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NEWS ARCHIVE:     Age: 475 days

Weekly News Published July 2, 2019


Spring waterfowl survey results show good production and above average wetland conditions

Contact(s): Taylor Finger, DNR migratory bird biologist, 608-266-8841; Jeff Williams, assistant migratory bird biologist, 608-622-6811

MADISON - Wisconsin's 2019 spring waterfowl population surveys indicate stable to increased numbers of the main species of breeding waterfowl as well as excellent wetland conditions, which should result in increased waterfowl production this year across most of the state.

This year, we saw slightly fewer numbers of total birds than the 2018 estimates. However, there is essentially no change in the mallard and wood duck population estimates, and Department of Natural Resources staff observed increases in our blue-winged teal and Canada geese. Wisconsin continues to be at or above the long-term average for all but blue-winged teal, according state wildlife biologists.

"Each duck species population estimate normally varies from year to year, so I urge hunters and other conservationists to interpret this information over several years and in the continental context," Taylor Finger, DNR migratory bird ecologist, said. "For example, the blue-winged teal breeding population in Wisconsin is lower than historic levels, but continental estimates the last few years have reached all-time highs, and two-thirds of Wisconsin regular duck season blue-winged teal harvest comes from out of state."

There was essentially no change in the wood duck population estimates from 2018. - Photo credit: George Gentry, USFWS
There was essentially no change in the wood duck population estimates from 2018.Photo credit: George Gentry, USFWS

The Wisconsin breeding duck population estimate of 413,662 represents essentially no change compared to 2018 and is in line with the long-term (46-year) average. Of the species-specific population estimates for the three top breeding ducks in Wisconsin, mallards and wood ducks showed no significant change, and blue-winged teal showed a 37% increase from 2018. It is important to recognize that this survey is designed to detect changes of 20% or more. Any changes less than 20% are not considered significant.

This survey, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continental duck survey and the Ontario Canada goose survey, provides information regarding yearly waterfowl breeding conditions and is used to determine the fall season structure for Wisconsin. The full survey report can be found by searching the DNR website,, for keywords "waterfowl management."

In 2019, Wisconsin saw below-average temperatures in March and April with lakes in northern part of the state still frozen at the end of April. This stalled migration in most of Wisconsin and breeding activity by mallards and Canada geese. There were average temperatures across most of the state in early and mid-May. Weather was an issue during the survey, with nearly a week lost due to poor flying conditions. These changing weather and migration factors make it difficult to schedule the breeding survey to effectively survey all species.

With above average precipitation in May following the survey, wetland conditions remained average to above average for brood rearing, and Wisconsin is expecting good duck production in 2019.

Wisconsin experienced a relatively wet and cold winter in 2018-19, which, combined with above-average precipitation in April and May, led to above-average wetland conditions throughout the state. Counts indicated wetter conditions in 2019 than in 2018 for all regions of the state with most areas well above the long-term averages. According to Finger, considerable rainfall in May following the survey has helped Wisconsin remain at average or above average wetland conditions for the year during the important brood-rearing period.

These breeding pair and habitat conditions are important to waterfowl hunters as roughly 70% of mallard harvest in Wisconsin is supported by locally hatched ducks. Although slightly lower this year, it is important to note that the average mallard population in the last few years has been fairly stable. This observation suggests that continuing our efforts aimed at controlling mallard harvest impacts and support for grassland nesting habitat conservation are important to the future of Wisconsin's local mallard population.

Canada goose population estimates slightly up compared to 2018

Wisconsin's Canada goose harvest is supported by Canada geese breeding in northern Ontario, as well as those breeding locally in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin breeding estimate for Canada geese is slightly up compared to 2018 at 171,407 birds. It's consistent with a stable-to-increasing population over the past 10-15 years. Continental breeding waterfowl population estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey are expected to arrive in July.

In August, Wisconsin will join Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan at the Mississippi Flyway Council to analyze survey data and provide recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding waterfowl hunting regulations for the 2020 seasons. These recommendations will help determine the framework under which states and provinces set waterfowl hunting seasons.

Under new federal framework, Wisconsin conducted its annual waterfowl season hearings in spring 2019, and the Natural Resources Board approved department proposals for season structure at its April 9 meeting.

"Since this new federal framework is using data based on the prior year's breeding survey estimates, we can now propose and approve the waterfowl season several months before we have in the past," said Finger.

With earlier approval dates, 2019 migratory bird season regulations [PDF] are currently available online and at many license vendors throughout Wisconsin.

There are several significant changes to the 2019 waterfowl hunting season structure. The first of the 2019 migratory game bird seasons will open with the early goose, mourning dove and early teal seasons starting on Sept. 1. Regular waterfowl hunting seasons will include a 60-day duck season which will start with a statewide opener on Sept. 28 and 92-day regular goose season, which will have two splits to allow hunting during the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Highlights from the 2019 season structure include:

As a reminder to Canada goose hunters, registration of Canada geese and in-field validation of the Canada goose hunting permit is no longer required.

For more information regarding migratory birds in Wisconsin, search the DNR website,, for keyword "waterfowl."



First statewide native mussel survey in 40 years reveals mixed trends

Contact(s): Jesse Weinzinger, 608-397-0198; Lisie Kitchel, 608-266-5248

Species once commercially important now recognized for ecosystem importance

[EDITOR'S ADVISORY: This news release has been updated to reflect new information. ]

MADISON - The first statewide survey for native mussels in 40 years in Wisconsin shows these water-cleaning clams are facing mixed fortunes.

Mussel populations and diversity were highest in the St. Croix River, with 24 different species found at one site and high species diversity also on the Manitowish, Chippewa and Peshtigo rivers.

"On the St. Croix River, the abundance and species richness was very impressive," says Jesse Weinzinger, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources coordinating the surveys. "There were times you'd be pulling up 200 to 300 mussels and 12 or so species in our 15-minute timed surveys."

The snuffbox is one of Wisconsin's 24 native mussel species that are endangered, threatened or with low or declining populations. - Photo credit: DNR
The snuffbox is one of Wisconsin's 24 native mussel species that are endangered, threatened or with low or declining populations.Photo credit: DNR

Other good news is that mussel populations are rebounding in the Wisconsin River as gains from clean water regulations over the last half-century pay off, and native mussels are even starting to be found in the lower Fox River and Green Bay where a massive cleanup project is underway and improved water quality is making it possible to consider reintroducing more species.

At some other sites, however, the surveys revealed declining mussel populations, and 10 sites had no mussels. On major waters in southern Wisconsin, including the Pecatonica River and Rock River, "we're seeing very large declines," Weinzinger says.

Stretches of the Pecatonica River where DNR surveys 15 years ago found four species listed as either threatened or endangered now held none of those rare mussels and Weinzinger found scores of dead mussel shells, he says.

Mussels are one of the world's most imperiled animals

Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of animals on the planet, with 70% of the world's mussel species declining. In Wisconsin, 24 of the 50 native mussel species are endangered, threatened or listed as species of concern, says Lisie Kitchel, another DNR conservation biologist who works with native mussels.

Conservation biologist Jesse Weinzinger holds a native mussel with invasive zebra mussels attached. - Photo credit: Jack Silverberg
Conservation biologist Jesse Weinzinger holds a native mussel with invasive zebra mussels attached.Photo credit: Jack Silverberg

"Native mussels are important for healthy lakes and rivers," she says. Each native freshwater mussel can filter gallons of water a day, removing pollutants like mercury and other contaminants. They are food for raccoons, muskrats, otters, herons, and other wildlife. They are even food for fish when the mussels are young, and dead shells can provide safe places for fish to lay their eggs.

Mussels declined in the 20th century due to factors including water pollution, dams that blocked the flowing water mussels need, and overharvesting. From the 1880s to the 1940s, mussels in Wisconsin were used to make buttons until plastic buttons replaced them. After that era, mussels from the Upper Mississippi River because a mainstay of Japan's cultured pearl industry. Mussel shells collected from the river were shipped to Japan where they were cut up and turned into the seed from which pearls were cultured until overharvest of mussels on the Upper Mississippi River led to closing the commercial harvest of mussels, Kitchel says.

Now, mussel populations are increasing in some of these waters again, thanks to protections afforded by the state and federal endangered species acts, to improved water quality since the 1972 Clean Water Act started controlling wastewater discharges to streams and rivers, and to efforts by DNR, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, dam owners and other partners to save mussels stranded from reservoir drawdowns and to propagate mussels at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Genoa Fish Hatchery for release back into state waters.

Statewide survey visits 99 sites and finds 39 mussel species

Before the DNR surveyors ever hit the water to look for mussels, they reviewed historical mussel surveys dating between 1928 and 2015. While DNR, university and other researchers had conducted surveys on specific waters in recent years, the statewide survey was the first such effort since the 1970s.

The DNR statewide surveys started in 2016 and conservation biologists donned waders, and in many cases SCUBA gear, to collect, identify and record more than 21,000 living individuals representing 39 species before returning the mussels to the water. Spikes were the most commonly observed species by number with 25% of the total catch, followed by mucket at 20% of all observations. Fatmucket, spikes, plain pocketbooks and giant floaters were the most widespread.

Biologists have used the survey information to identify and map 16 areas where they will conduct long-term monitoring and focus conservation efforts.

"The survey has been very important in helping us gather information on the distribution, population demographics and habitats of native mussels, all important information to help us focus our monitoring and other conservation efforts," Weinzinger says.

More information about the statewide survey, and DNR efforts with partners to help bolster endangered mussel populations on some waters and reintroduce them on others, are found in The Clam Chronicle [PDF], the bi-annual newsletter of DNR's Wisconsin Mussel Monitoring Program.



Biologists ask paddlers, anglers and others to photograph and report native mussels

Contact(s): Lisie Kitchel, 608-266-5248;; Jesse Weinzinger, 608-397-0198,

MADISON - With the long July Fourth holiday approaching, state conservation biologists are encouraging paddlers, anglers, and other water lovers to take a few minutes to help photograph and report the native mussels they see while on the water.

Volunteers helped survey for Wisconsin's most recently discovered native mussel, the eastern pondmussel, in 2018. - Photo credit: Stephanie Boismenue
Volunteers helped survey for Wisconsin's most recently discovered native mussel, the eastern pondmussel, in 2018.Photo credit: Stephanie Boismenue

"Wisconsin is known for having 15,000 lakes and more than 84,000 miles of rivers. We need your help to have a better picture of what mussels occur where," says Jesse Weinzinger, a DNR conservation biologist. "Share photos and associated information on where you found them, when, and the habitat they are in."

After photographing closed mussels with the hinge side up, volunteers are asked to return live mussels to the water, then report that information to DNR's Wisconsin Mussel Monitoring Program.

A video shows volunteers how to search shorelines or shallow water for freshwater mussels native to Wisconsin and known by such colorful names as white heelsplitter, fatmucket, wabash pigtoe, and flutedshell.

Such information can help guide where DNR and partners work to protect and restore mussels. For example, staff work with transportation officials to help avoid or move mussel populations when road and bridge projects could potentially impact them, says Lisie Kitchel, a conservation biologist who, like Weinzinger, works for DNR's Natural Heritage Conservation Program.

How to search for and report Wisconsin's native freshwater mussels

Freshwater mussels, also known as clams, are important for healthy lakes, rivers, and streams. They are not the invasive zebra mussels that disrupt aquatic ecosystems and smother native mussels and are a major factor in declining native mussel populations, Kitchel says.

Each native mussel can filter gallons of water a day, removing pollutants like mercury and other contaminants; a study on the Upper Mississippi River found that a mussel bed was able to filter more than 21 million gallons of water a day. Native mussels also are food for raccoons, muskrats, otters, herons, and other wildlife. They are even food for fish when the mussels are young.

It is illegal to harvest live clams from Wisconsin waters, and eating them would be ill-advised since native mussels filter environmental pollutants, says Kitchel. However, she does encourage people to submit reports about them.



Conservation biologists turning over every rock to find snake fungal disease

Contact(s): Rori Paloski, DNR conservation biologist, 608-264-6040; Rich Staffen, DNR conservation biologist, 608-266-4340

MADISON - Wisconsin conservation biologists are literally turning over rocks to look for signs of a wildlife disease found in half of the state's snake species and that has decimated local populations of rare snakes in other parts of the country including Illinois.

An eastern massasauga rattlesnake infected with snake fungal disease, which can hamper feeding and drinking and makes them more susceptible to predators. - Photo credit: DNR
An eastern massasauga rattlesnake infected with snake fungal disease, which can hamper feeding and drinking and makes them more susceptible to predators.Photo credit: DNR

"We're turning over rocks and logs to look for snakes that might have this disease, because that's where many snakes tend to congregate," says Rori Paloski, a conservation biologist for Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Conservation Program. "We need more information to help us better understand the impacts of this disease and how to manage for it."

Paloski encourages reptile enthusiasts and others who see snakes in the wild to photograph and report any snakes with lumps along their face, neck and body or any unusual lesions or scabs.

People can send the photographs to, along with the date of observation, precise location, species of snake and symptoms observed.

Snake Fungal Disease, or SFD for short, has the potential to decimate local snake populations because it can prevent snakes from effectively feeding and drinking and makes them more susceptible to predators by extending basking periods, Paloski says.

Wisconsin snake fungal disease reports - Photo credit: DNR
Wisconsin snake fungal disease reports. Click on image for larger size [PDF].Photo credit: DNR

So far, 11 of Wisconsin's 21 snake species have been found with signs of the disease as a result of surveys and citizen reports. SFD has been confirmed in eight counties and another six counties have had snakes with clinical signs or suspected Snake Fungal Disease. Buffalo, Crawford, Dane, Grant, La Crosse, Outagamie, Sauk and Trempealeau counties have had snakes confirmed to have the disease.

"We're trying to fill in any gaps on the map and come up with a list of species that are impacted by the disease," says Rich Staffen, a conservation biologist for DNR's Natural Heritage Conservation Program. "We're particularly looking for counties where it hasn't been reported."

Staffen, Paloski and other DNR staff have undertaken surveys in the state, worked with other researchers studying the disease, and received reports from biologists, rehabilitators, reptile enthusiasts, and the general public to better understand the disease's prevalence, distribution, and impacts in Wisconsin.

Initially the disease was thought to be new to the United States, but now the USGS - National Wildlife Health Center has found records that date back 30 or more years and suggest the disease was present at that time, including in Wisconsin, Staffen says.

"Given the potential historical presence of the disease, one of the things we are interested in is knowing what the trigger is and why the disease is becoming more prevalent."

A better understanding of the disease and its impacts can help DNR better manage rare snake populations that may be susceptible to the disease, Staffen says.

For more information on Snake Fungal Disease in Wisconsin search the DNR website,, for "snake fungal disease."



DNR streamlines air rules for litho printers, launches online industry portal

Contact(s): Renee Bashel, 608-266-6977

MADISON - Streamlined regulations for lithographic printers and a new online web site are now in place to help the printing industry better navigate air pollution controls in Wisconsin.

The rule revisions, effective July 1, clarify and simplify the Reasonably Available Control Technology rules for lithographic printing. The RACT rules are required by the Clean Air Act and limit organic compound emissions from certain types of industrial facilities including lithographic printing facilities. The goal of the RACT rules is to reduce emissions in areas of Wisconsin that either currently do not, or have not in the past, met certain air quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The new rules are part of larger efforts to promote more efficient, sustainable printing operations in Wisconsin. - Photo credit: DNR
The new rules are part of larger efforts to promote more efficient, sustainable printing operations in Wisconsin.Photo credit: DNR

Prior to the streamlined change, lithographic printers were required to meet two different RACT rules that were put in place in 1995 and in 2009. Some lithographic printing facilities have been subject to both rules and complying with one rule did not mean a facility was in compliance with the other rule.

"The revisions of these two rules will make clear to affected facilities which regulations apply to them and how they should comply," said Gail Good, air management program director with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "By clarifying and simplifying the lithographic printing RACT rules, facilities will now be subject to one of the two rules, with no facility subject to both rules."

Good said other notable changes include clarification of compliance demonstration requirements and streamlined testing requirements for printing facilities with low emissions.

DNR has compiled information on all environmental requirements that may impact printers on a new Printer Portal page of the DNR website as part of a coordinated effort with industry to provide compliance assistance and sustainability resources. These efforts are part of an ongoing partnership established through a Green Tier Charter made up of printer trade associations and the department to foster collaboration on regulatory streamlining initiatives, education on compliance and sustainability strategies, and promotion of new technologies and processes that result in more efficient, sustainable printing operations.


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 02, 2019

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