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Outdoor ReportPublished January 5, 2017


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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).

The New Year arrived with some very moderate temperatures that were accompanied by rain in the southern part of the state, while the north received some additional snow. But temperatures took a sharp drop during the week accompanied with strong winds. Sub-zero temperatures were reported with wind chills down to minus 30.

The most snow fell in the far north, and that allowed snowmobile trails to remain in good condition in a handful of counties across the north, but trails remain closed or only partially open in southern and far northwestern two-thirds of the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR). Cross-country ski trails remain good at the northern forests including the Northern-Highland American Legion, Governor Thompson, Brule River and Flambeau River. Some trails remain open in the southern half of the state but are in poor or icy conditions, while others have closed.

The cold snap has improved ice conditions on many lakes. In the north, many area lakes now have permanent shacks placed and some people are venturing out using ATVs. Ice thickness on inland lakes varies but averages in the 5-8 inch range. With the changing temperatures, however, the ice is not at full strength and should be carefully checked before walking out onto it especially in the south. Lake Mendota reportedly froze over Jan. 1 but with some areas of thin ice.

The waterfowl, turkey, pheasant and gun deer seasons are now closed. Rabbit, squirrel, coyote, fox and misc. other hunting and trapping seasons remain open. The archery deer season remains open through Jan. 8 in most areas and through Jan. 31 in Metro Sub-units. Now that the fall turkey season is over turkeys are being seen feeding in fields, with groups of 10 plus being common. Bear cubs are being born in dens now.

DNR wildlife staff are counting waterfowl and bald eagles in every county of the state this week as part of the annual Mid-Winter Waterfowl and bald eagle surveys, which are run concurrently. Wisconsin and 13 other states in the "Mississippi Flyway" all count waterfowl during the same week each January to get a flyway-wide estimate. About 40 percent of all North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds use the Mississippi Flyway. Staff counted thousands of Canada geese, and dabbling ducks, mostly mallards, in the inland areas, and diving ducks including goldeneyes, buffleheads and mergansers on the larger open water areas and along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Winter raptor viewing is very good right now with birders reporting good numbers of bald eagles at open water and it appears to be a good year for meadow voles, which in turn means rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls and kestrels are relatively easy to find on sunny days. Great-horned owls are calling regularly at dawn and dusk as they prepare to initiate nesting. Owls are territorial, and one of the primary reasons that owls call is to verbally defend their territories from other owls of their own kind. Great horned owls will continue calling well into February.

The first of the popular candlelight skis begin this weekend at Wisconsin state park system properties, but cold weather and wind chills in the forecast have already resulted in Blue Mound State Park cancelling its event. Two others are still scheduled to proceed at Mirror Lake and Wildcat Mountain state parks, but if conditions worsen they could be cancelled, so search the DNR website for "candlelight" to check for cancellations and event details or call the parks to confirm. Both properties will have bonfires, but anyone attending should be prepared for very cold temperatures and remember pets are not allowed on groomed ski trails.

Upcoming State Natural Area Workdays

January 9, 9 a.m.-noon. Join the new effort to restore Hogback Prairie SNA. The hogback is known for its striking geology, dry prairie, rare plants, and rare animals. Due to efforts by DNR crews in recent years the site quality is improving and the prairie is expanding. However, invasive brush remains a threat and more hands are needed to remove it and encourage native plants to thrive. DNR crews will be working for two weeks here and welcome volunteer help during that time. The work requires energy and may be on steep terrain. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. Join us for a picnic lunch afterwards!

January 10, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Join the new volunteer effort to restore Hardscrabble Prairie SNA. Hardscrabble is known for its rich prairie remnants in a corner of the state where remnants are rare. Volunteer and DNR crews have recently ramped up efforts to control invasive brush around the prairies. Join both as we burn up piles from the year's work and expand efforts. The work requires energy and is on sloping terrain. No skills needed you will be trained onsite.

January 14, 9 a.m. to noon. Cure cabin fever and cut up buckthorn at the springs of Bluff Creek SNA. Warm up your brush cutting arms and legs during our monthly Southern Kettle Moraine SNA workdays on the second Saturday and enjoy the beauty of this wetland, springs, and oak opening area in the process. Buckthorn can spread and shade out uncommon plants at this site. Bring a bag lunch to eat afterwards. No skills needed you will be trained onsite. Click for more information.

Check the State Natural Areas Volunteer Program page of the DNR website for details. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane. - Jared Urban, conservation biologist, Dane

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Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

A light cover of new snow is perfect for capturing the story of the comings and goings of animals in your backyard.
A light cover of new snow is perfect for capturing the story of the comings and goings of animals in your backyard.
Photo Credit: DNR

Brule River State Forest - The first few days of 2017 brought a couple of inches of snow and relatively warm temperatures. There is the possibility of some significant new snow early next week. Another inch of snow fell last night, and we are now in a cold snap that is going to be with us for the weekend. Don't let that keep you from going outdoors--dress warm and get out there! The ski trails were groomed on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

An owl left his mark while taking flight.
An owl left his mark while taking flight.
Photo Credit: DNR
There is a base of about 3.5 inches, and the snow in the woods is 8-10 inches deep. Ski conditions are very good. A light cover of new snow is perfect for capturing the story of the comings and goings of animals in your backyard. The spacing of an animal's tracks can tell you whether it was walking along at a leisurely pace, or whether it was moving quickly. Tracks can also tell you the relative size and weight of an animal. You may see the spot where an animal stopped to rest, a bird took flight, a predator caught its prey, or prey eluded a predator. You never know what you'll find! Click here for more information about identifying the tracks that you may come across. The Brule Valley Ski Club is sponsoring a Learn to Ski day this Sunday, Jan. 8 at the AfterHours Ski Trail. Check the calendar for more details and for additional upcoming events. - Diane Gobin, visitor services associate

Ashland DNR Service Center area

Iron County - Snowmobile conditions are moderate to poor. There hasn't been much in the way of new snow and the traffic has been heavy. The snow that did fall is powder. Snowmobilers are asking for some wet snow to enhance the trails. Ice fishing season is here with crappie, pike and walleye being plentiful on the flowage and nearby lakes. I haven't heard much in the way of bluegill or perch. Most archery hunters in Iron County are done for the season thanks to the extreme cold and windy afternoons. - Jenna Kosnicki, wildlife biologist, Mercer

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Flambeau River State Forest - The Flambeau Hills Cross Country Ski Trail has been packed several times and staff members are going out today to clean off debris. The trail will be groomed again by this weekend for skate skiing. Call for current conditions. (715-332-5271 ext.101 or 111). Snowmobile Trails have been rolled and packed. There has been a reroute of the trail from Price County. A detour has been rolled which is actually the old trail into Price County. The detour is signed. There is a culvert lifting up on the trail about 1 mile south of the Tuscobia Trail. There are hazard cones on the trail so use caution in that area especially. People snowshoeing Lake of the Pines can enter this trail at Lake of the Pines Landing or across from the registration station for the campground. This trail runs along the bluffs on the west bank of Lake of the Pines and into some rolling hills loaded with large white pines and hemlocks. Connors Lake and Lake of the Pines have about 6 inches of ice by the landings and also in most of the bays. The deeper the area the more careful you should be. There has been some folks out on both lakes fishing and catching some walleyes, crappies and northern pike on Connors and lots of crappies on Lake of the Pines. Light ice shanties are going up but they are being pulled out manually. There is still very little frost in the ground because of the snow depth in the woods and the logging operations throughout the Forest are in despair as they are trying to freeze down the woods roads preparing for entry and using caution in their existing operations so they do not rut the area. The deer and elk are conserving their energy and aggressively browsing in logging areas. They really like the occasional clear cut aspen areas for browse. Bear cubs are being born in dens now and other hardy residents such as coyotes, fishers, owls and hawks are on a constant lookout for small mammals and rabbits. The hardier birds such as the juncos, snow buntings, woodpeckers, blue jays, crows and eagles are eating seeds, insects under the tree bark or carrion along the roadsides. The great horned owls begin hooting and claiming territories this month and grouse will be having a tougher time now that we have had thawing and freezing temperatures that has crusted the snow surface. Grouse are unable to snow roost with the crusted snow which protects them from the frigid temps and predators. - Diane Stowell, forestry technician advanced and visitor services associate

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - Cold and quiet are the words describing the conditions on the Northern Highland. There is not a lot of snow cover on top of the solid crust that formed from the rain over the Holidays, but enough to soften up the area ski trails and make a good base for snow shoeing as more snow falls. Birds at area feeders are on the lookout for northern shrikes and occasional ermine as they try to eat enough fat every day to survive the night. Spotted a brown creeper on the birch tree the other day so one never knows what they will see until you get outside and look! - Rosalie Richter, visitor services associate

Ski trail conditions are generally good. All trails were regroomed Jan. 3. Raven Trail had all loops cut and tracked. Still some thin spots on the Red and Yellow loops. Madeline Trail had all loops cut and tracked. At McNaughton Trail the skaters loop was groomed and all other loops tracked. Still thin under the conifers along Helen lake. Escanaba Trail had all loops cut and tracked. Still a few thin spots. Overall good conditions. - Tony Martinez, trails coordinator

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Northeast Region

Peshtigo DNR Service Center area

Marinette County - January 3 it felt like an early spring day with temps above freezing softening the snow but that all changed overnight. The temps dropped to the single digits and are not forecasted to rise much higher in the near future. Many area lakes now have permanent shacks placed and some people venturing out using ATVs. Ice thickness on inland lakes varies but averages in the 5-8 inch range. Fishing was slow over the weekend, but fish could be caught with a little patience. Bow season closes Jan. 8 and the Holiday hunt in the Farmland zone of the county closed Jan. 1. Small game hunting season remains open for squirrels, rabbits, and grouse. Many trapping seasons are open right now as well. A few ducks (mostly mergansers and mallards) and geese are hanging around open water stretches of rivers. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee

Governor Thompson State Park - The ski and snowshoe trails are open. There are 6 miles of ski trails are groomed for both classic striding and skate skiing. Current ski trail conditions are always available by checking our trail report at www.skinnyski.com. The 2.5-mile snowshoe loop has been rolled and packed. The Otter Trail is groomed flat for skiing or hiking and pets are permitted on the Otter Trail and the snowshoe loop. If you would like to blaze your own trail there is also 8 miles of ungroomed trails for you to use. - Maggie Kailhofer, park manager

Green Bay DNR Service Center area

Manitowoc County - Manitowoc County Snowmobile trails are still closed after the warm weather experienced over the Holidays. Please check with Manitowoc County to make sure the trails are open before going out; 920-758-7669. Many ice fishermen have been observed on the lakes in Manitowoc County. Some anglers are finding success fishing for northern pike in the southern part of the county. With the changing temperatures however, the ice is not at full strength and should be carefully checked before walking out onto it. Make sure to have ice picks at the ready in case of an emergency. This is the final weekend of the Statewide Archery/Crossbow Deer Seasons. Any hunters with unfilled tags are still able to get out and try to harvest another deer for a couple more days! - Jake Bolks, conservation warden, Mishicot

Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area

Door County - In the greater Door County area we did have snow on the ground and cross-country ski trails were open in certain locations but that has changes quickly in the last two days. Most of our snow is gone and there isn't any in the near forecast. Ice fishing has been extremely limited but with this cold snap that has moved in ice should be starting to form again. There are some bald eagles in the area and lots of deer are being seen when the temperatures dip. A few hunters will probably wander out towards the end of this week to try their hand at harvesting a deer before the season comes to a close. - Brandon Bastar, fisheries research vessel captain, Sturgeon Bay

Peninsula State Park - Ski trail conditions are now poor. The sledding hill is closed.- Jessica Doell, visitor services associate

Whitefish Dunes State Park - Following the recent warm spell, wind, and rain, the trails lost a lot of their coverage and were littered with woods debris, but still have a frozen icy base. An average 2-4 inch base, but not enough depth to set track until there's more snow. - Jaclyn Moeri, visitor services associate

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - Not a whole lot to report. Holiday deer hunt seemed to be a non-event, did not see anyone out and about. Thick crust on snow making it very hard to get around in the woods. Bitter cold has hit central WI as of last night making it a good stretch to stay indoors. People are out ice fishing, but have not heard any reports yet. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

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Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - The 0.7k manmade cross-country ski loop was groomed Jan. 3 with a new track set after warm temps and rain. Grooming occurred again Jan. 4 to loosen up more snow. Skate conditions are great with loose corn/ball-bearing snow on top of a hard base. The track is in fair condition due to icy bases. All other trails will need additional snowfall before we can groom them. Trail lights will be on until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday nights for the man-made loop only. Wednesday night ski series began this week. - Brett Johanen, ranger

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Northern Unit - Freezing and thawing temperatures over the holidays have left the ski trails in very poor shape. The Zillmer red trail was re-groomed on Wednesday Jan. 4, but only provides marginal conditions, while the remaining Zillmer trails are essentially ice and debris and travel is not recommended. The Greenbush trails were groomed on Sunday Jan. 1, and conditions there are a bit better, but trails are still icy and caution is advised. Visitors can check the website skinnyski.com for the latest conditions. - Deb Harder, visitor services associate

- Reagan Arndt, ranger

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit - The groomer was out Jan. 4 on the McMiller Ski Trail trying to salvage what's left of snow on the trails. The first 100 yards of trail are in very poor condition, however, the next 200-300 yards are decent. Many sections are very icy. If you venture out, be VERY cautious on the downhills and steep slopes! Trail sections that receive a lot of sun have bare spots throughout. Some sections that are well protected are decent. Bottom line: we need more snow. - Anne Korman, superintendent

Plymouth DNR Service Center area

Theresa Marsh State Wildlife Area - DNR staff are counting waterfowl and bald eagles in every county of the state this week as part of the annual Mid-Winter Waterfowl and bald eagle surveys, which are run concurrently. Wisconsin and 13 other states in the "Mississippi Flyway" all count waterfowl during the same week each January to get a flyway-wide estimate. About 40 percent of all North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds use the Mississippi Flyway. Most of the smaller water bodies in our area were frozen over and fields were partially snow-covered for the waterfowl counts. Staff still counted thousands of Canada geese, and dabbling ducks (mostly mallards) in the inland areas, and diving ducks (goldeneyes, buffleheads, mergansers, etc.) on the larger open water areas and along the Lake Michigan shoreline. We count ducks and geese where they feed or congregate in open fields, on open water below dams, spring-fed creeks, and aerated or other open ponds such as near warm water discharge areas. Other DNR staff fly the entire Lake Michigan shoreline and larger water bodies with a small plane to do the counts. Now is a great time to watch or photograph ducks because many species have molted into their brightly colored breeding plumage. You can also observe their courtship behaviors (such as head bobbing and tail shaking for mallards) that last through the winter. The waterfowl, turkey, pheasant and gun deer seasons are now closed. Rabbit, squirrel, coyote, fox and misc. other hunting and trapping seasons remain open. The archery deer season remains open through January 8 in most areas and through January 31 in the "Milwaukee Metro Sub-unit" which includes the Jackson Marsh Wildlife Area, Cedarburg Bog and other properties in eastern Washington, most of Ozaukee County and parts of six other counties. All local snowmobile trails remain closed due to lack of a snow base. - Tom Isaac, wildlife biologist, Hartford

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South Central Region

Dodgeville DNR Service Center area

Lafayette County - There has been ice building on area waters but if people are thinking about heading out on to the water they need to keep in mind that with last week's warm temperatures and precipitation there are still very weak spots in seemingly random locations around the waterways. Remember no ice should be considered "safe" ice. Now that the fall turkey and deer seasons are over turkeys and deer seem to be everywhere, with groups of 10 plus of both being common. - Nick Webster, conservation warden, Darlington

Blue Mound State Park - Cross-county Ski trails are open and in good to fair condition. You can expect icy spots from time to time. Please use caution on the downhill. For current up to date conditions, please call the park at 608-437-5711. The candlelight ski, hike and snowshoe scheduled for this Saturday, Jan. 7 has been cancelled due to severe cold temperatures and wind chills in the forecast. Another candlelight event is scheduled for Feb. 7. - Kevin Swenson, park manager

Horicon DNR Service Center area

Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area - Winter bird sightings include snow buntings, lapland longspurs, horned larks, rough-legged hawks and a handful of winter finches such as pine siskin. Walk it off with Winter Wildlife: Join wildlife educators as we shed a few holiday pounds while searching for the winter wildlife around Horicon Marsh! Saturday, Jan. 7 from 10-11:30 a.m. The Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center is located on Hwy. 28 between the cities of Horicon and Mayville. For more information please call Liz Herzmann at 920-387-7893 or e-mail her at elizabeth.herzmann@wisconsin.gov. - Elizabeth Herzmann, natural resources educator

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

Dane County - The remaining open water in Dane County is hosting some interesting waterfowl. Birders have reported good numbers of mallards, Canada geese, goldeneyes, and mergansers. In addition, rarer species like snow goose, white-fronted goose, black scoter and long-tailed ducks have also been reported. Deer have been seen in large numbers across the county lately, focusing on standing crops and green fields recently made available by snow melt. Late season deer hunters should find good opportunities across the county! Winter raptor viewing is very good right now across the county. Birders are reporting good numbers of bald eagles at open water and it appears to be a good year for meadow voles, which in turn means rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls and kestrels are relatively easy to find on sunny days. Great-horned owls are calling regularly at dawn and dusk as they prepare to initiate nesting. - Andy Paulios, wildlife biologist, Fitchburg

Mirror Lake State Park -Some of the ski trails have been regroomed to break up the ice crust up and rework the trails. The ski trail for this Saturday Jan. 7's candlelight ski/hike/snowshoe event should be fine for skiing. - Becky Green, park manager

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West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - Minimal snow cover has made for very decent winter walking conditions. Now is a great time to take advantage of these conditions and explore some new areas of your property or public lands that may be somewhat inaccessible at other times of the year. Go exploring and find new grouse coverts, deer bedding areas, winter wild turkey roosts, abandoned bird nests, or the large oblong holes in trees indicating the presence of a pileated woodpecker. Great horned owls are calling vigorously. Owls are territorial, and one of the primary reasons that owls call is to verbally defend their territories from other owls of their own kind. Great horned owls will continue calling well into February. On still nights, listen for the deep WHOO, WHOO-WHOO, WHOO-WHOO, WHOO call of the male. Often the female mate will reply in a higher pitched WHOO, WHOO-WHOO-WHOO, WHOO-OO, WHOO-OO. The great horned owl is probably the most widely distributed breeding bird in North America, and it also occurs well south through Central America into South America. These owls rarely build their own nests. Instead they usually occupy nests formerly constructed by crows, Cooper's hawks, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, or squirrels. Egg laying typically takes place from late January through mid-February, and owlets are born about a month later. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Buckhorn State Park - Ski trails are in poor condition with the rain and freezing. When we get at least 6 inches of new snow, trails will be groomed. Snowshoes will also be available at the park office to check out. Pets are not allowed on the groomed ski trails. Dog walkers can park at the boat launch or parking lot for sites 26-29 and walk the campground road as the gate is now closed. Ice has started forming on the lake. Remember, park staff do not monitor ice conditions. The park will start taking applications for the handicapped accessible cabin postmarked or faxed on or after Jan. 10. Bow hunting for deer is allowed in open areas of the state park and both wildlife areas and are in Central Forest, Public, Buck only through January 8. Hunting maps are available online or at the park office. The new photo contest has started for the year. - Heather Wolf, park manager



Last Revised: Thursday, January 05, 2017

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