service staff is available from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. seven days a week to answer questions in three languages – a big improvement over the past when customers had to come to our offices between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday to do business with us. We're grateful that you invest in the Conservation Patron program, and we will continue to try to make that a rewarding experience in as many ways as we can.