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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published December 10, 2013

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Snowmobile season on deck: Please keep the sled parked until trails are ready!

MADISON -- With winter storms powering through all parts of Wisconsin in recent days ushering in snow and cold, state recreational specialists are asking snowmobilers to prep their sleds for the season but to please hold off on hitting the trails until local authorities give you the green flag.

"Ultimately, the decision to open trails is made at the local level," Cathy Burrow, snowmobile trails grants manager for the state Department of Natural Resources, says of the many local officials and clubs who care for the trails. "While most landowner agreements state that trails can open by Dec. 1, snow, standing crops, trail inspections and weather conditions can dictate the actual opening date, which is announced by county officials."

Conservation Warden Todd Schaller, chief of the Bureau of Law Enforcement's Recreational Safety Program, says sometimes over-anxious snowmobilers can sometimes create problems by using the trails before they have been officially opened.

"In addition to being irresponsible, unsafe and illegal; it greatly threatens the landowner agreements that the club members have worked so hard to obtain and has resulted in closing large portions of trails throughout the state," Schaller says.

Snowmobile trail information such as conditions and openings can be found through county foresters, park and recreation officials, local snowmobile clubs, local chambers of commerce, and on the Snow Conditions Report on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Web [exit DNR].

Wisconsin ranks among the top states in providing snowmobile trails, Burrow says. The DNR provides $5.8 million in grants to maintain more than 18,700 miles of trails in the state.

Schaller says the DNR urges snowmobiles to stay on the trail and ride responsibly. Here are among the top things Schaller says snowmobilers can do now to prep for a fun, safe season:

All the information and details mentioned above can be found by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov for "snowmobile."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Conservation Warden Todd Schaller (608) 267 2774, or DNR snowmobile trails grant manager Cathy Burrow - (608) 267-0494; and, Joanne Haas, public affairs manager for Law Enforcement, 608-209-8147

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Wisconsin chinook stocking strategy set for 2014 and beyond

MADISON - The state's strategy for stocking chinook salmon in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters in 2014 and beyond is set and seeks to maintain existing great fishing opportunities in spring and summer all along the coast while tweaking the state's original proposal based on public input to improve fall fishing.

"You spoke and we listened," says DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "This stocking strategy reflects your input and will continue to help deliver the fantastic fishing opportunities you've enjoyed on Lake Michigan and its tributaries."

Stepp thanked the many people who attended meetings over the past two years to provide feedback on the stocking strategy, and those who submitted comments via emails and other communications.

Mike Staggs, Wisconsin's fisheries director, says the updated stocking strategy reflects newer research showing that chinook are highly migratory fish and that where the fish are stocked doesn't affect the main fishery in the spring and summer.

"But stocking location does affect the fall fishery in Wisconsin, so we focused our strategy on striking a balance between providing opportunities along the coast in the fall and responding to public concerns to provide more fish where the angler pressure, harvest and economic impact are the greatest in fall," he says.

Research shows that more than half of the chinook salmon in Lake Michigan are wild and that chinook swim all over Lake Michigan during the spring and summer. Read more in "Lake Michigan's salmon fishery thrives," in the December 2012 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

That information and other research to date suggests that stocking plays a much more important role in determining where fish are caught in Wisconsin in the fall, with the bulk of fish returning on their spawning runs to streams where they were stocked, says Brad Eggold, DNR fisheries supervisor for southern Lake Michigan.

"We heard from stakeholders loud and clear that they wanted us to provide fall fishing opportunities in as many places as possible," says Eggold. "This strategy provides that, but also stocks more chinook where we see more fishing for chinook.

"That's one of the other concerns we heard at the October Lake Michigan Fisheries Forum meeting from anglers and the businesses and communities that depend on chinook."

DNR put its stocking proposal out for public comment in August and September, and then shared it with members and visitors to the forum on Oct. 12, culminating two years of meetings and extensive public input revolving around lake-wide and state stocking of chinook. The forum is an independent group of Lake Michigan stakeholders convened by University of Wisconsin Sea Grant.

Wisconsin and other states and tribes that share fisheries management on Lake Michigan agreed to adjust stocking levels of chinook starting in 2013 to bring the number of predator fish like chinook back into line with the number of prey fish. Significantly increased natural reproduction of chinook in Michigan streams and record low levels of alewives, a key fish food, had led to declines in fish condition in recent years and university researchers projected the chinook population would crash in coming years if no measures were taken.

That lake-wide stocking adjustment, public input, and the new understanding of fish migration since DNR's longstanding stocking strategy was created spurred DNR to update the stocking strategy, Staggs says.

The proposal DNR sent for public comment called for a baseline allocation for the counties to assure fall fishing along the coast and then called for dividing the remaining 25 percent based on four factors measuring fall fishing effort and harvest, and total charter boat trips.

After the Oct. 12 fisheries forum meeting, DNR kept most of the strategy the same but ratcheted back the number of chinook that will be stocked in 2014 into Strawberry Creek, where DNR maintains the main egg collection facility for chinook, and distributed them among other ports. The 2014 stocking plan and other materials are available on the Lake Michigan Fisheries Forum web page.

"This will still allow us to adequately meet our egg collection goals for chinook. In addition to Strawberry Creek, we also can collect chinook salmon eggs at our other two facilities (Besadny Anadromous Fisheries Facility and Root River Steelhead Facility)," Eggold says.

Two other tweaks made to the proposal change the charter trips factor to include only fall charter trips, and to provide a direct allocation of 30,000 fish to northern Door County, Staggs says.

Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Kewaunee counties also will get a larger share of fish under the new stocking strategy because they have the highest angler effort, harvest rates and charter trips in the fall, Eggold says.

Dave Boyarski, fish supervisor based out of Sturgeon Bay, says that local fish managers in those counties with multiple ports will be working with angler organizations and others to help determine where fish go within a particular county if there is more than one port. Manitowoc, Kewaunee and Door County all have more than one port.

The numbers of fish planned for stocking in the counties are below; find the full text of the recommendation and a spreadsheet with the numbers on DNR's Lake Michigan Fisheries Forum web page:

"We received public feedback and questions about stocking numbers at specific locations within counties," Boyarski says. "For these local decisions, fisheries managers will continue to work closely with stakeholders to ensure salmon are stocked in the best locations to benefit the fishery."

Staggs says anglers won't see a big change in their fishing opportunities during spring and summer because of the stocking adjustments. "We're doing this to maintain the fantastic fishing on Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters," he says. "The models show anglers shouldn't see a big change in fishing opportunities because of the increase in natural reproduction in Michigan streams."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brad Eggold, 414-382-7921; Dave Boyarski, 920-746-2865

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Competitive grant program for hatcheries begins; aims to increase walleye production

MADISON - Another important piece of Wisconsin's plan to boost walleye stocking is rolling out: applications are now available for tribes, municipalities and private fish farmers to compete for $2 million for infrastructure projects to allow them to produce more larger walleye for stocking in Wisconsin.

"Tribes, municipalities and private fish farmers are important partners in Wisconsin's great fisheries and we're pleased that this competitive grant program will put more walleye into Wisconsin waters," says Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. "I appreciate the hard work of our staff to ready the many details of the program, and look forward to see the results of this important effort."

The one-time, $2 million competitive grant program is part of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative, a funding package developed by Gov. Scott Walker and DNR to boost walleye stocking statewide and funded by the Legislature for two years.

The initiative aims to increase the ability of state fish hatcheries and tribal, municipal and private hatcheries to produce more larger walleye for stocking. Research has shown that the larger walleye survive at much higher rates. Already, the extra finding the initiative provided state hatcheries enabled DNR to produce more than four times the typical number of larger walleye for stocking in 2013.

Under the rules for the grant program, the state will be awarding $2 million in one cycle to Wisconsin facilities. The total grant amount awarded to an individual grantee or hatchery may not exceed $500,000 and there is no match required from applicants. All application materials can be found by searching the DNR website for "walleye initiative" and clicking on the production grants tab.

Applications for grant funding will be accepted by DNR through Jan. 31, 2014. The applicants must provide the number of fish they will produce, the price, and commit to stocking those within Wisconsin for at least three years.

A companion part of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative provides DNR $500,000 next year to buy walleye for stocking, according to Jeff Soellner, a DNR financial assistance specialist involved in developing the grant rules.

The technical review panel for the grants will include DNR staff with expertise in walleye and cool-water species hatchery production and management, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries expert and a University of Wisconsin - Extension fisheries expert.

The DNR will make final grant award based on the recommendations of the technical review panel.

Public hearings in December on grant program rules

Public hearings are set for Dec. 12 in Wausau and Dec. 19 in Madison on the rules governing the fish production grant program created by the Legislature as part of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative. Emergency rules were approved in October by the State Natural Resources Board. The hearings will be held:

The proposed rule and supporting documents may be reviewed and comments electronically submitted at the following internet site: adminrules.wisconsin.gov (exit DNR). A copy of the proposed rules and supporting documents may also be obtained from Kate Strom Hiorns, Bureau of Fisheries Management, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707 or dnrfishrules@wisconsin.gov.

Written comments on the proposed rule may be submitted via U.S. mail or email to Kate Strom Hiorns at the addresses noted above. Written comments, whether submitted electronically or by U.S. mail, will have the same weight and effect as oral statements presented at the public hearings. Comments may be submitted until Dec. 19, 2013.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeff Soellner, 608-267-7152; Heidi Nelson, 608-267-7499; Brian Goodman, 608-267-0848

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DNR Secretary Stepp notes passing of Herb Behnke, longest serving Natural Resources Board member

MADISON-Herb Behnke of Shawano, former chairman of the Natural Resources Board and longest serving member and a "shining light among Wisconsin conservationists" has passed away at the age of 88.

Behnke, who preferred to go by Herb, grew up on a farm during the Great Depression and despite his success in business; but those who knew him say he never forgot his humble, country upbringing. During his 22 years of service on the Natural Resources Board, he was a champion of the common man and woman.

"Herb was a genuine friend to the Department of Natural Resources and a shining light among Wisconsin conservationists," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "He understood that not everyone could own land and became a fearless champion of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. He was also a great friend to the DNR's warden force."

During his time on the Natural Resources Board, Herb was the voice for the "common man and woman." Known as a "straight shooter," he was a proponent of common sense and a courageous advocate for science-based resource management. His passion for outdoor recreation and conservation was inspired by conservationist Aldo Leopold.

A glimpse at Herb's contributions to the community and conservation

"Herb was a fighter for the people. Or, as he often put it, he stood for the common man and woman who shared his lifelong passion for the natural resources," said Christine Thomas, dean of the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point and current NRB member. "There will never be enough thanks for the impact and contributions that Herb made as a conservationist."In his professional life, Herb dedicated 42-years to Cooperative Resources International, an international Shawano-based animal breeding company as the Vice President of marketing.

Wisconsin is a better place because of Herb's contributions. His legacy work as a conservationist will live on forever.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bill Cosh, DNR spokesperson, 608-267-2773

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More public access to private shooting ranges on way

DNR offers $279,757 in cost-share for private range projects

MADISON -- More high-quality shooting opportunities for the public are on the way thanks to a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources cost-share grant program for public and private shooting ranges.

The Shooting Range Grant Program is funded by the Wildlife Restoration Grant, also known as the Pittman-Robertson, which is fund supported by a 10 to 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition. For the first time in several years, this money has been made available to increase public access to quality, safe shooting opportunities throughout the state and improving both public and private shooting ranges. The DNR is awarding 12 shooting ranges full or partial funding for their projects ranging from $1,500 to $84,000. A total of nearly $280,000 will be spent on all the projects combined.

With an estimated 800,000 shooters and hunters in Wisconsin and recent strong growth in interest in shooting, providing access to safe, quality places to shoot is a priority for the DNR.

"The best place for someone to learn to shoot and to practice shooting is at a well-managed and maintained range," Keith Warnke, DNR hunting and shooting sports coordinator. "This grant program will help range operators and clubs provide high quality shooting opportunities around the state."

The Shooting Range Grant Program can cost share up to 50 percent of approved renovation and development costs at private ranges and up to 75 percent at publicly owned ranges. Counties, cities, villages, townships, other governmental agencies or units, clubs or organizations, businesses or corporations and educational institutions are eligible for this program. The money is available for projects on privately owned ranges. Publicly owned range projects will be evaluated and funded on a case by case basis and will not affect the amount of money available for the grant program.

Eligible projects include but are not limited to: backstops, berms, target holders, baffles, gun racks, signs, field courses, benches, trap and skeet houses, platforms, sanitary facilities, classrooms, protective fencing, storage areas, shelters, parking, accessible pathways and support facilities. Project costs must be commensurate with benefit. Indoor range projects will be considered for funding at the department's discretion.

Grant winners must comply with federal law and must have as the primary purpose to "teach the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to be a responsible hunter" or "construct, operate, or maintain firearm and archery ranges for public use." Ranges must be open to the public (non-members) a minimum of 100 days per year. Range operators may charge a reasonable fee during the open hours.

At the completion of each project, all facilities at the range must be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and other federal requirements as appropriate.

Project ranking

Grant applications were scored on factors such as the proximity of the range to population centers and the amount of public shooting opportunity the range will provide. Other factors include the demonstration of need, amount of public support, cost, hunter education need, size of the project and number of different shooting opportunities at the facility.

"One of the most obvious needs is to increase opportunities for shooters and hunters close to home," Warnke says. "Our few public ranges in southern Wisconsin are heavily used. In addition to looking to build new public ranges, we believe by partnering with private ranges, we can expand access to shooting and improve the facilities for everyone who uses them."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Keith Warnke, 608- 576-5243 or Joanne Haas, Bureau of Law Enforcement public affairs manager, 608-209-8147

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Recently returning state veterans can receive free Wisconsin hunting, fishing licenses

MADISON -- Wisconsin resident veterans who have recently returned from active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom are eligible to receive a one-time free small game, archery, gun deer or annual fishing license, under recently enacted legislation.

2013 Wisconsin Act 20 authorizes veterans to receive a voucher code that may be redeemed at Department of Natural Resources service centers within 365 days of discharge for either a small game, archery deer, gun deer or annual fishing license.

"We are very happy to be able to team up with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to show our appreciation to our veterans for their selfless service to our country and offer them yet another opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin's outdoors," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.

The DNR already offers all active duty U.S. Armed Forces or Wisconsin National Guard or Reserves service members, resident or non-resident, special license privileges for hunting, fishing and trapping. And residents who are disabled veterans or former prisoners of war receive free admission to state parks and forests.

Veterans who wish to receive a free hunting or fishing license must first contact the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs to determine their eligibility for this program.

Veteran's eligibility-related questions should be directed to the WDVA's Veterans Benefits Resource Center via web chat [www.wisvets.com (exit DNR) exit DNR], email wisvets@dva.wisconsin.gov or phone 1-800-WIS-VETS (947-8387).

Veterans can redeem their vouchers in person at any DNR Service Center or by calling the DNR Call Center at 1-888-WNDRINFo (1-888-936-7463) to receive the license by mail or to arrange for pick up at any DNR Service Center.

Veterans can learn more about the eligibility requirements by searching the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for keyword "veteran."

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs will reimburse DNR annually for fees of licenses redeemed via vouchers for veterans.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Linda Olver - 608- 264-8985

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Urban Forestry Council wants your award nominations by year's end

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council is looking to recognize outstanding individuals, organizations, communities and tribes whose efforts have supported and furthered urban forestry in the state. Award winners are announced in January with recognition presentations made to winners in their home communities during spring.

Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council awards are presented in five categories:

The deadline for nominations is December 30. Nominations should include the following information:

People who know of an individual or project of merit but who don't have the support materials, can submit the name and contact information. The council will follow up and request the necessary materials. Nomination information can be sent to: The Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707.Or, you may email to Laura Wyatt at Laura.Wyatt@Wisconsin.gov. Laura is the Forestry Division's liaison to the council and can be reached at 608-267-0568. Additional information about the awards is available by searching the DNR website for Urban Forest. and clicking on the link for "awards."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura Wyatt, Urban Forestry Council Liaison & Partnership Specialist, 608-267-0568; or, Joanne Haas, public affairs, Division of Forestry, 608-209-8147

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New DNR staff to focus on environmental compliance for industrial sand mining

MADISON - As part of Gov. Scott Walker's biennial budget, the State Legislature approved the hiring of two new engineers to focus on environmental compliance for industrial sand mines in Wisconsin.

The engineers started in early December at the Department of Natural Resources and will work on compliance activities connected to the industrial sand mining, processing and transportation industry.

"We appreciate the two new positions to work on this important issue," said Deb Dix, the agency's spokesperson for industrial sand issues. "We will continue to dedicate staff time and resources to this issue to help protect Wisconsin's public health and our natural resources."

Dix said the new staff will work in the northwest and southwest parts of the state where the largest number of industrial sand mines are currently permitted.

Staff come with private, public sector experience

Tanner Connors is an air engineer who will work out of the DNR Eau Claire office and comes to the agency with several years of private and public sector experience throughout the Midwest. Connors will focus on industrial sand issues in Clark, Eau Claire, Jackson, Trempealeau (north) and Wood counties.

Frederick Myron Smith is an air engineer who will work out of the DNR La Crosse office and comes to the department with a wealth of knowledge in civil and environmental engineering. Smith will work out of the La Crosse office with responsibilities covering Crawford, Juneau, Monroe and Trempealeau (south) counties.

Additional resources to assist with compliance needs

Sand and gravel mining has existed in Wisconsin for decades. Recent growth in the petroleum industry, however, has created a high demand for the Wisconsin sand that can be used for hydrofracking, a technique used to extract natural gas and crude oil from rock formations in other states.

The high demand has meant a significant increase in air and water requests, Dix noted, along with increased requests for endangered and threatened species and archeological reviews.

"Sand mines have the same requirements as other non-metallic mining operations in Wisconsin, so we needed more staff to work with our increased environmental compliance needs," said Dix.

To view more information on industrial sand mining, search the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for keywords "frac sand."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Deb Dix, 715-421-7809

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Snowy owls alight in state again in large numbers

Resident goldfinches also putting on a show

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A live chat on winter bird watching, bird feeds, snowy owl sightings and other bird topics is set for noon on Dec. 17; participate on that day by visiting dnr.wi.gov and look for the box on the right to enter the chat, or search the phrase "ask the experts." People also can join the conversation via DNR's Facebook page and by clicking the Cover it Live Chat" box at the top.]

ASHLAND, Wis. -- Wisconsin birders are again being treated to a significant showing of snowy owls from Canada's arctic tundra while resident American goldfinches are dominating backyard feeders in most areas, state bird experts say.

"We're seeing a significant number of snowy owls this fall and early winter - well above average. So far the flight is not as big here as two years ago but we are on the western edge of a massive and possibly historic irruption from the Great Lakes east to the Atlantic coast, an event that's making national headlines," says Ryan Brady, a Department of Natural Resources research scientist who coordinates bird monitoring for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.

Hundreds of the owls have been seen at many locations across the eastern U.S. as far south as North Carolina and even to the islands of Bermuda, over 600 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. Observers in Newfoundland tallied more than 200 owls along a single 25-mile stretch of road, says Brady. Read more about the irruption and see maps and other resources (exit DNR) in Brady's Dec. 9 article on Wisconsin eBird.

In Wisconsin, about 55 Snowy Owls have been reported in Wisconsin through Dec. 8 via eBird, listserves, Facebook groups, WI-DNR staff, and other sources -- and surely many more are present and either haven't been reported or seen, Brady says.

This compares to about 115 owls by the same date during the large irruption of 2011-12, 30-35 owls in 2012-13, and zero in 2010-11.

Brady says Wisconsin's snowy owl sightings got off to relatively slow start, with only five individual birds reported before Thanksgiving. By early December, however, reports picked up rapidly, including on the first of the month five birds found in Ashland and an amazing 11 birds at lower Green Bay, as well as inland birds at Goose Pond, Horicon Marsh, Marathon County, and other locations, he says.

Bird experts aren't sure what's behind this year's irruption. Snowy owl movements are usually tied to lemming populations, a favorite prey whose numbers vary in Canada each year. One possibility is a very robust supply of lemmings, which allows the owls to raise many young. These young snowy owls then must disperse south to find their own territory and food, Brady says.

A second possibility is the opposite - lemming populations re low so owl reproduction was relatively poor and all birds young and old must fly south to find food.

While the 2011-12 irruption was believed to be due to a strong lemming population leading to more young birds dispersing southward, experts aren't sure yet the reason for this year's exceptional influx.

Brady says that birders can maximize their chances of finding a snowy owl by checking suitable habitats such as coastal beaches, harbors, and breakwalls, open grasslands and agricultural fields (e.g. Buena Vista Wildlife Area), large wetland complexes like Horicon Marsh, airports, and vast expanses of ice, which provide excellent tundra-like roosting habitat.

Goldfinches, less showy in winter, are the primary "winter finch" this year

Snowy owls aren't the only feathered friends putting on a show this December. Brady says American goldfinches are also gracing the state in above average numbers, especially across the Northwoods and along Lake Michigan.

The birds are especially welcome given the scarcity of other irruptive winter finches this year, Brady says. "Last winter Wisconsinites were treated to a spectacular flight of redpolls, siskins, crossbills, and grosbeaks. In contrast, all of these species are nearly absent from Wisconsin this year so far." Ample cone crops and fruit sources across the boreal forest are likely holding them there, Brady says.

The good news is, these goldfinches will likely stay for the winter and often set up shop at bird feeders, providing great viewing opportunities, if not their namesake color.

Like many birds, goldfinches molt in the late summer and fall, losing their golden feathers for a more wintery brown. By late winter and spring, patches of yellow feathers appear successively until the bird again dons its splendid breeding plumage.

Brady says bird lovers can keep their goldfinches and other backyard bird happy by providing foods such as sunflower and thistle seeds, a heated birdbath, and shelter in the form of thick shrubs, brush piles, and trees. Feeders and spent seed should be cleaned regularly to avoid spread of disease.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Ryan Brady, 715-685-2933

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Last Revised: Tuesday, December 10, 2013




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