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Weekly News Published August 6, 2019


Public hearing to be held on proposed rules to set water quality standards for three Wisconsin River reservoirs

Contact(s): Marcia Willhite, DNR Water Evaluation Section Chief, 608-267-7425

Buckhorn State Park is located on the Castle Rock Flowage, one of three flowages on the Wisconsin River that would have  - Photo credit: DNR
Buckhorn State Park is located on the Castle Rock Flowage, one of three flowages on the Wisconsin River that would have site-specific water quality standards for phosphorus under a proposal that is the topic of an upcoming public hearing.Photo credit: DNR

MADISON - The public will have an opportunity to learn more about and comment on a proposed rule to create site-specific water quality standards for phosphorus on three reservoirs in the Wisconsin River Basin at a public hearing on August 13 in Wisconsin Rapids with simulcasts in Rhinelander and Portage.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is proposing the site-specific criteria for Petenwell Lake, Castle Rock Lake and Lake Wisconsin.

The DNR uses a process called Total Maximum Daily Load to develop a pollution "budget" for a water body that establishes reductions needed to meet water quality goals, according to Marcia Willhite, DNR Water Evaluation Section Chief.

The TMDL for the Wisconsin River Basin, in which the three water bodies are located, requires substantial reductions in phosphorus. While phosphorus is too high in all three lakes and needs to be reduced, the current broadly established criteria are not appropriate for all three.

"Because the water in Castle Rock and Petenwell lakes produces less algae per unit of phosphorus than other lakes of their type, the standard for phosphorus doesn't need to be set as low to get rid of the algae," Willhite said. "The situation in Lake Wisconsin is the opposite. This lake typically meets its current phosphorus standard, but still has too much algae, so a more stringent phosphorus standard and a bigger reduction in phosphorus is needed for Lake Wisconsin to make it healthy for recreation."

Willhite said some people may think that this rule allows more phosphorus to accumulate in lakes that already have algae problems, "but that is not the case - it needs to be reduced in all three lakes, just not as much in Castle Rock and Petenwell as it does in Lake Wisconsin."

Public participation is a critical component of agency rule making. The proposed language is available by searching the DNR website,, for "proposed permanent rules" under Board Order WY-09-18.

The public hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. on August 13 at the Wood County Land & Water Conservation Dept., River Block, 111 W. Jackson St., Wisconsin Rapids. To allow greater participation, the hearing will be simulcast to the Rhinelander DNR Service Center, 107 Sutliff Ave., and to the Columbia County Health and Human Services, 111 E. Mullett St. in Portage.

Written comments may be submitted at the public hearings or to Marcia Willhite by email at,, by U.S. mail to Wisconsin DNR, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, or calling 608-267-7425. The deadline for comments is August 20, 2019.



Rare Franklin's ground squirrels get a new home

Contact(s): Contact: Rich Staffen, DNR conservation biologist, 608-266-4340

Team helps re-locate family to new digs, seeks photos, reports of others

The Franklin's ground squirrel is one of Wisconsin's rarest mammals. - Photo credit: Damian Vraniak
The Franklin's ground squirrel is one of Wisconsin's rarest mammals.Photo credit: Damian Vraniak

WASHBURN COUNTY, Wis. - A family of rare Franklin's ground squirrels is settling into new digs here before its long winter hibernation begins, thanks to team work by active and retired DNR conservation biologists, a Northland College professor and his students, and private property owners.

The partners trapped and moved the rare squirrels from a private property in Douglas County where they were causing problems and released them on another private property in Washburn County where the landowner had been actively restoring habitat for rare native species historically found in the area.

"Getting a report and making sure we could move them to a new location with a willing landowner is great news for this rare species," says Rich Staffen, the Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist who helped coordinate the rare squirrel relocation. "We're very excited because Franklin's ground squirrels are rare and so difficult to find because they are so secretive."

He encourages people to submit photographs and reports of Franklin's ground squirrels they see, along with the location and any information describing the habitat. To submit a report, visit and search "NHC" and click on the "report" button and use the drop down menu to select "Franklin's ground squirrel." 

Vanishing habitat for a rare and secretive mammal

The Franklin's ground squirrel is similar in size and appearance to the much more common gray squirrel but has a shorter, flatter tail. Its back is rusty brown flecked with black, and adult males weigh just over one pound.

View Slideshow SLIDE SHOW | 11 photos

One of Wisconsin's rarest mammals gets a new home

A tallgrass prairie species, Franklin's ground squirrel was historically found on the shrubby edges of prairies and woodlands extending from northwestern Wisconsin to southeastern Wisconsin. As tallgrass prairie and savanna have been lost to development, agriculture and succession to forest, Franklin's ground squirrel populations have dwindled, and they are now considered a "species of special concern," meaning its populations are low or declining, Staffen says.

"Historically, they were never common, but we're seeing a major range contraction," Staffen says. "We can't find them in southeastern Wisconsin anymore.

"We've had recent reports from Portage and Marathon counties, but it seems like the last stronghold is in northwestern Wisconsin, in Douglas, Burnett and Washburn counties." The animals typically avoid short grass or mowed lawns in favor of their preferred tallgrass areas that provide more cover from predators.

When a report came into DNR that a family of Franklin's ground squirrels was starting to pilfer vegetables from a private property owner's garden and dig under some building foundations, Staffen started looking for a new home for them.

Fortunately, he recalled now-retired DNR conservation biologist Adrian Wydeven once talking about a Washburn County property owner who was restoring tallgrass prairie, savanna and barrens with an eye toward providing habitat for rare species native to the area.

Staffen got in touch with Wydeven, who connected with the property owner, and a plan was laid to live trap the Franklin's ground squirrels and relocate them. That's where Northland College professor Erik Olson and his students came in.

They've been working this summer to conduct small mammal surveys in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, so the Franklin ground squirrel project was right up their alley.

Along with DNR State Natural Area crew members, they set up and monitored live traps on the Douglas County property. They caught three of the animals in a few days, transported the squirrels to their new home in Washburn County and released them after first weighing, measuring and marking the animals so biologists could track their movements and survival in coming months and years. Trail cameras were already set up on the new property and should aid this research going forward.

Keeping the family together

Staffen says live traps are still set up on the original property to see if they can catch what are believed to be three or four more family members. Franklin ground squirrels are what biologists call "semi-colonial," meaning they like to live in small family or loose breeding groups."

"We figured we'd try to keep them together with their family group so they have a better chance of survival," Staffen says.

Also crucial to the effort was relocating the Franklin ground squirrels so they had enough time to explore their new home and find suitable habitat for their winter hibernation. The animals are among Wisconsin's true hibernators; they are active between mid-April and September and then sleep in their underground burrows the rest of the year.

Hopefully, the animals will prove better at this than their namesake: Franklin's ground squirrel was named in honor of the British Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, who perished with his crew in the 1840s while searching for the Northwest Passage, according to Prairie Public Broadcasting.

"We're hopeful this will be a win-win-win situation," Staffen says.

"The animals have been moved to a new location with the right kind of habitat and plenty of it, they are no longer eating the original property owners' garden vegetables or burrowing under their buildings, and some Northland College students are getting good experience in live trapping and processing these small mammals."



Help drive the next conservation success: Switch to an Endangered Resources license plate

Contact(s): Drew Feldkirchner, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Director, 608-235-3905

Endangered Resources License Plate - Photo credit: DNR
Endangered Resources License Plate

MADISON - More Wisconsin car owners renew their vehicle registrations in August than any other month, making it a great time for people to consider switching from a standard license plate to an Endangered Resources plate that helps fund work to keep Wisconsin's rare species from vanishing and its state natural areas pristine.

People making the switch keep their same registration renewal date but commit to paying an extra $25 annually that is a tax-deductible donation to the Endangered Resources Fund.

"Endangered Resources license plates are a great way to show your love for nature and help fund important conservation work," says Drew Feldkirchner, who directs DNR's Natural Heritage Conservation staff charged with protecting and restored rare and native species and state natural areas. "You're helping keep endangered species from vanishing while making your car look great!"

Endangered Resources license plates come in two designs: a bald eagle design unveiled in fall 2015 that uses a full-plate photograph of our nation's symbol, and a wolf design, introduced in 1995 and featuring a drawing of a gray wolf. A badger design is no longer available for sale but motorists who currently have the badger plate can continue to display that plate on their car.

"Wisconsinites' donations to the Endangered Resources Fund through their license plates and tax returns are critically important for endangered species and state natural areas," Feldkirchner says.

"We are grateful for everyone who has supported Wisconsin's Endangered Resources in this way, and we encourage others to switch to an Endangered Resources license plate so we can do more great work together."

Plate sale revenues and other donations have helped keep hundreds of rare plant and animal species from vanishing from Wisconsin and have helped restore bald eagles, trumpeter swans, osprey and more to Wisconsin skies, land and waters.

Details on getting an Endangered Resources license plate

Get your Endangered Resources License Plate

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Local ​DMV customer service centers​ do not have Endangered Resources license plates for immediate issue but can process applications and the plates are mailed.

Download and fill out Form MV2858 and mail it in or fill it out at the DMV customer service center near you. The plate will be mailed to you by the Department of Transportation.

Vehicles qualifying for the Endangered Resources license plates are:

You can buy Endangered Resources license plates at any time from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. However, it is most economical if you buy the plate at the time you renew your registration and you may renew your plate up to six months early. Nearly 340,000 car owners renewed their plates in August in 2018, the month with the most automobile registration renewals.

That is because the initial cost of getting the plate is $40, $15 of which goes to the DOT for the plate itself, and the $25 donation to the Endangered Resources Fund. If you switch plates at renewal time, you get use of the ER plate for the full 12-month period. If you switch in the middle of your renewal cycle, you could pay the $25 donation twice in a calendar year that first year because your renewal date remains the same.

To learn more about Endangered Resources license plates and the conservation work they help fund, visit and search "ER license plate."



Operation Deer Watch is underway, offering citizen-scientists the opportunity to participate in crucial deer research with the Wisconsin DNR

Contact(s): Brian Dhuey, DNR surveys coordinator, 608-221-6342; Jes Rees Lohr, DNR research scientist, 608-221-6349

Operation Deer Watch is an opportunity for Wisconsinites to participate in white-tailed deer monitoring while enjoying the state's abundant wildlife. - Photo credit: DNR
Operation Deer Watch is an opportunity for Wisconsinites to participate in white-tailed deer monitoring while enjoying the state's abundant wildlife.Photo credit: DNR

MADISON - Operation Deer Watch, an annual citizen-science survey that collects information on Wisconsin's white-tailed deer, gives residents an engaging opportunity to assist with deer herd management efforts.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources researchers ask participants to report their deer sightings via an easy-to-use online form. The data collected provide insights into the reproductive status of Wisconsin's deer herd and help shape deer management for the state. Participants are asked to record all bucks, does and fawns seen during the day from August 1 to September 30.

Many participants carry a printable tally sheet with them in the car to record sightings and then enter their results online at a later time. For safety, participants should not record sightings while driving a vehicle. Instead, wait till the vehicle is stopped to take note of your sightings.

"This is a fun and useful opportunity for everyone to enjoy Wisconsin's plentiful wildlife," said Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife population and harvest assessment specialist. "The DNR encourages anyone interested in deer, from hunters and trappers to outdoor enthusiasts, to take part."

Data from the survey is also used by County Deer Advisory Councils to develop deer season framework, harvest quotas and permit level recommendations.



Regional West Nile virus monitoring effort for ruffed grouse to continue this fall

Contact(s): Mark Witecha, DNR upland wildlife ecologist, 608-267-7861

Hunters can help monitor West Nile virus in ruffed grouse by requesting a self-sample kit from their local wildlife biologist. - Photo credit: Paul Carson
Hunters can help monitor West Nile virus in ruffed grouse by requesting a self-sample kit from their local wildlife biologist.Photo credit: Paul Carson

MADISON -Ruffed grouse hunters can assist wildlife health officials in a multi-year study monitoring for West Nile virus in ruffed grouse by submitting samples from their harvested ruffed grouse. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is collaborating with the Minnesota and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources, the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress to conduct the study.

This effort will focus on the core ruffed grouse range in the central and northern forests.

The DNR has assembled 500 self-sampling kits for ruffed grouse hunters to use in 2019. The WNV sampling kits contain detailed instructions and all the supplies needed to collect and ship one sample. Hunters will be asked to collect a small amount of blood, a few feathers and the heart from their harvested grouse. If a hunter has a leftover, unused kit from 2018, they can use that kit and send it in this year for processing, as there is no expiration date for the materials included in the kit.

People who hunt the central and northern forests and would like to participate in the West Nile virus study can request sampling kits through their county wildlife biologist and will be available for pickup in early September. The number of kits provided per individual may be limited to ensure samples come from a large geographic area.

Hunters will be provided test results via email. However, testing of samples will not begin until after the grouse season has closed, and final results will not be available for several months after the close of the season.

WNV is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, and there is no evidence that WNV can be spread by handling dead birds or by consuming properly cooked game. It is one of several bird diseases afflicting native bird species.

Sick and Dead Birds

In addition to collecting samples from harvested ruffed grouse, the DNR is asking the public to report any sick or dead grouse observed while out in the field.

Anyone who sees a ruffed grouse that appears sick or emaciated, who finds a freshly dead grouse should take note of the location and promptly call a county wildlife biologist for possible testing and to help track reports statewide.

People who are willing to collect the carcass for testing, should keep the entire bird intact and place it into a plastic bag and keep the bird cool but not frozen. Bring the whole ruffed grouse carcass to a county wildlife biologist the same or next day. Prompt collection of ruffed grouse is necessary to prevent decomposition or scavenging. It is recommended people wear gloves whenever handling dead animals, even those that appear healthy.

If refrigeration and prompt delivery are not possible, carcasses should be frozen and submitted to county wildlife biologists as soon as possible.

Carcasses in poor condition (scavenged with openings into the body cavity, having an odor, more advanced decomposition) will not be usable for testing, but people should still take note of the location and report these sightings to county wildlife biologists.



Proposed master plan variance authorizes hunter yurt on Flambeau River State Forest

Contact(s): Mitch Horrie, DNR Property Planner, 608-266-2698

Public comment period open through August 27, 2019

A camping yurt, similar to this one Wisconsin Natural Resources Board members toured last September in Bayfield County, would be allowed in the Flambeau River State Forest under a proposed master plan ammendment. - Photo credit: DNR
A camping yurt, similar to this one Wisconsin Natural Resources Board members toured last September in Bayfield County, would be allowed in the Flambeau River State Forest under a proposed master plan variance. Photo credit: DNR

WINTER, Wis. - A hunter camping yurt would be authorized in the Flambeau River State Forest under a variance the Department of Natural Resources is proposing to the forest's master plan.

The yurt would provide a unique year-round overnight recreation opportunity that addresses shifting generational trends and preferences for hunting and camping experiences while furthering the department's commitment to hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3), according to Mitch Horrie, DNR property planner.

The yurt is being planned through the master plan variance process. A master plan variance is a change in the use or management of an area that is consistent with the area's land management classification and objectives.

The public can review the draft variance, which includes a map of the proposed location of the yurt, by searching the DNR website,, for "property planning" and clicking the link for "Flambeau River State Forest (plan variance)." Questions or comments should be submitted by August 27, 2019 to Mitch Horrie, DNR Property Planner through the online comment form on the variance website, via email to, or by mail at Wisconsin DNR; Attn: Mitch Horrie; PO Box 7921; Madison, WI 53707-7921.


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 06, 2019

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