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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

October 1999

warden logo. 25095 Bytes

Partners in crime-busting
and conservation

From tracking walleye poachers to planting prairies, wardens get a lot of help from everyday people who care about protecting Wisconsin's natural resources.

They never lose the urge
A patrol like their own
Win-win partnerships
A team effort
A fair solution
Table of Contents

Editor's note: The eyes, ears and spirit of the warden service extend far beyond the men and women who suit up in gray. Outdoor safety instructors, sporting groups, law enforcement dispatchers and vocational education teachers all help instill outdoor values, ethics and safe enjoyment afield. Building partnerships has always been an important part of being a warden, but new wardens are increasingly being trained in how to work with groups to solve natural resource problems. Here are some examples of these partnerships.

They never lose the urge

One of the most spectacular aquatic migrations in the nation happens every spring in northeastern Wisconsin, when walleyes run from Lake Winnebago into the Fox and Wolf rivers. Some fish swim as far as 100 miles to spawn in flooded grass marshes. Strong year classes of fish coupled with efforts by conservation groups and government to restore habitat helped these spawning populations grow to more than a million fish in the 1990s – a big change from the low productivity that plagued the Winnebago system in the late 1980s.

The Lake Winnebago fishery has an open season year round, and the news that fishing was on the rebound increased the number of anglers trying their luck during the spring spawning run.

Retired wardens lend a hand in the field to protect walleyes during migration.
© Robert Queen
Retired wardens lend a hand in the field to protect walleyes during migration. © Robert Queen

In 1996 conservation wardens documented many cases of overbagging during the peak of the run. The limited number of wardens couldn't possibly check all the anglers. Moreover, boat-by-boat checking was not gathering the information needed to enforce fishing laws. Surveillance showed that anglers rarely had more than their daily bag limit on board, but would give fish to other boats or leave with a bag limit and return later to continue fishing, a practice known as "double tripping." So wardens began to fish covertly among the crowd and document violations. This change in tactics was effective, but needed to be expanded to really work.

DNR wardens and representatives from Walleyes For Tomorrow (WFT) talked about how they could solve the staffing shortage. One idea that surfaced was enlisting help from retired wardens. These seasoned officers had years of experience detecting violations, they were available, and they were very eager to protect the walleye fishery.

WFT's executive board agreed to pay for the retired wardens' food, personal mileage and any incidental costs. The retirees would stay at a state-owned bunkhouse on the Wolf River Bottoms Wildlife Area and they would bring their own boats and fishing equipment.

At the same time, WFT developed a "report card" that anglers could easily complete to record observations about violations. The back of the card listed the names and phone numbers of the wardens stationed along the river. Anglers were encouraged to contact the wardens if they witnessed foul play.

To launch the efforts, WFT publicized the retired warden patrol and the report card to its members, and informed the public through numerous articles in the local papers.

The program began in April 1997 and ran about two weeks. It's also ran in 1998 and 1999.

It's hard to judge by looking at citations alone how effectively the campaign snared violators. The spring of 1997 was cold, lasted longer and walleyes did not return from the spawning flats in large schools as they had in 1996. While anglers caught limits of fish in 1997, it often took them several hours to do so; in 1996 many anglers caught a five-walleye limit in 30 minutes.

"Double tripping" still occurred in 1997, but was less evident than the previous year. Two retired wardens gathered enough information to issue a citation to one outfit that the DNR had been attempting to apprehend for several years. And having retired wardens on the water surely deterred anglers from breaking the law. As one of the retirees overheard an angler say: "You don't know which one of these old _____ is a warden!"

It was easy to build a core of regular volunteers among the retired wardens. They got to go on a great fishing trip with paid room and board, see old friends again, and bust some "bad guys." You can take the warden out of the field but you'll never get the field out of the warden. – Carl J. Mesman, warden supervisor, Wautoma

A patrol like their own

As a growing number of people choose personal watercraft (PWC) to jet across the water, conflicts arise with other boaters and people on shore.

In the Green Bay area, PWC complaints, arrests and accidents have increased significantly in the past five years. To address the problem, wardens and local patrols have stepped-up on-water enforcement in areas with high weekend boat traffic. Staff from the DNR, the Brown County Sheriff's Dept., and the U.S. Coast Guard work on our team.

PWC retailers assist wardens in safety education programs and law enforcement efforts.
© Christopher Hujanen
PWC retailers assist wardens in safety education programs and law enforcement efforts. © Christopher Hujanen

We discovered that enforcement alone did not correct on-water behavior or safety. Whenever our patrol boats showed up at a launch, PWC riders would move toward shore and get lost in the crowd of other boaters.

In 1997, I contacted Simonar Sports, a watercraft dealership. The company gladly loaned us SeaDoos to train officers and start a safety education program. The machines allowed us to blend in with PWC riders, so that we could signal to wardens in support patrol boats to cite riders when we observed illegal behavior. Public reaction to the water bike patrols was overwhelmingly positive. Both boaters and other PWC operators said they were glad to see us, including some PWC operators who were issued citations. I guess it legitimized their activity.

Last year the partnership expanded to include another dealership, Ken's Sports, Inc./Kawasaki PWC. Patrols are supplemented with TV presentations and five PWC safety classes in the region. Since then, three other DNR regions have started similar partnerships with area PWC dealers. These programs make PWC dealers important partners in publicizing safety classes, training new users, showing respect for other lake users and promoting safe, responsible use of these fast, maneuverable craft. – Roger Hanson, Brown County warden.

Win-win partnerships

Fishing sites along the lower Menominee River between Marinette, Wis. and Menominee, Mich. were littered with fishing line, plastic bait containers, beverage containers and fast-food wrappers. Cans usually disappeared and were recycled, but fishing line was entangling waterfowl that frequent the river.

Wardens couldn't keep up with litter patrols and the $147.50 citations to litterers caught in the act were not a big deterrent in a litter-strewn area. I thought of ways to place a value on fishing trash. I considered working with local bait shops to place a deposit on line and containers. That would raise retail costs in town and locals noted that much of the trash came from anglers who were outside of the local area.

By returning bait containers and fishing line to participating businesses, suitable containers could be reused and the people bringing them in would be potential customers. Those returning items would receive a raffle ticket to win prizes. Local businesses acted as collection points and put up prizes purchased by the Marinette-Menominee Chapter of the Great Lakes Sport Fisherman

Partners help keep the Menominee River clean. © DNR Photo
Partners help keep the Menominee River clean. © DNR Photo

Participating businesses got ad space on posters that were hung up along the project area along the Lower Menominee River and the west shore of Green Bay from Cedar River, Mich. to the mouth of the Peshtigo River up to the Peshtigo Dam.

I constructed canisters for each business to dispense and collect the raffle tickets for the monthly drawings. Prizes ranged from bait to gift certificates, clothing, tackle boxes, fishing rods, nets and lures. The grand prize was a half-day guided fishing trip.

In 1997, the program ran from July – October involving five businesses; 562 items were returned from the lower Menominee River. In 1998, the program expanded from April to October and included the west shore of Green Bay and the Peshtigo River. Nine businesses participated and 2,274 items were returned.

The partnership of the two communities, the sportfishing group, local businesses, anglers, boaters and visitors kept the shoreline cleaner and reduced the incidences of entangled waterfowl. Moreover, participating businesses are associated with a community service and have a means to draw-in new customers. The Great Lakes Sport Fishermen were lauded for sponsoring an effective program. The public had a cleaner place to fish and the environment is less littered. – Steve Daye, Marinette County warden.

A team effort

Over the years I've been stationed in Juneau County, sportsman's clubs and landowners have been ready partners in efforts to restore wildlife populations, enhance wild habitat and teach outdoor safety. The New Lisbon Sports Club and Outdoors Forever Conservation Club bought, raised, and released countless wild ring-necked pheasants here. Outdoors Forever bought and manages 320 acres of land for wildlife and outdoor recreation. Our partnership enrolled 80 acres in the Managed Forest Law Program, planted 36 acres of prairie grass in the CRP Buffer Strip Program, planted 10 acres of switchgrass and convinced various high school wildlife classes to plant 7,000 trees and shrubs.

An annual "Conservation Field Day" hosted on the Outdoors Forever Club property gives me a chance to work with the Mauston FFA and Outdoors Forever to reach every fifth grader in the Mauston School District. Professional foresters, fire rangers, wardens, soil scientists, local trappers and UW-Extension agents set up stations students can visit to learn how wild resources are managed.

We also present annual awards to a Juneau County citizen whose actions improved outdoor resources and a second award to a county landowner who has improved wildlife habitat on his or her property. We're especially proud of the Carl Nelson Trust Fund which underwrote purchasing 165 acres along the Lemonweir River that will be managed for wildlife and open to the public. – Warden Tom Jodarski, Mauston

A fair solution

In the early 1990s, the conservation wardens in the Jackson County area faced two minor, but frustrating problems. First, wardens lacked adequate storage space for equipment. Second, the very busy County Fair lacked adequate display space for DNR personnel. Wardens responded to the challenge by developing partnerships with the Jackson County Board, Jackson County Forestry and Parks, the City of Black River Fall, Black River Log Homes, Lunda Construction, Jackson County Wildlife, Black River Falls City Electric, Johnson Construction, Wallace Woodstock Nursery, and The Wisconsin Conservation Corp (WCC).

To supply the raw materials for the buildings, 50,000 board feet of mature white pine were harvested from the Jackson County Forest and hauled to Black River Log Homes. In return for these logs, Black River Log Homes supplied milled logs and a construction crew leader. A skilled WCC crew used these logs to erect our first education/storage log building. The building stands 30 feet by 33 feet located in the middle of the Jackson County Fairgrounds.

During the 1997 and 1998 county fair, this building housed education displays from law enforcement, fire control, wildlife, fisheries and forestry. The remainder of the year, the building is used for safety education programs and for storing the local warden's equipment.

This original project spawned two similar projects built in the summer of 1998. One in Monroe County, using logs from their county forest and milled logs from Meadow Valley Log Homes. Thanks to The City of Tomah, this building now sits at the front gate of the Monroe County Fairgrounds. The second building in Clark County used logs from their county forest and milled logs from Black River Log Homes. This building, made possible in large part due to Mark Heil, Clark County Forest Administrator, and many others, now sits at the front gate of the Clark County Fairgrounds.

Displays during these fairs include local "Wall of Shame" mounts, a 155-gallon fish tank, furs, educational computer games, fire control games, Smokey Bear, fish, wildlife, and forestry displays. Each year we expand our displays even further. Stop and visit us if you are in the area next summer! – Ron Cork, warden supervisor, Black River Falls.