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Outdoor ReportPublished March 3, 2016

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View current conditions for Wisconsin State Parks, Trails and Forests
Check out the Wisconsin Department of Tourism (exit DNR).

For current statewide information on statewide snow conditions, log onto the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR).

While the relative "cold" spell over the past couple days may have given us a pause, spring is still right around the corner in Wisconsin. With temperatures well into the 50s last weekend, some of the more than 100 cross-country skiers in attendance at the Riverview Loppet at the Brule River State Forest were out in shorts and t-shirts. Snowmobile trails now remain open in just a few Northwoods counties, and those have seen heavy use, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR).

Skiers donned shorts and t-shirts for th 2016 Riverview Loppet at the Brule River State Forest
Some skiers donned shorts and t-shirts for the 2016 Riverview Loppet at the Brule River State Forest
Photo Credit: Edwin Koepp

Ice conditions have improved on most waters across the Northwoods and ice depths have been ranging from 12 to 16 inches. Strong winds have blown a lot of the snow from the surface, and cold nighttime temperatures have frozen many slush areas, greatly improving travel conditions. Fishing pressure spiked with the nicer weather and rapidly approaching closure of the general inland gamefish season this Sunday, March 6.. Walleye provided some fair action at times but with the changing weather, fishing for northern pike was real variable. Panfish action has been a hit or miss.

More than 50 boats were out open water fishing on the Fox River in Green Bay with some walleye being caught. Along Door County, areas to the north of Sturgeon Bay are seeing open water and ice shifting and cracking. Anglers fishing south of Murphy Park reported 12 inches of ice at the most remaining with pockets of open water and less ice. The shipping channel from Bay Ship to the lake is open and continues to lose ice at a steady pace with the warm weather. Anglers in the southern Lake Michigan counties are casting off the harbors. Variable catches of brown and steelhead are being reported.

Warmer weather brought an abrupt end to ice fishing activity along the east shore of Lake Winnebago. As a reminder all fishing shelters must be removed from inland waters south of Highway 64 by the end of the day Sunday. Many of the area fishing clubs removed their tree lines and pulled their bridges following the closure of the recently completed sturgeon spearing season, which came to a close on Sunday Feb. 28 after a maximum 16-day season. The season on the Upriver Lakes closed after just seven days. This year's harvest included 703 fish including 19 fish that were 100 pounds or larger. The largest fish of this season was a 147.9-pound, 77-inch fish speared from Lake Poygan on Monday Feb. 15.

March typically marks the beginning of northward bird migration. Over the next couple months, numerous bird species will migrate into and through Wisconsin as they travel to their breeding areas. This migration will slowly gain momentum and builds toward a climax that usually occurs in late April or early May. Luckily, the Mississippi River has quite a bit of open water for this time of year, providing excellent viewing opportunities for diving ducks including ringnecks, bluebills, buffleheads, and goldeneyes.

Elsewhere, on the ground, more and more mammals are emerging from the cold and beginning to forage, communicate and explore. Likewise, individuals trekking across our state's trails and natural areas are finding tracks and shed antlers.

Skunk cabbage is emerging and pussy willows have started to show some furry catkins in Dane County. In Columbia County the maple sap is running at the Mackenzie Center, where staff tapped trees for the first time last week and are expecting an excellent season.

Upcoming State Natural Area Workday

Get outside and cut up buckthorn at Bluff Creek SNA [PDF]. Come cure your cabin fever and help volunteers during our monthly Southern Kettle Moraine SNA workdays on the second Saturday. Enjoy a short hike, then help cut and pile brush, learn something, meet knowledgeable people, and enjoy the beauty of this fen area in the process. Buckthorn can spread and shade out rare fen plants at this site. If interested, please click on the link above for more information. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane


Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

Brule River State Forest - It was not your typical Nordic ski race day for those that participated in this year's Riverview Loppet. With temperatures well into the 50s this weekend, it was a wonder that nobody broke out their water skis to finish the race. There were more than 100 people in attendance. With such warm weather this past week and warm weather coming on the horizon, grooming has been difficult. Trails are icy and fast currently. Great-horned owls and ravens are currently nesting. Eagles are in the process of building nests and you will start to see more of them as we get further into spring. Wildlife typically become more active in spring, be on the lookout for deer and other wildlife when driving in the area. Visit keywords "car killed deer" for more information regarding steps to take if you are involved in a vehicle accident involving wildlife. - Edwin Koepp, visitor services associate

Hayward DNR Service Center area

Sawyer County - The thaw over the weekend coupled by cold temperatures have made travel on the area lakes much easier. Conditions went from better snowmobile travel to better ATV travel now. Winter area has not received any snowfall since the thaw so the snowmobile trails turned hard w/out much snow for slide lubrication. Some areas of the Tuscobia have the black gravel base showing for long stretches where the sun hits. Snowmobile/ATV/UTV operators are reminded that all have use of the trail in Sawyer County, even in the winter months. Caution should be exercised now that the trails may see an increased use of the ATV/UTVs with less snow on it. Individuals are taking advantage of the thaw and freeze by looking for shed antlers now as well. The woods walking is semi-good. There are spots you can stay on top of the snow crest for a distance, but then you fall through for several steps making it somewhat of struggle for any long distance walking. Areas getting sun and under pines are starting to show grass/ground now with longer days of sun. Fishing has been spotty on area lakes. Individuals fishing deeper weed lines are picking up a few northern and walleye. With better travel conditions, anglers are able to get to spots they couldn't access a couple weeks ago, which has improved some catches. Lake producing fish have been Lake Winter, Lake of the Pines, Conner's Lake and the Chippewa Flowage. *Note* walleyes can't be kept on the Chippewa Flowage from December 1 until the opening of fishing season in May. - Thomas Heisler Jr., conservation warden, Winter

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Governor Knowles State Forest - Winter activities have come to an end at Governor Knowles State Forest. Warmer temperatures and lack of snow reminds us that spring is right around the corner. Soon the rolling hills and river valleys at the Brandt Pines Recreational Area will turn back into hiking and biking trails. Bicycles are allowed on all trails except those signed closed. Trails are non-paved off road and vary in difficulty. If you wish to bike a short loop, be sure to check out the trails at Brandt Pines, with the exception of the Riverview Trail. Take an overnight trip and stay at one of the backpack campsites located throughout the forest. Contact the forest headquarters for further information. - Brandi Larson, visitor services associate

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Upper Chippewa Basin fisheries report (Price, Rusk, Sawyer Taylor and inland Ashland and Iron counties) - Ice conditions have improved on most waters across the Northwoods and ice depths have been ranging from 12 to 16 inches. Strong winds during the week have blown a lot of the snow from the surface, and cold nighttime temperatures have frozen many of the areas of slush. This has helped travel conditions and anglers have been able to move around and get to more of their favorite spots. With some nicer weekend weather and the approaching end of the gamefish season (March 6), fishing pressure has spiked up on waters across the Northwoods. Both panfish and gamefish anglers were out trying their luck - but success was a bit tough to come by for many of them. Walleye have provided some fair action at times during the past week, but success seems to have been confined to short periods during the day and at specific depths in a given body of water. Tip-up fishermen have been seeing the most consistent action and many have downsized to fathead minnows or small suckers to entice bites from the finicky fish. The active bite seems to be concentrated in the hour before dark and the productive depths have ranged from 5 to 10 feet of water in the stained water lakes (& a bit deeper in the clear water lakes). Most of the walleye being caught have been in the 12 to 16-inch size, but a few up to 26 inches have also been landed. With the ever changing weather, fishing for northern pike has also been real variable. Catches have generally been low, though a few pike up to 30 inches have been reported. Panfish action has been a hit or miss proposition, with anglers really having to work to catch fish. That means a lot of moving around and searching for the active fish. A few nice crappie have been found suspended a couple feet off the bottom in the deeper parts of the lake, and some decent perch have been found on the mid-depth mud and weed flats. - Skip Sommerfeldt, senior fisheries biologist, Park Falls

Flambeau River State Forest - The Flambeau Hills Cross Country Ski Trail conditions are icy due to the warm temperatures of last week. Temperatures will be in the 20s and 30s this week with a warming trend coming this weekend. It's uncertain if the weather will allow for some decent skiing. There is a 40 percent chance of snow on Friday. A warming trend starting again this weekend. The snowmobile trail was used heavily last weekend but it is also very icy and may have some bare spots. The snowshoe trails at Lake of the Pines and Little Falls Slough Gundy are also icy. Be careful out there and it may be time to wear your cleats. Fishing has been slow but some bluegills, panfish, and walleye have been caught. You wouldn't know fishing is slow, folks are having lots of fun out there. The lakes do vary in the depth of the ice from 4 inches to 8 inches so we are suggesting folks not to drive out on the ice as it could be risky. Geese have been observed heading north and a few common goldeneyes were observed on the river. Some of the birds seem to be on high activity. Many are building nests and going through some courtship activities. Folks are enjoying watching the otters slide and play along the edge of the ice. Due to the warming temperatures the bears have been coming out of the dens. They are not wandering far, but the tracks indicate they are waking up, though staying close. Deer have been using the roads more for getting around. The top hard layer of snow makes it difficult for mobility and much easier for predators, and soon there will be an enticing show of grass along the road edges. Be careful when driving the northern roads. logging on the forest is quickly coming to an end. March 7 road bans go on, so large truck traffic will stop on township and county highways. So before then, longs hours will be spent trucking out the logs and pulpwood from the logging sites. Join us on Saturday, March 5 from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. at the new and beautiful Flambeau River State Forest Headquarters as Ron Weber shares a screening of Learning from the Land to help celebrate "Aldo Leopold Weekend". This video chronicles Leopold's life using various passages from "A Sand County Almanac". A short walk along the Flambeau River will follow with readings from Sand County Almanac. We hope you can come and enjoy some refreshments with us while you are here. - Diane Stowell, forestry technician advanced and visitor services associate

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Oneida County - With the recent warm weather the lake ice conditions have changed and travel is now very easy but good ice cleats are recommended. The panfish bit has been good, especially in the mornings. However snowmobile trail conditions are poor. - Tim Ebert, conservation warden, Woodruff

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - Ice conditions have solidified due to the cold temperatures and high winds blowing the snow off the ice surface. Some of the large lakes never formed thick ice so it is still advisable to use caution. The lack of uniform ice all season may cause dangerous conditions when air temperatures return to 40 and 50 degrees. The Manitowish and Trout rivers continue to flow above 20 year averages. Rhinelander news station reported that this last December was the fourth warmest and the fourth wettest on record so it follow that we are having above average river and stream flow. Snowmobile trails really need some fresh snow. Fishing action is starting to pick up on some of the lakes for panfish. Four trumpeter swans were spotted near the fish hatchery. Three campsites are plowed at Clear Lake Campground for winter campers. Use has been very light, so come on out - you will likely have the campground to yourself. Portions of the roadways in Clear Lake and Crystal Lake Campgrounds are plowed for winter walkers to have a safe place to walk out of the snow. We still have a couple of openings for volunteer campground hosts for the coming summer - one at Cunard Lake mid-summer, and one at Clear Lake in fall. Contact Joe Fieweger at 715-385-3355 ext 113 or if interested. - Kimberly Krawczyk, Visitor Services Associate

Changes in cross-country ski trail conditions can happen very rapidly with changes in the weather. The warm up last Saturday had the trails set up very hard with icy bare spots emerging under the heavy conifers. The winds this week dropped a lot of leafy debris and pine cones also. Raven Trail tracks were touched up March 1 when clearing the trail of branches and down trees. Thin and icy with a lot of debris under the heavy conifers on the Red and Yellow loops. Madeline Trail had all loops tracked Feb. 29. Good conditions reported. McNaughton Trail was cleared of down trees and branches and groomed old tracks twice March 1 but was unable to set new track. Escanaba ski trail conditions are fair to good conditions on the green loop 5.0 miles. Hardwood areas has nice track. Conifer areas have half formed track but still ski able. Red and blue loop not advised as icy lack of snow and snowmobilers tore up. The section along the campsites on Pallette would be the only section of the yellow untracked. - Tony Martinez and Dan Jacoby, facilities repair workers


Northeast Region

Northern Lake Michigan fisheries team report

This report was from the week of February 21-27. Warm weather this past week has started melting snow and wearing away the ice. The Fox and Menominee River both saw open water fishing this past week.

Marinette and Oconto counties - The annual Gator Fest Tournament was held on Saturday from the mouth of the Oconto River to the mouth of the Peshtigo River. Initial reports looked good for pike fishing. Most anglers are fishing in 4 to 12 feet of water using a dead smelt presentation fished on bottom or large shiner minnows. Reports of some very large fish being caught were not verified, but unlike the past few years more anglers were having success. Open water fishing is taking place on the Fishermen's walkway below the Hattie Street Bridge with walleye and trout being targeted. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Brown County - At least 50 boats were observed this past week on the Fox River, and Voyageur Park was all open water fishing. Some walleye are being caught using a myriad of baits and presentations. Jigs with plastics or live bait in a variety of colors, stick baits, small spoons and deep divers are all being used. There were a few anglers at Long Tail off of Lineville Road, standing water on the ice and mud adjacent to the landings will make travel difficult. - Kevin King, fisheries technician, Peshtigo

Anglers fishing off of Volk's Landing are parking either on shore or just on the ice now and taking ATVs or sleds out to their destinations. Bayshore Park and Dyckesville have slowed down with fewer numbers of anglers seen taking to the ice in these locations. Red River continues to be steady with the number of anglers accessing the ice with moderate success rates for Whitefish have been reported. Some anglers are still driving on the ice here but most are taking ATVs or sleds out. Sugar Creek and Rite's Cove continue to see high fishing pressure with good results of Whitefish being caught in these locations as well. - Emily Kurszewski, fisheries technician, Sturgeon Bay

Door County - Many anglers took advantage of the warm weather once again this week and got out fishing on the remaining ice. Areas to the north of Sturgeon Bay are seeing open water and ice shifting and cracking. Anglers fishing off of White Cedar Road south of Murphy Park reported 12 inches of ice at the most remaining with pockets of open water and less ice. Those fishing for walleye off of White Cedar Road had little success and moderate success for whitefish. Anglers fishing out of the Stone Quarry reported mixed results for whitefish using wax worms. Anglers were spotted accessing the ice out of Sunset Park heading west along the canal. The shipping channel from Bay Ship to the Lake is open and continues to lose ice at a steady pace with the warm weather. There were no anglers seen fishing off of the Yacht Club this week and there still is some ice in and around the dock area. A few anglers were seen at Bullhead point fishing tip-ups. Potawatomi Park and Idlewild remain very busy with anglers accessing Sawyer Harbor. Also Cabot's Point and Oak Ave remain busy as well with anglers accessing the ice here and have been seen heading to Larson's Reef. - Emily Kurszewski, fisheries technician, Sturgeon Bay

Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area

Potawatomi State Park - Ski trails have not been groomed since mid-February. There are stretches of bare ground on the trails. Snow is predicted for Friday night and Saturday morning, so conditions may improve. Snowmobile trails remain closed. Ice fishermen are catching whitefish as well as some perch and walleye. Some shanties are still on the ice along the park's shoreline, but many have been pulled on shore. Most fishermen are using ATVs or snowmobiles to go out on the ice. - Lois M. Hanson, visitor services associate

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - The area received 1-4 inches fresh snow on Tuesday, not enough to open trails. Turkeys have started gobbling, many local songbirds are now singing. Trout streams are now fishable and have noticed some people have been trying their hand at the catch-and-release season. Have not noticed any ice fishing pressure. Looks like a great forecast for next week. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Oshkosh DNR Service Center area

Winnebago Sturgeon Spearing Season update

The 2016 sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago came to a close on Sunday Feb. 28 after a maximum 16-day season, while the season on the Upriver Lakes closed after just seven days. This year's harvest included 703 fish (396 from Lake Winnebago and 307 from the Upriver Lakes) including 19 fish that were 100 pounds or larger (8 from Lake Winnebago and 11 from the Upriver Lakes). The largest fish of this season was 147.9 pounds (77 inches) and speared from Lake Poygan on Monday Feb. 15. Overall, the season went as predicted with the less than ideal water clarity, 7-10 feet on Lake Winnebago, but was still a success despite the below average harvest on Lake Winnebago. There was question in early January whether we would even have ice to support a season. However, some timely cold weather created ice and spearers were able to renew spearing traditions and make memories of another spearing season. Many are already looking forward to the 2017 season.

Calumet County - Warmer weather brought an abrupt end to ice fishing activity along the east shore of Lake Winnebago. Many of the area fishing clubs removed their tree lines and pulled their bridges following the closure of the recently completed sturgeon spearing season. Anyone venturing onto the ice is advised to use caution. The recent warm up is evident in the number of migrating geese and cranes seen in recent days. Several flocks of cranes were seen feeding near the Killsnake State Wildlife Area. Ice anglers are reminded to remove any permanent ice shacks by the March 6 deadline. - Michael Disher, conservation warden - Stockbridge


Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - Lapham Peak received about 3 inches of soft, dry snow. However the only skiing is on the man-made loop. There is no skiing off of the man-made loop due to very loose snow on top of a lot of ice. Skate lanes were groomed and the track was left intact. Conditions vary from good to great. - Brett Johanen, ranger

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Pike Lake Unit - The first sign of spring has arrived, as skunk cabbage has started to emerge on the boardwalk loop north of the beach. Sandhill cranes are beginning their return to the surrounding area, and we look forward to seeing many of the migratory bird species again. There are lots of fresh woodpecker holes on all of the trails. Frequently seen woodpecker species include the downy, the hairy, the red-bellied woodpecker, and occasionally seen is a pileated woodpecker pair. Look for signs of the pileated woodpecker presence, as they create oblong holes vs. the regular perfectly round holes. Red-tailed hawks pairs are frequently seen together, as we expect them to be mating and beginning to lay their eggs. Bald eagles have been spotted flying above both Pike Lake and Loew Lake. Pike Lake's white-tailed deer and turkey are frequently spotted during the day by hikers recently. Cross-country ski trails were last groomed March 2. The trails are in fair condition due to a lack of snowfall. Hikers are allowed on the trails west of Powder Hill Road because of cross country ski trails are currently groomed. Winter hiking/snowshoe conditions include 5 inches of snow with patches of ice. As the snow melts plan to expect some icy and muddy trail conditions. Pets are not allowed on the Black Forest Nature Trail and must be on a leash 8 feet or less at all times in other areas. Ice fishing is coming to an end as the lake ice is melting. Please use caution with these quickly changing conditions. The main campground is closed for the winter, and will re-open on April 13. - Lisa McCabe, Assistant Naturalist Guide

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - As of Feb 26, the snow had melted at Zillmer to the point that we are now allowing hikers on the ski trails. However, enough snow still persists to provide skiing at Greenbush, although conditions are less than fair, and can be icy. Hikers and pets are still prohibited from the ski trails at Greenbush, and skiers should use caution. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate

Crews have decided to put away the grooming equipment for the season. Hope all enjoyed the season. - Reagan Arndt, ranger

Southern Lake Michigan fisheries team report - Compiled from creel clerks by Cheryl Masterson and Jeffrey Zinuticz, fisheries technicians, Milwaukee

This report was compiled and submitted on February 29, 2016.

Ozaukee County - The Port Washington harbor is open near the power plant discharge. Brown trout and occasional steelhead are being caught, and anglers have been using a variety of baits such as spawn, shiners, and crank baits.

Milwaukee County - Ice is degrading quickly in and around Milwaukee. The lagoon behind Lakeshore State Park has pockets of open water, and most of the Milwaukee harbor and inner harbor are open. Anglers have reported open water in the Milwaukee River in the vicinity of Estabrook Park, and there are steelhead in the river this time of year. The Bender Park launch is reportedly open, and boaters have been catching fair numbers of browns off of the Oak Creek Power Plant.

Racine County - Upstream stretches of the Root River are ice free, and steelhead have been reported in the river.


South Central Region

Dodgeville DNR Service Center area

Lafayette County - The coyote hunters in the area have been doing well. The area lost a lot of ice on the area lakes over the last two weeks and with the latest snowfall much of the ice is unsafe. All of the area snowmobile and ATV trails are closed. - Nick Webster, conservation warden, Darlington

Horicon DNR Service Center area

Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area - Head to the marsh and learn more about nest boxes and their role in conservation. Participants will get hands-on training, including how to properly place and maintain nest boxes and decide which type of box are right for different yard-types and bird species. This year, the nest box seminar will focus on wood ducks and bluebirds, Wisconsin's most popular cavity nesters. Purple martins, a species of special concern in Wisconsin, and the great crested flycatcher, a common large woodland flycatcher, will be the focus of an additional informational session. Bluebird nest box kits will be available from Friends of Horicon Marsh for $12. The seminar is free and open to the public, no registration is required. For more information and a schedule of speakers please visit or call 920-387-7893. - Elizabeth Herzmann, natural resources educator

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

MacKenzie Center - The sap has started to flow at the MacKenzie Center. We have tapped our first maple trees this past week and are looking forward to a great maple sugaring season with the expected warmer temperatures. We have a fresh bed of snow and our un-groomed hiking trails are perfect for snow shoeing right now. - Chrystal Seeley-Schreck, natural resources educator

Columbia County - Ice conditions are starting to deteriorate. There is still plenty of good ice in the middle of most lakes, stuff along the edges or high traffic areas are starting to get a little sketchy. Fishing has been slow on most local lakes. Sandhill cranes are back in Columbia County along with larger flocks of Canada geese making their way back into the area. - Paul Nadolski, conservation warden, Portage


West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - Early March typically marks the beginning of northward bird migration. Over the next two months, many species of birds will migrate into and through Wisconsin as they move to their breeding areas. This influx starts gradually and builds toward a climax that usually occurs in late April or early May. The Mississippi River has quite a bit of open water for this time of year, providing excellent viewing opportunities for diving ducks--ringnecks, scaup or bluebills, buffleheads, and goldeneyes. Inland, keep an eye out for red-winged blackbirds, meadowlarks, and grackles, all members of the blackbird family, robins, and killdeer to arrive in early to mid-March. Do not be surprised to encounter red-winged blackbirds any day now, especially when the next surge of warm air arrives late this upcoming weekend. Besides bringing warmer temperatures, strong, persistent southerly winds this time of year bring migrating birds as well. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Black River Falls DNR Service Center area

Black River State Forest - Last weekend's spring like conditions melted a lot of snow and had many people outside enjoying the warm temperatures and sunshine. However, with temperatures back down in the 20s and 1.5 inches of new snow on the ground, we were quickly reminded that it is still winter in Wisconsin. Temperatures are expected to warm up slightly this weekend with highs in the 40s and a chance of rain/snow on Friday and Saturday. While it may still be winter, signs of spring are starting to show throughout the forest. Deer and turkey have been seen in fields and along road sides foraging for food. Spring migrants including eagles, hawks, nuthatches, pileated woodpeckers, brown creepers, chickadees, and geese continue to arrive in increasing numbers. Cross-country ski trails are no longer skiable. Thanks for another great season. ATV and snowmobile trails are closed due to unsafe conditions. Winter trails will close on March 15 and at this point it is unlikely that trails will reopen before that date. Conditions permitting, the trails will reopen May 15 for the Summer/Fall season. - Emily Alf, visitor services associate

Last Revised: Thursday, March 03, 2016

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