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Outdoor ReportPublished December 21, 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).

Snow is piling up on properties in northern Wisconsin, but has been melting away in southern counties. The Brule River State Forest is grooming cross-country ski trails after an additional 2-3 inches of snow brought their total to around 10 inches. The Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest is also packing trails for skiers but still has not been able to set tracks. Trails have also been groomed at Newport, Peninsula and Potawatomi state parks in Door County but most of the southern half of the state has no snow cover. A couple more northern counties have opened or partially opened snowmobile trails but conditions are only fair to poor on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report (exit DNR).

In the north, many smaller lakes have 4 to 6 inches of ice, but some of the larger lakes just froze up completely in the last week and have only 1 to 4 inches of ice. There is a fair amount of snow on the ice which is leading to slush and inconsistent ice underneath. People should be very careful if they venture out to fish. Anglers finding good ice were catching bluegills in shallow green weeds and crappies a little deeper over flats or near cribs. Walleye anglers are catching walleyes on small minnows set under tip ups on the outside edges of weed beds. Pike action on tip ups has been slower than average.

Southern areas that had been forecast to get several inches of snow this week, will likely now only see a dusting. This means easy access for those looking to get out on a hike this coming week. The last firearm deer hunt is just around the corner in the Farmland Zone--the Holiday hunt runs from Dec. 24-Jan. 1 and is an antlerless only hunt. One last reminder for pheasant hunters: the state game farm will be releasing an additional 1,500 birds on five wildlife areas prior to the holidays for some late season hunting.

There are many mammals moving around, with tracks of grey wolves, fisher, coyotes, and even a black bear were seen around Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area.

Rough-legged hawks have been observed recently in the valleys of Crawford and Vernon counties stocking up on rodents before the coming freeze. These large raptors get their name from their furry-looking legs, which are thoroughly covered to the toes with soft feathers. They breed in the Arctic tundra, but winter primarily in the lower 48 states, where they hunt small mammals on open fields.

Eagles are starting to move in to the Prairie du Sac area and can frequently be seen hunting the Wisconsin River. Other migrants have been seen along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Milwaukee, with scaup, goldeneye, mergansers and even a handful of scoters, long-tailed ducks and harlequin ducks being seen on occasion. The snowy owl count continues to sit at 173 across 57 of Wisconsin's 72 counties as of December 13.

Amnicon Falls will host a New Year Eve candlelight hike with candles leading up to the histoic Horton bride offer views of thee waterfalls. - Photo credit: DNR
Amnicon Falls will host a New Year Eve candlelight hike with candles leading up to the histoic Horton bride offer views of thee waterfalls.Photo credit: DNR Kevin Feind

Ring in the New Year with a New Year's Eve candlelight hike at Amnicon Falls State Park and then start the New Year off on the right foot by taking part in any of 17 First Day Hikes that will be held at Wisconsin State Park System properties across the state. And get ready for other candlelight events that will begin the first weekend in January with more than 35 events running through early March.


Northern Region

Superior DNR Service Center area

A snowy scene along the Brule River. - Photo credit: DNR
A snowy scene along the Brule River.Photo credit: DNR

Brule River State Forest - Happy Winter Solstice! The calendar says Dec. 21 is the first day of winter, but it has looked like winter here for a while now. The area received an additional 2-3 inches of snow the night of Dec. 20, bringing the total on the ground to about 10 inches. The After Hours cross-country ski trails are open and being groomed after this new snowfall. Conditions are good. Trail conditions are kept up to date on and Last week temperatures were above freezing, but the temperatures for the weekend are going to be frigid. On Christmas Day, the high temperature is forecast to be at or just below zero. It will definitely be a white Christmas in the Brule River Valley this year. - Diane Gobin, visitor services associate

Pattison State Park - The Pattison State Park Ski Trail was groomed Dec. 20 but track for classic skiing was not laid due to lacking a consistent smooth base. There will be a candlelight hike at Amnicon Falls State Park on New Year's Eve from 4-8 p.m. It is a free event, but a vehicle admission sticker is required. The Friends of Pattison and Amnicon Falls State Parks will be having hot cocoa, cider, and s'mores to enjoy. - Kevin Feind, property supervisor

Hayward DNR Service Center area

Sawyer County - Most smaller lakes have 4 to 6 inches of good ice, but some of the larger lakes just froze up completely in the last week and have 1 to 4 inches of ice. There is a fair amount of snow on the ice which is leading to slush and inconsistent ice underneath. People should be very careful if they venture out to fish. Anglers finding good ice have found the fishing good. Bluegill were biting well both in shallow green weeds (5-10 feet of water) and off of deeper cribs. Walleye are taking minnows on tip-ups on the outside edges of weed beds in 10 to 20 feet of water. Pike action on tip ups has been slower than average, but that might point to good pike fishing in the near future. Pike never seem to stay inactive for long in the winter and can typically be caught in 5-15 feet of water, particularly where there are weeds. - Max Wolter, fisheries biologist, Hayward

Spooner DNR Service Center area

Crex Meadows State Wildlife - Birds are very scarce now in the Grantsburg Area. Recent cold weather and snow have forced most of the remaining migrants out of the area, leaving only the winter inhabitants. There were still a few water birds around this week, including Canada geese, trumpeter swans, mallards, and an American wigeon. Highlights this week were the snowy owls (one spotted on Main Dike Road), red crossbills, and common redpolls. A few large groups of common ravens and wild turkeys were seen over the weekend, as well as a large group of rock pigeons. There were many mammals moving around within the last week as well. Tracks of grey wolves, fisher, coyotes, and even a black bear were seen around Crex Meadows. - Lauren Finch, wildlife educator

Park Falls DNR Service Center area

Price County - Ice development is coming along very slowly on area lakes. Some lakes have 4-6 inches of ice while others have less than 1 inch in spots. Last week's cold spell did not put on as much ice as anticipated. This week's snowfall will insulate the ice and slow any development that is taking place. Extreme caution should be used when venturing out onto the ice. Anglers that have been getting out in the Park Falls area are catching fish. Bluegills are biting in 4-7 feet of water on small jigs with spikes. Crappies are being found a little deeper over flats or near cribs. Minnows with slip bobbers are working well for them. Walleye anglers are catching walleyes in 3 to 6 feet of water on small minnows set under tip ups. Every day has been different as far as action. Somedays they are biting well, somedays they have been very picky. It has been dependent on the weather fronts pushing through. - Chad Leanna, fisheries technician, Park Falls

Flambeau River State Forest - The Flambeau Hills Cross Country Ski Trail has been packed several times in preparation for setting track. There is a base setting up and the snow in the forecast and the cold temperatures will certainly add to that base. The trail is open for skate skiing. Weather pending, the trail will be packed again on Saturday Dec. 23 and groomed the first week of the new year. The snowmobile trail has been groomed and is in use. Hiking trails are open throughout the Forest. As the snow depth mounts, you may only have access with snowshoes. The snow depth is about 7 inches with more in the forecast. Dabbles of ice are flowing down the Flambeau river and the Lake of the Pines and Connors Lake have about 3 inches of ice and a little more along the edges. This Wisconsin winter is going to be a shock for the 30 Kentucky elk and calves released July 6 in the forest. They were originally trapped in 40, 50, and 60 degree Kentucky January weather. However, they're "hard wired" and adapted for the cold. The originator elk for the Kentucky herd came from out west, where subzero cold and blowing snow is common place. Though many of these imports have had it easy they do have the "equipment" to adapt. An elk's winter coat has even greater insulation than a white-tail's winter coat. There are eight timber sales occurring throughout the forest. There will be more starting after the New Year. The weather forecast for the weekend indicates Friday will be mostly cloudy, with a high of 26 and low of 7. Saturday, mostly sunny with a high of 12 and a low of 2. Sunday is forecasted to be mostly cloudy with a chance of snow and a high of 12 and low of -8. Christmas Day will be partly sunny and cold, with a high near -2 and a low of -13. Lake of the Pines Campground and Connors Lake Campground are closed for the season. - Diane Stowell, forestry technician advanced and visitor services associate

Woodruff DNR Service Center area

Oneida County - Anglers have been on the ice for the last couple weeks. Some early reports are that some folks are catching walleyes of decent size. Ice conditions are still variable up here. It's been cold, in the teens, but the amount of steady snow we've had hasn't been the best for making good ice. People are reporting anywhere from 2-8 inches or so depending on lake (smaller lakes tending to have more); however, anybody going out should still exercise caution. - Hadley Boehm, fisheries biologist, Woodruff

Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest - Cross-country ski trails were groomed Dec. 19. All trails have been packed with the groomer but track has not been set. McNaughton has no bare spots but a wet area on the Red/Skaters loop just after leaving the trailhead. Escanaba and Madeline trails have all loops packed with the groomer. Raven Trail is packed with no bare spots but still thin under the conifers on the Red loop by "Hemlock hill" and by Hemlock lake. - Tony Martinez, parks and recreation specialist


Northeast Region

Peshtigo DNR Service Center area

Marinette County - About 8-10 inches of snow fell late last week. Warm weather followed and reduced the depth to about 6 inches. More snow is predicted for this week. Some snowmobile trails have been groomed, but remain closed. Ice fisherman have been testing the ice on area lakes. Ice conditions are poor on a number of area lakes with only a couple of inches of ice covered by slush and snow. Some fisherman have reported 5 inches of ice on portions of Lake Noquebay. No permanent shacks have been seen on lakes just yet. The last rifle hunt is just around the corner for the Farmland Zone of the county--the Holiday hunt runs from Dec. 24-Jan. 1 and is an antlerless only hunt. All hunters are reminded to wear blaze orange/pink. Snowy owls have been spotted in southern portions of the county near the Peshtigo River and the bay of Green Bay. - Aaron McCullough, wildlife technician, Wausaukee

Sturgeon Bay DNR Service Center area

Newport State Park - There is about 8 inches of new snow. Trails have been groomed for cross country and skate skiing. We ask hikers and those with snow shoes to please stay off of the tracks. More snow is in the forecast for next week, so conditions could change rapidly. - Beth Bartoli, naturalist

Peninsula State Park - The Blue, Purple, Orange, Red and Yellow cross-country ski trails have been groomed and are in good condition. There are some bare spots and the hills on the Purple Loop are more poor than good due to the rocks. There are small bare spots in the more heavily wooded areas. Reminder: Hiking, snowshoeing, fat tire bikes and pets are not allowed on snow covered ski trails. The sledding hill is currently closed; when it opens only tubes and plastic sleds can be used on the sledding hill. - Jessica Doell, visitor services associate

Potawatomi State Park - The park received about 10 inches of snow on Dec. 13. All ski trails have been tracked. Classic trails are in fair condition since the warm temperatures have caused the tracks to sink to the base of trail in a few spots. The skate skiing trails are in good condition. More snow predicted later this week will improve trails now that there is a base. Please remember that hiking, biking, and pets are not permitted on ski trails when snow-covered. Please see the Potawatomi winter use map [PDF] for trails open to winter hiking and snowshoeing. Bikes may be ridden on park roadways. - Jaclyn Moeri, visitor services associate

Wautoma DNR Service Center area

Waupaca County - Deer have been getting very active during daylight hours. Should be a good opportunity for those who chose to hunt during the holiday hunt. Almost all area lakes iced over, a few people out fishing - have no report on their success. We only had a couple inches of snow on the ground and it got to 40 degrees today. One can only assume there are no trails open. - Karl Kramer, wildlife technician, Wautoma

Waushara County - The area was looking forward to getting some decent snow for Christmas, but now it looks like we will just receive a nice light covering to whiten things back up. That means that the Ice Age Trail will be pretty easy to access for some hiking and other state lands for the upcoming Holiday Hunt. Be prepared to bundle up though as later this weekend the temperatures are about to plummet. Make sure to have some extra layers and be careful when venturing out, the temperatures being forecasted are enough to cause frostbite and hypothermia if out in the cold for too long and not prepared for it. Remember to make a plan and stick to that plan and always let someone know when you plan to be back and where you plan to go! The ice has done OK in the warmup, but still is nowhere near completely safe (as no ice ever is), but the cold will be making more ice every day and ice fishing has been pretty decent as of late. Take care and have a great Holiday. Use this time to get out and enjoy the frigid temps with family! - Ben Mott, conservation warden, Wautoma


Southeast Region

Milwaukee DNR Service Center area

Milwaukee County - With the warm winter weather, most of our waterways are currently free of ice. However, we should see cold and snow over Christmas weekend, with more ice cover on our inland lakes and ponds. Our winter migrants are in Milwaukee again, with an abundance of scaup, goldeneye and mergansers, and even a handful of scoters, long-tailed ducks and harlequin ducks being seen on occasion. As of Dec. 13, an estimated 173 Snowy Owls have been tallied across 57 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Check out the map of recent sightings here. This total puts us on track for one of the largest irruptions in recent years. Visit the snowy owl page at the DNR website for more information. There are antlerless deer bonus carcass tags available for purchase across the state, including in Milwaukee County, and now is the time to take advantage of our archery deer season, which runs through Jan. 31 within our metro subunits and Jan. 8 in the rest of the state. If you already harvested an antlerless deer, you can visit the DNR website to see where in the state additional antlerless carcass tags are available. You can also visit the department website for updated deer harvest information across the state. - Dianne Robinson, wildlife biologist, Milwaukee

Kettle Moraine State Forest, Lapham Peak Unit - The man-made ski trail was groomed Dec. 19 and was in good shape after the grooming. Warm temps will soften the trail as the day goes on. Lights will be on until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Please no hiking on any of the man-made snow, the most damage from hikers occurs with soft snow. - Jay Abts, ranger


South Central Region

Fitchburg DNR Service Center area

Columbia County - Snow enthusiasts are still impatiently waiting to get out and enjoy the outdoors. What little snow we had on the ground has mostly melted away in the past few days. Most waterbodies have some level of ice on them and some brave souls have ventured out at Whalen's Grade at Lake Wisconsin and other early ice areas. With the warm temps, animals like raccoons and skunks have been active and moving around more than normal for this time of year. Eagles are starting to move in to the Prairie du Sac area and can frequently be seen hunting the Wisconsin River. Hundreds of cranes were staging in Lewiston and Newport townships at the end of last week and will likely stick around for a bit yet. Hunters at the Mud Lake Wildlife Area between Rio and Poynette are in for a holiday treat - a last 'stocking' of pheasants will occur just before the holidays. Enjoy the rest of the pheasant season! - Sara Kehrli, wildlife biologist, Poynette


West Central Region

La Crosse DNR Service Center area

Vernon County - Rough-legged hawks are being observed repeatedly in the area. These large buteos breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate to and winter primarily in the lower 48 states. They feed mainly on small rodents and often hunt for them by facing into the wind and hovering above a grassy field before diving down on the unsuspecting prey. Deep snow cover tends to push the birds farther south. Rough-legged hawks get their name from their furry-looking legs, which are thoroughly covered to the toes with soft feathers. The ferruginous hawk and golden eagle are the only other American raptors that have legs feathered all the way to the toes. For a raptor, rough-legged hawks have relatively small feet and bills. In flight, rough-legged hawks display long, rounded wings, smooth, shallow wingbeats, primary feathers with very pale undersides, and square, dark wrists or carpal patches. These strikingly beautiful birds are often encountered on the open ridgetops or wide valleys in Crawford and Vernon counties. - Dave Matheys, wildlife biologist, Viroqua

Eau Claire DNR Service Center area

Lake Wissota State Park - Species of birds seen or heard include: ravens, black capped chickadees, phoebes, northern juncos, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls and bald eagles. The campground is closed for the winter season. Ice anglers should be thinking about 'gearing up' as first ice has formed in the bays adjacent to the park. Cross country skiers are anxiously waiting additional snowfall as there has not been enough to groom the trails yet.- Dave Hladilek, park manager

Wisconsin Rapids DNR Service Center area

Buckhorn State Park - The trail into the new campground is open for dog walking and is packed when there is enough snow. Mark your calendar for the First Day Hike from 1-3 p.m. on Jan. 1. Meet at the South shelter parking lot to hike or snowshoe. Hot chocolate and cookies after the hike! Bow hunting is happening in the park and wildlife areas until Jan. 7. There is no holiday hunt in the surrounding area. Pets are not allowed on the ski trails when they are groomed. - Heather Wolf, park manager

Roche-A-Cri State Park - The stairway is not maintained in winter and can be icy; it is open from 6 a.m. to sunset. . Bow hunting continues to Jan. 7. All other hunting/trapping is now closed. - Heather Wolf, park manager

Last Revised: Thursday, December 21, 2017

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