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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published April 30, 2013

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"It All Adds Up" theme highlights Clean Air Month this May

MADISON - As winter finally gives way to warmer temperatures in Wisconsin, sunny May skies signal that Clean Air Month has arrived.

"It All Adds Up To Cleaner Air" is the theme for the annual spring event in Wisconsin. A new Clean Air Month page on the Department of Natural Resources website lists tips for reducing air emissions, a place for the public to sign up for air quality notices and a poetry contest hosted by the department for third, fourth and fifth graders.

"With May as Clean Air Month and 2013 The Year of Well Being throughout our state, there's no better time to learn about how important clean air is to our health and quality of life," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "At your DNR, we'll continue to work hard so Wisconsin citizens can enjoy some of the cleanest air in the nation.'

Stepp noted that the agency's recent Wisconsin Air Quality Trends Report 2013 [PDF] revealed a positive trend toward cleaner air since 2002. Overall, trends show improved air quality since the 1980s.

Other successes from the past year include:

"Clean Air Month is a great time to celebrate our state's achievements in air quality. We are breathing healthier air and continuing to see positive air quality trends," said Bart Sponseller DNR air management program director.

The "Air Air Everywhere" poetry contest runs until May 17. Winners will have their poems featured on the DNR's Environmental Education for Kids - EEK! website. People can also check out the DNR's "Do a Little, Save A Lot" videos on the DNR YouTube channel to learn about more ways to help improve Wisconsin's air quality.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Lindsay Haas, 262-574-2113

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Sturgeon spawning underway; major waters mark restoration milestones

WISCONSIN DELLS - While the lake sturgeon spawning spectacle on the Winnebago System is unfolding now and grabbing the biggest headlines, sturgeon populations on several major state rivers are quietly recording some significant milestones, state fisheries officials say.

"It's been a great year for sturgeon restoration efforts," says Karl Scheidegger, co-leader of the Department of Natural Resources sturgeon team. "We're beginning to see the fruits of past and present biologists' labor. It's exciting to witness the milestones."

Among the milestones:

Restoration of sturgeon to major waters in Wisconsin has been going on for the last generation, a long-term commitment given that lake sturgeon don't spawn until they are 21 to 34 years old, and then only every three to five years.

People can see lake sturgeon up close during the spawning season on the Lake Winnebago system. That system boasts the state's and the world's largest population of the fish, which can grow to more than 200 pounds and live longer than 100 years, Scheidegger says.

People can find maps showing good viewing locations along the Wolf River and daily spawning reports by searching the DNR website for "lake sturgeon spawning."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Karl Scheidegger, 608-267-9426

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Mystery of the disappearing prairie chickens

MADISON - Numbers of an iconic Wisconsin bird have plummeted in the last dozen years, prompting biologists to take action to keep the beloved greater prairie chicken from disappearing from the state forever.

Greater prairie chicken
Greater prairie chicken
WDNR Photo

Once found in every Wisconsin county, today their population is fewer than 600, making them a threatened species in Wisconsin.

Research at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee had suggested that the decline was caused by a lack of genetic diversity in the population.

So a team of conservation experts from across the region joined with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to initiate a bold strategy: They brought in female reinforcements from Minnesota with the goal of introducing some new genes into the local population.

The introduced birds were outfitted with radio transmitters and turned loose on the Buena Vista Wildlife Area in central Wisconsin. The experiment was part of the DNR's Greater Prairie Chicken Management Plan that also is addressing habitat concerns.

Besides the DNR and UWM, who addressed the genetics, the translocation team included the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy-Minnesota Chapter, University of Minnesota-Crookston, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area Partnership and the Society of Tympanuchus Cupido Pinnatus.

The results of their breeding project were successful, but not the answer to the long-term problem of declining populations, said Peter Dunn, a biologist at UWM and member of the Wisconsin Greater Prairie Chicken Genetics panel.

"We found the genetic diversity to be at about the same level as it was before the experiment," said Dunn. "While the project added some new genes to the Wisconsin population, its real value was in offsetting losses in genetic variation that happen naturally in small populations through a phenomenon called drift."

Drift occurs when individuals with rare genes fail to reproduce and those genes become lost in the population simply by chance. In small populations, drift can lead to inbreeding and an increased incidence of harmful traits that can have a negative effect on survival rates.

The effect of drift means that the translocation of Minnesota hens simply held the line on loss of diversity. In fact, without continuing translocation, it is unclear for how long the genes introduced by the project will persist.

Transport and tracking of the birds proved expensive and time-consuming, but the project did offer some good news: The scientists found no evidence of inbreeding, which reduces survival, and did not see a decrease in the number of eggs that hatched.

"If genetic erosion isn't the main cause of the population decline, scientists now need to investigate ecological concerns, like lack of abundant and suitable grassland habitat or poor chick survival as more likely culprits," says Scott Hull, DNR wildlife research scientist.

Going forward, the scientists will analyze the demographic and genetic data to determine how many birds are needed to maintain or change genetic diversity and identify habitat management efforts that help more chicks to survive into adulthood.

The Buena Vista Wildlife Area is one of four DNR-managed properties in central Wisconsin that make up the Central Wisconsin Grassland Conservation Area Project, which was established in 2004 to protect Wisconsin's native grassland wildlife, including the greater prairie chicken.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Hull 608-224-6196; Bob Manwell 608-275-3317

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Staring down from space, satellite measures Wisconsin water quality

FITCHBURG, Wis. -- Staring down from space with an unsleeping eye, scientists are using satellites powerful lenses to peer into Wisconsin lakes and measure, on a grand scale, what human lake watchers and water scientists have been doing from a much lower vantage point, for decades.

"How many of us have stood on a lakeshore or a pier or been out on the water in a boat and stared into the water judging its quality by its clarity," said Karen von Huene, executive director of Wisconsin Lakes, a statewide organization working to protect and enhance water quality in Wisconsin lakes and a member of the Wisconsin Lakes Partnership. "Clear water is associated with health; cloudy, algae-choked or heavily colored water is usually thought of as dirty, unhealthy or downright toxic. And to a large extent, that is true."

Clarity is a fair measure of the amount of algae and plankton in a lake which in turn represent the amount of nutrients available. The suspended green particles or floating greenish or brownish mats that diminish clarity are usually plankton and algae. It's a fairly simple formula: the more nutrients, the more plankton and algae, leading to less clarity in the water.

Space-based technology that is able to measure clarity in thousands of lakes at a time is a powerful tool for monitoring land-based efforts to control nutrient levels. Repeated satellite estimates made over the last 30 years have documented that water clarity in some Wisconsin lakes has improved, some has diminished and many lakes haven't changed.

Some level of nutrients are necessary, say biologists, as algae and plankton are the first level of a food chain that tops out with popular game fish sought by anglers. Lakes low in nutrient are usually clear, deep and free of weeds and algae and can support a good game fish population, but not as large an overall fish population as a lake with more nutrient. These waters are also popular swimming and boating destinations.

Higher nutrient levels can support larger overall fish populations but the waters are often green, weedy, and less attractive for swimming and boating. Oxygen levels can be low in these lakes and rough fish, such as suckers and carp are commonly found.

Father Pietro Angelo Secchi

Researchers and volunteers have measured clarity, or the depth at which an object lowered from the surface can no longer be seen, since 1865 with a simple device called a Secchi disk named, appropriately, after its Italian born inventor Father Pietro Angelo Secchi, a Jesuit priest and professor of physics.

In its modern form a Secchi disk is made from thin metal about 8 inches in diameter with a painted black and white pattern. It is lowered slowly into the water until it can no longer be seen and the depth is recorded. A simple technology from a simpler time, the Secchi disk is still used today by hundreds of volunteers to take more frequent measurements and to verify what the "eye in the sky" is seeing.

But visiting each of Wisconsin's 15,000 lakes on a regular basis is not practical or cost effective and that's where the view from space comes in handy.

"With the satellite technology available we regularly measure clarity on 8,000 of Wisconsin's largest lakes," said Department of Natural Resources research scientist, Steve Greb. "But there are limitations such as cloudy skies and the frequency at which the satellites pass over Wisconsin. They also can't tell us concentrations of things like PCBs, pesticides or heavy metals. Only ground sampling and lab analysis can do that at this time."

Some Wisconsin lakes, particularly those in forested regions, are rich in tannins, a byproduct of water leaching color from organic matter before entering a lake. The rich brownish color is not an indicator of excess nutrient in the water but to the satellite's eye it registers the same as waters clouded by algae and plankton. Lake watchers are able to note which lakes are dark with tannins from those clouded by algae or plankton, verifying what the satellite is seeing.

Scientists are hopeful that the newer generation of satellites being launched now will be able to discriminate between the water quality parameters that contribute to water clarity.

"We've made great advances in remote sensing," says Greb. "We aren't at the point where satellites can take over ground-based observation but they are getting better with each new launch. We even have studies in remote sensing underway on the International Space Station and we're finding new applications for this technology all the time."

For more information on Wisconsin lakes, including maps, a lake locator, lake topics and how to get involved in citizen lake monitoring go to dnr.wi.gov and enter the search word "lake."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Greb (608) 221-6362; Bob Manwell (608) 275-3317

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Invasive species strategic plan released, implementation summit planned

MADISON - A new statewide strategic plan will help guide Wisconsin state agencies and partners in responding to the threat of invasive species to the state's ecosystems, recreation, and economy.

Translating that plan into action will be the topic of a May 23 summit in Madison that will bring together government agencies, conservation groups, businesses and interested individuals.

The strategic plan was developed by the Wisconsin Invasive Species Council, which includes representatives from state agencies and seven private members from industry, the university system, and nongovernmental organizations.

The plan provides an overarching strategy that individual agency and partner plans can draw from and that supports successful ongoing work in Wisconsin, according to Paul Schumacher, council chair and a member of Wisconsin Lakes, from Door County.

"With the plan finalized, it is now time to move toward implementation," Schumacher says. "We invite agency, industry, academic, and nonprofit partners to join in on this dialogue. Our goal is to develop a shared vision on how the strategic plan can be used to enhance invasive species efforts in Wisconsin."

"Everyone has an interest in finding solutions. The reason for holding a workday to create an implementation plan is to turn those solutions into actions to prevent the spread of invasive species," says Mindy Wilkinson, invasive species project coordinator at the Department of Natural Resources. "Invasive species threaten our native plants and animals, our agriculture, tourism and forestry industries, recreation, and quality of life."

The plan, executive summary and appendices can be found on the Wisconsin Invasive Species Council website under "Strategic Plan." The plan sets five top priorities for Wisconsin:

The Council's "Implementation Summit" is set for May 23, 2013 at the Pyle Center in Madison and will include an overview of the plan, a panel discussion, and afternoon breakout sessions for participants to develop implementation plans for the core areas of the strategic plan.

To register for the Implementation Summit please contact Mindy Wilkinson, DNR's invasive species coordinator, at invasive.species@wisconsin.gov, or 608-266-6437.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Mindy Wilkinson (608) 266-6437

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Late spring means garlic mustard will quickly bolt to flower as temperatures warm up

MADISON -- This year's late spring is giving people plenty of time to plan for controlling invasive plants like garlic mustard. However, with the recent warm up, state invasive species specialists say those fast growing plants may quickly bolt and start to flower. Landowners, land managers and volunteers who work in parks and other natural areas should be prepared to get outside and start their control efforts soon.

Garlic mustard
Garlic mustard (click on photo for more images)
WDNR Photo

Most people are familiar with garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial plant that overwinters as a rosette of small green leaves and in the spring sends up one to many flower stalks with triangular leaves and small, four-petaled white flowers.

"Anyone uncertain about the identification can crush the rapidly growing leaves" says Kelly Kearns, invasive plant specialist with Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Endangered Resources "If it smells like garlic, you probably found garlic mustard."

This rapidly growing biennial spreads through forests, eliminating native wildflowers, limiting tree seedlings from developing and even slowing the growth of mature trees.

Landowners wanting to keep this weed from overtaking their woods must prevent any of the plants from producing seed each year. For smaller populations this usually involves hand-pulling. Kearns says people can save themselves extra work if they pull before the plants start to flower. At that time the plants can be thrown onto the shrubs or scattered to dry them out.

"Avoid leaving them in piles as that will allow them to stay moist and continue to grow and flower. If the plants have started to flower, they need to be removed from the sites and disposed of to prevent seeds from developing," Kearns says.

Although state law bans yard waste from landfills, any plants that are regulated as "restricted invasive plants" by Wisconsin's Invasive Species Rule can be sent to landfills to keep their seeds and roots out of municipal and county compost facilities. They should be bagged, with the bags marked "Invasive Plants" so the landfill operator knows they are exempt from the yard waste ban. The list of regulated invasive species and photos and fact sheets for most of the invasive plants can be found on the DNR's website and type in keyword "invasives."

Hedge parsley
Hedge parsley (click on image for more photos)
WDNR Photo

In addition to garlic mustard there are a number of other herbaceous plants that can invade forests and spread quickly. In southern counties hedge parsley (Torilis japonica) is quickly expanding its range.

"Don't be fooled by the delicate look of the fern like leaves and small umbrella shaped clusters of tiny white flowers," Kearns says. "These plants produce seeds with burrs that stick to clothes and fur and hitchhike to new areas."

Dame's rocket
Dame's rocket (click on photo for more images)
WDNR Photo

Dame's rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is related to garlic mustard and spreads in similar ways. Its flowers range from white to pink to lavender. Its flowers have only four petals, whereas the look-alike phlox has five petals.

Homeowners, and especially landowners, should be vigilant in watching for any plants that seem to be spreading and "taking over." Even some native species can become aggressive and more abundant than is desired. The key to keeping any invasive plants from completely overtaking an area is to keep them from reproducing.

"Diligent efforts to prevent the plants from producing seed can keep woodlands free of the weed and protect the habitat for an array of wildflowers and native trees," Kearns says.

To keep any weedy plant under control, landowners will need to use some combination of pulling, cutting, burning or using an herbicide before the plants flower to keep them from developing seeds. Some plants also spread by creeping stems or roots, so additional effort may be needed to stop their spread.

If herbicides are used for these herbaceous forest invasives, it must be done early and carefully to prevent killing wildflowers and other desirable plants. There is information about controlling these plants on the Web and in publications from the DNR and University of Wisconsin-Extension.

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Prescribed burns finally underway at State Natural Areas after cold weather delay

MURALT PRAIRIE, GREEN COUNTY - State land managers are figuratively burning the midnight oil these days to preserve and restore some of the state's most endangered prairies and woodlands, and to keep oaks a part of southern Wisconsin's landscape and heritage.

The cold, wet spring delayed nearly a month the carefully conducted fires, or "prescribed burns," managers set on State Natural Areas to help restore prairies and woodlands and improve habitat.

Such prescribed burns also are set for many of the same reasons on state wildlife areas, public hunting grounds, state fisheries areas and state parks managed by the Department of Natural resources. But the inability to conduct such burns can have an especially profound impact on State Natural Areas, which harbor some of the best remaining examples of Wisconsin's pre-settlement landscapes and are the last and best refuges for scores of rare plants and animals, says Matt Zine, a conservation biologist and longtime leader of the State Natural Areas crew in southern Wisconsin.

"These plant communities evolved with fire, so prescribed burning is a critical part of our restoration efforts," Zine says.

Half-way through the typical burn season, his State Natural Areas crew had conducted only two of the 25 done in a typical spring burn season. So with warmer weather arriving, Zine and State Natural Area crews across the state have been playing catch up.

In a little more than a week, Zine's southern Wisconsin crew increased their total to 11 sites burned in Grant, Lafayette, Dane, Green, Sauk, and Waukesha counties.

"Prescribed burning is our best, and most important tool to help us control invasive species like garlic mustard and stimulate the native ground layer, so we really want to get these burns in if conditions allow," he says.

Prescribed burning helps boost seed production, enhancing native plants on the site and producing excess seed to plant on former agriculture lands, he says. Importantly, prescribed burning is helping keep oak on the landscape in southern Wisconsin, Zine says.

Oaks tolerate fire better than most tree species and so had the upper hand in the fire-prone landscape before European settlement of Wisconsin. Oak have thick bark that helps them withstand the intensity of fire.

After settlement put an end to most fires, oaks lost their advantage and their Achilles heel became apparent - namely, that they don't tolerate shade very well, Zine says.

"The result is that all of the fire-intolerant species previously held in check by fire are now shading out young oaks and largely replacing them on much of the Wisconsin landscape," he says.

"That's why prescribed burns are so important."

Prescribed burns are also very carefully planned and executed. Before any burn is conducted, experienced and trained personnel assess the area to determine the wind direction and speed, relative humidity, fuel moisture levels, safety concerns, and a host of other factors, Zine says. Qualified personnel control fire behavior by using comprehensive planning/application and specialized fire equipment. Local police and fire officials are notified when and where burns will take place so they can respond to people who report that they are seeing smoke from an area.

More information, lists of sites planned for prescribed burns this spring on a variety of DNR properties, and a slide show illustrating key steps, safety equipment and techniques are available by searching the DNR website for "prescribed burn." More information specifically about efforts by Zine and his crew to use prescribed fire to help restore and maintain Wisconsin's prairies and oak savannas is found in the Natural Resources magazine article, "Protecting Nature's Middle Class."

The typical burning season in southern Wisconsin runs from about the last week in March through the first week in May, between the time that snow has melted and significant green-up has occurred. Land managers also carefully control the prescribed burns to accomplish goals for the site while avoiding harming the rare species these State Natural Areas harbor. A number of rare amphibians and reptiles, for example, will emerge from hibernation once significant warm-up occurs, and require careful consideration when conducting burns, Zine says.

"It's always a narrow window of opportunity, and even more so this spring," he says. "If we can get a good stretch of burning weather, however, we hope we'll be able to get our prescribed burns done on the most critical sites and can keep making progress on restoring and maintaining these important areas for now and future generations to enjoy."

Wisconsin has the nation's oldest and largest State Natural Areas program, with 653 designated State Natural Areas preserving 358,000 acres of prairies, forests, and wetlands. State Natural Areas are generally open to hiking, hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife watching although most lack public facilities like restrooms and improved parking lots.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Matt Zine, 608-266-8916

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Four Wisconsin Green & Healthy schools honored as national Green Ribbon Schools winners

MADISON - Four Wisconsin schools involved in the state Green & Health Schools program have been named national Green Ribbon Schools winners.

Green Ribbon Schools is a U.S. Department of Education program that recognizes schools participating in activities that promote and encourage a healthy and environmentally friendly learning environment. Wisconsin's honored schools are also certified Sugar Maple schools in the Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin program, a partnership program of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Instruction [exit DNR] and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education [exit DNR].

Green & Healthy Schools

PLT

The state's Green and Healthy Schools program supports and encourages schools to create safe learning environments and prepare students to understand, analyze and address the major environmental and sustainability challenges now and in the future through providing resources, recognition and certification. Participating schools are also recognized as PLT GreenSchools! and are eligible for additional funding and professional development opportunities.

These four Sugar Maple Green & Healthy Schools won the prestigious Green Ribbon award:

In addition, the Fort Atkinson School District was one of 14 nationwide to earn the first ever "District Sustainability Awards." Fort Atkinson has achieved EPA Energy Star certification for every school building, offers environmental curriculum including AP Environmental Science, involves students and teachers in sustainability policy formulation, and takes other steps for health and sustainability.

Wisconsin and three other states (California, Pennsylvania and Washington) have the greatest number of Green Ribbon Schools honorees for 2013.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Caitlin Henning, 608-267-7622

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Learn how compost helps your yard or garden during International Composting Awareness Week

MADISON - Many Wisconsin residents perform the routine task of taking out the garbage once a week, but state waste management specialists say it's likely almost 25 percent of their trash is organic material that could be composted. In other words, a quarter of what is being thrown away isn't garbage at all.

That's why the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is inviting people all over the state to learn about the advantages of composting that organic material during International Composting Awareness Week May 6-12.

"Composting is easy, offers a lot of benefits and can be done in a variety of ways," said Ann Coakley, director of the DNR waste and materials management program. "This is a worldwide event, and it's a great opportunity for folks to start composting at home or work to take advantage of what compost has to offer."

The theme for this year's Composting Awareness Week is "Compost! Nature's Way to Grow." When a household's organic materials - coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings and leaves, for example - are composted, they become a useful resource in the garden or backyard.

Compost
The end result of composting is a nutrient-rich, soil-like material.
WDNR Photo

"The end result of composting is a nutrient-rich, soil-like material that can be used in many ways," said Brad Wolbert, DNR recycling and solid waste chief. "People can sprinkle it into their lawn soil or use it in their gardens. It can also be used as mulch around trees and shrubs. The benefits are great."

Wolbert noted that compost provides organic material and nutrients to soil, improving the health of lawns and gardens. It also saves water by improving the soil's ability to hold moisture and reducing water runoff. Composting ultimately can save people money by reducing the need for fertilizers, and municipalities spend fewer tax dollars collecting yard material.

Since state law bans yard materials from Wisconsin landfills, composting is also the preferred method for managing leaves, branches, grass clippings and other yard debris. State forestry officials especially encourage composting as an alternative to open burning, since burning of yard materials is the number one cause of wildfires in Wisconsin.

Home composting isn't complicated, and the DNR website has helpful resources for people to learn more and get started. Here are some quick tips to remember:

To find more information about composting, visit dnr.wi.gov and search "Compost." The DNR also has a poster titled "Garbage to Gardens: Compost Grows" [pdf]. For free copies, contact Elisabeth Olson at 608-264-9258 or mailto:elisabeth.olson@wisconsin.gov.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brad Wolbert, 608-264-6286

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Northern pike rescued from Brown County ditches

GREEN BAY - Eighteen northern pike -- including some longer than 30 inches -- that were stranded by shallow water following their spring spawning run, are once again swimming in the waters of Green Bay thanks to quick response by state fisheries biologists and county officials.

Northern pike normally run up the ditches and into wetland areas to spawn in the spring when the water levels are high enough for them to make the trip. Unfortunately, sometimes it is difficult for the pike to get back down to the Bay of Green Bay before water levels drop back down. Low water levels in Green Bay also influence water levels in small tributaries and ditches leading into the bay.

Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologists are working with state, federal, county, tribal and non-profit partners to restore and enhance spawning habitat for northern pike and to improve fish passage at culverts.

DNR fisheries biologists and staff from Brown County Land Conservation Department last week discovered a good number of adult northern pike stranded in ditches or wetland pockets with nowhere to go.

"When we first looked at one ditch, in particular, we saw only three adult pike," explained Tammie Paoli, DNR fisheries biologist at Peshtigo, "but when we shocked the water, 18 fish appeared from under the grass and inside the culvert."

Several of the 18 fish captured were in the upper 30-inch size range. DNR staff shocked the fish to temporarily stun them so they could be handled. Once they were captured, they were put into a large tank to recover and were released back into the Bay of Green Bay.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Tammie Paoli - 715-582-5052

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Last Revised: Tuesday, April 30, 2013




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