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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published January 10, 2012

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Celebrating 40 years of caring for Wisconsin's natural heritage

The state endangered species act turns 40; yearlong highlights planned

MADISON -- Wisconsin's law safeguarding rare wildlife and plants turns 40 in 2012 with eagles, trumpeter swans, osprey and gray wolves among the successful comebacks made under its protections.

Help save our endangered species from your tax form.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and partners will highlight these successes in the coming year and the people who helped make them possible. A new web feature every month will showcase videos, slide shows, an interactive timeline and other multi-media to tell the stories, provide listings of events and places to see and learn about these species, and how people can get involved in restoration efforts on the ground. The "Comeback Champ" feature will shine the spotlight on an individual, organization or business that played a critical role in the particular species' comeback.

"Wisconsin has a lot to be proud of on this important anniversary," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "Some of our most beloved natural treasures are back from the brink, and we're leading the way with innovative approaches to safeguarding others. Our kids and grandkids will get to enjoy eagles soaring overhead thanks to the great work that DNR staff, partners and citizens have done together under the state's Endangered Species Act."

Stepp said it's important to celebrate Wisconsin's successes and also urged citizens to keep up their support, both through donating money to continue the important wildlife work and to get involved through the many volunteer opportunities available.

Efforts to safeguard rare wildlife and plants are supported in large part by private donations and by sales of endangered resources license plates. Each dollar from citizens who donate funds by checking a line on their income tax form or who make a direct contribution is matched by a dollar from the state's general purpose fund. That match can be up to $500,000 annually, and it's a critical part of the funding to safeguard Wisconsin's wild species and special places, according to Laurie Osterndorf, who leads the DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources.

Getting citizens involved on the ground is another cornerstone. "Each year, citizens donate more than 300,000 hours of labor helping us monitor wildlife populations," Stepp says. "That's an amazing number and it's why Wisconsin has some of the nation's longest running wildlife records - like the breeding bird survey and the frog and toad survey."

"Together, we can do more to save the special places and wildlife that make Wisconsin a wonderful place to live, work and visit."

An evolving effort and list of rare species

Wisconsin lawmakers passed the Endangered Species Act in 1971 and it became effective in 1972, a year before the federal Endangered Species Act was passed. Under the leadership of Ruth Hine, a zoologist who was chief of the DNR research, information and publications, the agency developed the first list with 15 species on it.

Under the Wisconsin law, it's illegal to kill, transport, possess, process or sell any wild animal on the endangered or threatened species list. Any private or public construction project DNR reviews, any grants it makes, or any action DNR undertakes on its own properties must consider whether there is potential harm to species on the list.

According to Osterndorf, the law has encouraged changes that have helped limit the impact on threatened species. Oftentimes, she notes, avoiding a rare species may be a matter of properly timing the project. For instance, people wait to cut down a tree until after the nesting season is over.

Through encouraging project applicants to seek review early in their design process, DNR staff have been able to help applicants plan their project in ways that avoid impacts. "That saves them a lot of time and money in the long-run and helps safeguard the species," Osterndorf says, noting that a recent streamlining of the review process and move to Internet-based communications has cut turnaround time from 12 weeks to 10 days.

Other keys to Wisconsin's success include the state's commitment to gathering up-to-date information on species and research that can help suggest effective strategies for avoiding impacts to those rare species, efforts to protect habitat through incentives to private landowners, and acquisition of land rich in rare species to become State Natural Areas.

"We are always evolving our program, working with and learning from our partners and the regulated community to try to do a better job safeguarding these natural treasures in the best way possible," Stepp says. "I'd say Wisconsin wears 40 pretty well!"

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Laurie Osterndorf - 608-267-7552 or Rebecca Schroeder 608-266-5244

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Public meetings set on effort to restore health of St. Croix River

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- Wisconsin and Minnesota are embarking on an ambitious, long-term campaign to restore the pollution-impaired waters of the scenic, nationally treasured St. Croix River that forms a border between the states.

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said the effort will involve municipalities, industries, businesses and farms within the St. Croix River basin. Moreover, there are ways every resident of the basin and every visitor to these waters can contribute, experts said.

St. Croix River

St. Croix River. WDNR Photo

"It will take a commitment from everyone who lives or recreates in the basin to restore our local watersheds and prevent the long-term, slow degradation of Lake St. Croix," said Dan Baumann, DNR director of water programs out of Eau Claire.

A detailed, draft report that explains this effort will be the topic of public information meetings Jan. 31 in Hudson - located on the river in St. Croix County - and to the north in Siren, located about 25 miles west of Spooner in Burnett County. A public comment period runs through Feb. 11.

The draft report is a "phosphorus reduction plan" for the land areas in both Wisconsin and Minnesota that drain to the St. Croix River. The report proposes goals and efforts to prevent further impairment of the many lakes, rivers and flowages in the basin and particularly to protect the water quality of Lake St. Croix, the lower 25 miles of the St. Croix River from Stillwater, Minnesota to Prescott, Wisconsin.

The plan was developed by the Wisconsin DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in consultation with local stakeholders, the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the document establishes the total amount of phosphorus that water bodies covered by the TMDL can receive and still support recreational use, including swimming and world-class fishing.

"This is an important step forward in setting goals for long-term protection of some of our most superlative waters," Baumann said.

Once the TMDL is approved by EPA and public comments are incorporated into any revision of the document, planning will focus on the best, most cost-effective ways to accomplish phosphorus reduction goals.

"All sources of phosphorus will need to be reduced," Baumann said. "MPCA and DNR will work together with the people of the St. Croix Basin to find solutions and reduction strategies."

To create the TMDL watershed scientists spent years monitoring the various tributary watersheds to determine the sources and amounts of phosphorus entering the basin.

The report calls for a reduction of 20 percent from the levels entering the basin in the 1990s in order to protect recreational use of Lake St. Croix, said DNR watershed scientist Buzz Sorge.

"Achieving these goals will restore water quality conditions to levels that existed in the 1940's in Lake St. Croix," Sorge said.

Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring nutrient found in soils, livestock manure, commercial fertilizers, urban runoff and wastewater discharges. It reaches rivers and streams as polluted runoff from farm fields, barnyards, residential yards, urban development, city streets and wastewater treatment plant discharges. It fuels excessive algae and plant growth, degrading the river's natural beauty and diminishing its recreational and ecosystem values.

The St. Croix Basin has many outstanding waters, including the Namekagon and St. Croix rivers, both part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Both states have forested areas in the northern part of the watershed and more urban and agricultural land use in the southern portions, said Kathy Bartilson, the DNR's northern region St. Croix Basin TMDL contact.

"There are simple and practical things everyone can do to lower the amount of phosphorus entering our waters." Bartilson said. "By making wise choices on products used in our homes and for lawn and garden care, and by improving farm practices, septic system maintenance and municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, all residents and visitors to the basin can help make a difference for the St. Croix.

"The efforts we make to minimize runoff and soil erosion will not only keep phosphorus out of our surface waters, but also will prevent pollution from excess nitrogen, herbicides, pesticides, sediment and even petroleum contaminants from streets and parking lots."

The public informational meetings will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at these locations and times:

DNR staff will be available for informal questions 30 minutes before the scheduled hearings and for a short interval immediately following.

As part of the TMDL review process individuals can submit written or electronic comments through Feb. 10, 2012. These can be directed to Kathy Bartilson, Wisconsin DNR, 810 W. Maple St., Spooner, WI 54801. After any revision based on public input, and upon approval by EPA, the TMDL will constitute an update to the St. Croix Basin Area-wide Water Quality Management Plan.

The Lake St. Croix TMDL report and the formal public notice are available on the TMDL page of the DNR website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Buzz Sorge in Eau Claire at 715-839-3794 and Kathy Bartilson in Spooner at 715-635-4053.

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Three people drown within three days after falling through thin ice

MADISON - Following three drownings over a three-day period after people broke through thin ice on Wisconsin waters, state recreational safety specialists are again strongly cautioning that ice on many state waterways is not thick enough to safely support a human -- much less any type of vehicle.

Conservation Warden Todd Schaller, recreation safety chief for the Department of Natural Resources, says the ice is always unpredictable, but this winter's mild weather has resulted in ice levels much thinner that normal for this time of year.

A car with two occupants broke through thin ice on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir near Mosinee on Saturday. One occupant was able to exit the vehicle and make it out of the water but another drowned.

Early Sunday a man walking on thin ice on the Fox River in Oshkosh broke through. His body was recovered Monday.

On Monday, a rural Warren man drowned after falling through the ice on a private pond in Monroe County. The man was riding a rough-terrain vehicle when the accident happened.

Two other people fell through thin ice in December, bringing to five the number of people who have died in such incidents this winter. An ice angler broke through thin ice on High Fall Flowage in Marinette County and drowned, and a teenager broke through the ice of on a quarry near Oshkosh and drowned.

Temperatures that have reached into the 50s in southern Wisconsin in the last week have continued to slow ice formation, and even helped melt ice that had already formed.

Conditions vary throughout the state with some of Wisconsin larger lakes like Lake Winnebago and Lake Mendota still having open water. Many river systems also remain open.

"It is important that ice fishers use caution if conditions in their area allow them to venture out," Schaller said. "If ice thickness is unknown, stay on the shore and stay dry. The ice fishing season will be here soon."

Schaller says people should use this time to brush on some ice safety precautions. Review these with others who enjoy the outdoors - especially any children. Ice poses dangers on ponds, lakes and rivers.

Before you go:

When you go:

Watch out for this:

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Todd Schaller - (608) 267-2774

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DNR chat service up more than 20 percent

MADISON - Wisconsin residents and visitors are increasingly going online to communicate with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, according to records showing significant increases in the DNR's chat service, which is just one of the many ways the agency is using technology to better serve Wisconsin citizens and improve customer service.

Use of the DNR's chat service has increased more than 22 percent since last year, according to Diane Brookbank, DNR customer service and licensing director. The service allows customers to go online and to chat with a highly trained DNR customer service representative who responds to a wide variety of questions on DNR issues, from clarifying regulations on hunting and fishing to restrictions on firewood transportation.

"We believe that we are the only state agency to offer this service," Brookbank said "Customer feedback has been phenomenal."

Chat based customer support is much more cost effective than phone support; and agents can handle more than one chat at a time. Staff can send links, images and other digital information which assist them in servicing our customers."

The service is available from 7 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. seven days a week through the "chat" link in the social media box on the DNR website home page dnr.wi.gov or through the or through the "contact us" button at the top of most DNR web pages.

The agency is also turning to social media to better communicate with customers, having recently launched a Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Diane Brookbank - 608-267-7799

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Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, January 10, 2012




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