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NEWS ARCHIVE:     Age: 587 days

Weekly News Published March 12, 2019


DNR assists Town of La Pointe after fire destroys Madeline Island's only firehouse

Contact(s): Joseph LeBouton, DNR forester, Washburn 715-209-2149 or Ed Culhane, DNR communications, 715-781-1683

WASHBURN, Wis. - A firehouse on Madeline Island was ablaze.

Volunteer firefighters from Bayfield, Red Cliff, Washburn and Ashland responded, some driving relatively light "brush trucks" -- used primarily to fight grass fires -- across the ice road that links Madeline Island to the mainland. The ice wasn't thick enough to support the massive weight of municipal fire engines.

In the end, the Town of LaPointe, which is the island, lost all its firefighting and emergency rescue equipment. No fire trucks. No ambulance. No SCBAs, the "self-contained breathing apparatus" tanks firefighters use to enter burning structures.

Among the volunteers who rushed across the ice to help was Mark Guenther, a forestry technician with the Department of Natural Resources and a volunteer on the Washburn Fire Department. He sized up the situation. With the ice melting, it would be weeks or months before replacement fire engines could be ferried across. The island community would be defenseless. He made a phone call.

Before the sun set the following day, the DNR had moved two of its Type 4 wildland firefighting engines across the ice - a tricky operation, given that they weigh 9 tons apiece - where they will offer protection for the residents of the island while their own fire department rebuilds.

Handing off the trucks: Mark Guenter, DNR forester (left) hands over the wildland firefighting engines to members of the LaPointe Fire Department in front of the shop that will house the engines on Madeline Island. - Photo credit: DNR
Handing off the trucks: Mark Guenter, DNR forestry technician (left) hands over the wildland firefighting engines to members of the La Pointe Fire Department in front of the shop that will house the engines on Madeline Island.Photo credit: DNR

"Local rural fire departments work closely with us in forest fire suppression," said Fred Souba, DNR chief state forester. "We felt we needed to support them in their time of need."

This involved a lot of people working hard and fast. Guenther's first call was to Mike Lehman, a mechanical engineer and the superintendent of the DNR's forestry equipment research and development center in Tomahawk. This is where DNR designers and mechanics take large truck frames and built specialized DNR fire engines from the chassis up. Guenther asked Lehman if there were any surplus engines available.

"We had just happened to deliver several new Type 4x engines to DNR field stations," Lehman said. "We had a few old surplus units here waiting for auction. I checked with my staff to ensure our units could be made fire ready and told Mark I think we can do this."

DNR Type 4 wildland firefighting engines were developed to be relatively light and mobile, while carrying and pumping 850 gallons of water, firefighting foam, two firefighters, hand tools and several hundred feet of fire hose. Type 4 engines also pull a small bulldozer on a trailer behind them when deployed for wildland fire fighting.

Lehman sent the plan to division management for approval. The surplus units were covered with snow and ice. It was 15 degrees below zero. DNR employees dug them out, got them started and moved them inside the shop to thaw. While staff rushed to get the engines fire ready, DNR attorney Kassie Lang worked with Lehman to quickly draft a cooperative agreement so the fire trucks could be legally loaned to the town's volunteer fire department at no cost.

"It was an excellent team effort," Lehman said.

Meanwhile, Guenther raised a concern. He wasn't comfortable with the pumping capacity of the older units. Fine for a grass fire, but maybe inadequate for a firefighter entering a burning structure with a charged hose. So, the DNR loaned its new Washburn engine along with one of the older units. The shop at Tomahawk has a vinyl-cutting machine, and DNR staff made new name plates for the trucks.

"We re-badged them, so they even have 'La Pointe Fire Department' on the doors," said Amanda Firkus, a DNR crew member at Tomahawk.

Then came the tricky part. The ice road to the island is maintained by the Nelson Construction Company under a contract with the town.

On Thursday, the day after the fire, the town closed the ice road for the duration of the operation. Four members of the Nelson crew were on hand: Arnie Nelson; his son, Nathan; and brothers Brian and Troy Nelson, who are cousins of Nathan and experienced firefighters.

The ice was 22-inches thick. Fine for people in their cars and pickups, but a Type 4 fire engine weighs about 18,000 pounds when empty of water. The trucks were driven across one at a time, slowly, with another member of the Nelson crew following in a light vehicle to watch for any movement of the ice, or for cracks or water coming through to the surface. The ice held, but not without loud groans of protest.

"It made a heck of a racket," Nathan said. "That was pushing what that ice can handle."

Nathan is a member of the La Pointe Volunteer Fire Department. He said other departments in the area have loaned the island an ambulance and a brush fire truck. Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, which has a Fire and Technical Rescue program at Ashland, delivered a trailer full of firefighting equipment including the SCBA air packs, as well as the cascade air fill system to refill them, among other items. They now have complete gear for 18 of their firefighters. And, until they get their own trucks, they have two DNR fire engines on loan to fight structure fires.

"We're very isolated up here," Nathan said. "It can take 45 minutes for help to arrive from the mainland. This will help for sure. It's been overwhelming the support we've been getting."



Rare plant known only in Wisconsin gets a boost from UW-Whitewater students

Contact(s): Kevin Doyle, DNR, 608-416-3377; Nicholas Tippery, UW-Whitewater, 262-472-1061

WHITEWATER, Wis. - Deep in a laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, students are carefully tending seedlings of one of Wisconsin's rarest plants in new efforts to assure its future in the face of threats ranging from flooding, to competition from invasive plants, to hungry deer.

Fassett's locoweed (Oxytropis campestris var. chartacea), which is known from only eight sites in Wisconsin and nowhere else on the planet, is being propagated this winter. In the spring, Department of Natural Resources botanists will transplant the students' seedlings along a lakeshore where the plant was once found but disappeared 15 years ago.

"We're very excited about this project - this is the first time we've tried to start new populations of Fassett's locoweed," says Kevin Doyle, the Department of Natural Resources botanist who leads DNR's Rare Plant Monitoring Program and who will be transplanting the plants.

"With this effort, we're moving into the next step in the conservation of this species. Not only are we monitoring and protecting the naturally occurring population of Fassett's locoweed, but we are trying to grow the statewide population of this plant to increase its viability and reduce its vulnerability."

View Slideshow SLIDE SHOW | 8 photos

Globally rare plant gets a boost in Wisconsin

Fassett's locoweed is a Wisconsin Endangered and Federally Threatened plant named after Norman C. Fassett, a University of Wisconsin professor and curator of the university herbarium, who went on to describe it as a plant unique to Wisconsin. Fassett was a leader in taxonomic thought and an ecological restoration pioneer and published books including Spring Flora of Wisconsin and Manual of Aquatic Plants.

Fassett's locoweed, a member of the legume family, is found along the shores of lakes with fluctuating water levels, and its abundance year-to-year is sporadic, depending on water levels.

For several years, students under the direction of UW-Whitewater associate biology professor Nic Tippery have been monitoring populations of Fassett's locoweed at sites in Portage and Waushara counties. Locoweed is also found in similar habitat at two sites in southern Bayfield County.

They've been conducting randomized surveys to estimate the locoweed population size, learn how individuals transition between life stages, and parse out how locoweed and its competitors respond to changes in their environment.

They've also been tagging individual plants to understand when and which plants flower, develop fruit, and to learn the fate of their seeds, and the factors influencing whether the seeds germinate.

Altogether, that research, funded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has enabled Tippery and his students to calculate how long it will take for individual populations to replace themselves and determine what the future will look like for Fassett's locoweed in Wisconsin.

Building on their research results, Tippery and his students are using seed and soil collected in 2015 to raise plants in a growth chamber on campus where they can carefully control light and other factors.

"We're hoping that we can give these plants an edge by starting them earlier so they have a more developed root system by the time they're planted," Tippery says.

Their past research has suggested that competition from other plants, particularly invasive species, is a significant threat to Fassett's locoweed populations. Extreme fluctuations in lake levels are also a problem, he says.

There's a sweet spot for the plant when it comes to lake levels. The plant thrives in a sparsely vegetated area near the water's edge. Periodic years of high water can kill competing plants, allowing Fassett's locoweed to capitalize because of its high seed production and hardy, long-lasting seeds. But in recent years, water levels have been so high that they killed almost all plants, including Fassett's locoweed, Tippery says.

Animals grazing the plants can also be a problem, as the students discovered in 2016, when animals, likely deer, had eaten virtually all of the reproductive stalks.

The students' work to germinate and grow the plants in the lab can help unlock more information to help steer efforts to manage their habitat, Tippery says.

"One thing that's been a missing piece of the puzzle is it's hard to know what happens to the seeds once they go into the soil," he says. "There's also a gray area on seedling survival. By taking seeds to the lab and germinating them up we can perhaps see more of what influences germination and seedling survival."

Ultimately, Tippery says, "We hope we can accelerate the restoration back to what things were."



Black bear management plan open for public comment beginning March 25

Contact(s): Scott Walter, DNR large carnivore specialist, 608-279-5250

MADISON - Wisconsin wildlife officials will accept public input on a revision to Wisconsin's black bear management plan beginning March 25.

A revised the plan to outline objectives and strategies to guide black bear management in the state from 2019-2029 will be available for comment beginning March 25.  - Photo credit: DNR
A revised the plan to outline objectives and strategies to guide black bear management in the state from 2019-2029 will be available for comment beginning March 25. Photo credit: DNR

The Department of Natural Resources has revised the plan to outline objectives and strategies to guide black bear management in the state from 2019-2029. The plan will be available for public comment at, keyword "bear" from March 25 through April 14.

DNR staff will present the plan at six informational sessions around the state. Each meeting will run from 7-9 p.m. - dates and locations are as follows:

"There's likely no wildlife species more emblematic of our northern forests," noted Scott Walter, DNR Large Carnivore Specialist. "The management plan emphasizes the science-based approach to managing our state's black bear population and will also address current issues such as range expansion into southern counties, agricultural damage, and hunting opportunity. Given the ecological importance of black bears and their direct relevance to so many people, we're excited to get this plan into the hands of the public."

To learn more about black bears in Wisconsin, search keyword "bear."



DNR reports 1.9 trillion gallons of water pumped in Wisconsin in 2017

Contact(s): Bob Smail (608) 267-4581; Adam Freihoefer (608) 267-7638

MADISON -- Wisconsin cities, businesses, industries and agricultural operations were among the state's largest users of water in 2017, pumping more than 1.9 trillion gallons of groundwater and surface water, according to a Department of Natural Resources report.

The state's sixth annual water use report tallies how many gallons were pumped by municipal water systems, agricultural operations, utilities and other sources that have the capacity to pump more than 100,000 gallons of water a day from groundwater or from lakes or rivers.

Of the total groundwater and surface water use in 2017, 77 percent was for power generation, according to the report. Overall water use in Wisconsin was four percent higher in 2017 than in 2016 due to an increase in power generation and municipal water supply use.

Wisconsin's water use reporting requirements are part of the Great Lakes Compact, a 10-year-old agreement between the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces to collectively manage water quantity in the Great Lakes basin.

"One of the successes of the Compact has been the ability to track water withdrawals throughout Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region, improving our understanding of water use across the region and its impact on the Great Lakes", says Adam Freihoefer, DNR water use section chief. In 2017, Wisconsin achieved a 96 percent reporting rate from the 14,300 registered water withdrawal sources with 78 percent reporting online.

More information and the complete 2017 Water Use Report [PDF] can be found at, search "water use."



Fix-a-Leak Week highlights easy ways to decrease water usage

Contact(s): Adam Freihoefer, DNR water use section chief, 608-267-7638

MADISON - If your water utility bill is steadily increasing for unknown reasons, you may want to check for water leaks and drips in your bathroom, kitchen and yard, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The agency is joining forces with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to observe Fix-a-Leak Week, March 18-24, to remind homeowners that leaks can waste up to 10,000 gallons or more per year per household resulting in additional costs.

"Finding leaks and fixing or replacing inefficient water fixtures, can save homeowners more than 10 percent on water bills while at the same time conserving our water resources," says Adam Freihoefer, DNR water use section chief. "With all the snow and rain, it may appear that we have a lot of water available to us, but conservation is still something we all need to do."

So, during Fix-A-Leak week, take some time to save your wallet and the environment by:

The DNR is a partner of the WaterSense Program that sponsors this annual event. Find more information about common leaks and what to do about them by searching the DNR website,, for water conservation and efficiency . Watch for daily tips on the DNR Facebook and Twitter pages about how to check for leaks and conserve water.



Still time to for students to enter artwork for 2020 state park sticker design contest

Contact(s): Chris Pedretti, Wisconsin State Park System, 608-264-8958 or Paul Holtan, DNR Office of Communications, 608-267-7517

MADISON - There is still time for Wisconsin high school students to submit entries for the 2020 Wisconsin state park sticker design contest before the contest deadline Friday, April 12, 2019. The contest is open to all high school age students (ninth through twelfth grades) attending public, private or parochial schools or home schooled in Wisconsin. The winning design will be displayed on over 300,000 vehicles.

2019 Wisconsin State Park sticker - Photo credit: Rory Macha, Slinger High School
2019 Wisconsin State Park stickerPhoto credit: Rory Macha, Slinger High School

The design must be the artist's original creation and cannot be copied or duplicated from previously published art, including photographs, clip art or electronic graphic images. Photographs or photo manipulations are not accepted. Contest rules, a design template and entry form are available by searching the Department of Natural Resources website,, for keyword "contest."

A pair of hiking boots hitting the trail by Slinger High School sophomore Rory Macha, was the winning design for the 2019 Wisconsin State Park admission sticker design contest.

Electronic submissions accepted

Electronic submissions will be accepted as well as hard copy submissions. Students can submit their artwork in one of the two following ways:

  1. Entries may be sent electronically via email. Students should scan the completed entry form as a pdf, and email the entry form file along with the design file (accepted formats are .pdf and .eps) to
  2. Entries may be mounted on an 8-by-10-inch white matte or poster board and covered by clear acetate (or plastic wrap which is secured by tape on the backside) for protection. Students should not laminate the design. The entry form must be securely attached to the back. Each entry submitted in this way must be securely wrapped and mailed to: Sticker Design Contest, DNR/Bureau of Parks & Recreation, PO Box 7921, Madison WI 53707-7921. Entries can also be hand delivered to the State Natural Resources Building, 101 S Webster St., Madison.



Applications for Wild Turkey and Pheasant Stamp funding due April 21, 2019

Contact(s): Mark Witecha, Upland wildlife ecologist and Farm Bill specialist, 608-267-7861

[EDITOR'S ADVISORY: This news release has been updated to correct the guidelines for applying for funding.]

MADISON - The application period for Wisconsin Wild Turkey and Pheasant Stamp funding is open through April 21, 2019.

Stamp funds are available to non-profit conservation organizations and units of government focused on habitat development, management, preservation, restoration and maintenance for wild turkey and pheasant. Funding for successful applicants will be available during the Department of Natural Resources' 2020 and 2021 fiscal years.

2019 turkey stamp
2019 Wild Turkey Stamp by Stephen Senechal of Oxford, WI

2019 pheasant stamp
2019 Pheasant Stamp by Todd Haefner of Janesville, WI

Applicants should read the Pheasant Stamp funding guidelines [PDF] and Turkey Stamp funding guidelines [PDF], found at, keywords "wildlife stamps," to determine eligibility for these funds and funding levels.

"Wisconsin's wildlife stamps provide a mechanism for hunters and conservationists to contribute directly to wildlife habitat management efforts," said Mark Witecha, DNR upland wildlife ecologist. "Wisconsin DNR works closely with partners to further our shared conservation missions and broaden the benefits that these funds provide to Wisconsin wildlife."

On average, pheasant stamp sales generate $425,000 annually, and turkey stamp sales generate $700,000. Funds are generated from the sale of wild turkey and pheasant stamps, as well as from a portion of conservation patron license sales. More than 175,000 turkey hunters and 40,000 pheasant hunters contribute to habitat management through these stamp purchases each year. While stamps are required to hunt these species, stamp collectors and conservationists also purchase the stamps to help support wildlife habitat.

For additional eligibility information and criteria, application guidance, funding priorities and more, search keyword "wildlife stamps."



Time to buy your fishing and hunting licenses; boat, ATV, UTV and OHM registrations due for renewal

Contact(s): Kimberly Currie, Customer & Outreach Services bureau director, 608-267-7799 or

MADISON - As spring approaches, many Wisconsin residents are anxious to get outdoors and pursue their warmer-weather outdoor recreation passions. You can purchase your 2019 fishing and hunting licenses, as well as order the 2019 collectible conservation card. Licenses and conservation cards can be purchased online at and from over 1,000 license agents. The new conservation card now features Wisconsin elk, the image members of the public selected last fall through online voting.

Before hitting the trails and waters, the Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone to check the registration on their boats, ATVs, UTVs and off-highway motorcycles (OHM) as many will expire after March 31, 2019. A $5 late fee will be applied to ATV, UTV and OHM renewals that are received by the DNR after the March 31 expiration date.

DNR encourages you to renew your registration early so the new decals are in-hand when you are ready to use your boat or recreational vehicle. You can renew online before your notice arrives at through your customer Go Wild account. Or if you have your renewal notice already, you can use the new expedited renewal process through the web page under the Quick Sale catalog. Simply click on the RENEW NOW link, enter the RRN number from the renewal notice, which is located to the left of the name and address and make payment. When done, a temporary operating receipt can be printed. Yes, it's that easy - click, print, GO!

License agents can also renew boats, ATVs, UTVs or OHMs by simply scanning the RRN barcode on the renewal notice.



Spring Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine features popular Natural Resources Foundation field trips

Contact(s): Andrea Zani, 608-267-9517, and Kathy Kahler, 608-266-2625, magazine editors

MADISON -- Get ready for spring and opportunities to head outdoors with the latest issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, coming this week. The cover story highlights field trips offered by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, some led by Department of Natural Resources staff, with information on how to sign up when registration opens March 27.

The latest edition also includes stories related to two issues that often arise in spring: wildfires and flooding. One story tells the history of Smokey Bear, who is celebrating 75 years spreading a message of wildfire prevention. Smokey has some interesting ties to Wisconsin. Meanwhile, a special report on flooding looks back at several high-profile disaster events that affected the state last year and the many ways DNR responded.

Monarch butterflies are featured in the issue with a story on efforts to expand their habitat, one milkweed stem at a time. The Wisconsin Citizen-based Monitoring Network is featured, too, as it marks its 15th anniversary. A pullout brochure tied to both stories comes from the DNR's Natural Heritage Conservation Program and features ways to help monarchs, bumble bees, owls, frogs and more. Readers can remove and save the informative panels for future reference.

A story on Camp Menominee in Eagle River includes a Q&A with the camp's owner/director, who started as a young camper at the Sand Lake site and is back to oversee the experience for others. An article on the Prairie River, near Merrill, tells of trout fishing adventures in the wake of two dams being removed from the river in the 1990s. Along with the annual Wisconsin Fishing Report included in this issue, it will get readers ready for the 2019 hook-and-line season, which traditionally begins the first Saturday in May for most species and locations.

The regular "Back in the Day" feature recalls historic activities surrounding the smelt run - including the crowning of a Smelt Queen. And "Outside in Wisconsin" heads to Yellowstone Lake State Park in Lafayette County, where the 65th anniversary of the lake's formation is being marked this year.

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine is available for $8.97 per year. Subscribe at 1-800-678-9472 or online at


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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