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September 28, 2010

Hunters urged to be alert for strong currents, floating debris; call ahead for conditions

MADISON - Heavy rains across much of northern and central Wisconsin on Sept. 23 have resulted in record flood levels along the Wisconsin River downstream from the Wisconsin Dells to Prairie Du Chien, and rising water on the Mississippi River.

Waterfowl hunters heading out for the Oct. 2 opener of the southern duck hunting season are being cautioned that some boat landings will be flooded or inaccessible, and are reminded to be alert for strong currents and floating debris.

"We're seeing very significant flooding along the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway and flood conditions are expected to persist through this week and possibly into next week," said Bill Ishmael, Department of Natural Resources wildlife program supervisor at Dodgeville.

Floodwaters are forecast to recede somewhat during the week prior to the Southern Zone duck season opener on Saturday but will still be high enough to create potential hazards for navigation.

The National Weather Service predicts the Mississippi River will crest Tuesday at La Crosse, remain at flood stage throughout the week and then get a second pulse of flooding as rivers in Minnesota contribute another load of high water.

The service predicts the Mississippi will continue to rise all week at Prairie du Chien in Crawford County, reaching its crest on Friday, the night before the southern zone duck opener. Flooding is expected to be moderate, but it will be more than enough to ruin a duck hunt, said warden supervisor Steve Dewald at La Crosse. The Mississippi is normally at 7 to 8 feet on the gauge for the duck opener. After rising more than three feet from current flood levels it will be at 19 feet Friday, the National Weather Service forecasts.

Officials say that public boat landings and parking areas on both rivers may be flooded or flood-damaged or inaccessible on opening weekend, so hunters are being reminded to check local conditions before they go hunting. Warden Mike Cross reports boat ramps in Prairie du Chien will be barricaded. Ramps at Linxville, Ferryville and off State Highway 82 near De Soto will be unsafe and might be barricaded, he said.

Additionally, an emergency slow-no-wake order is now in effect for the Mississippi off Crawford County to protect flooded property. It will remain in effect until further notice.

"Navigating the strong currents and deep water will be a challenge and boaters should make sure their life preservers are in good shape and refrain from overloading their watercraft with passengers and equipment," Dewald said.

Hunters will also find that Mississippi River water levels will be too high for anchoring duck decoys.

"There are few duck hunters who have 20 feet of anchor line for every decoy," notes Cross.

Wildlife officials say the high water may also result in poor hunting conditions on the rivers. With elevated river levels, the water will be too deep for puddle ducks to reach the submerged plants and river bottom where they feed, so ducks and geese will likely spread out into newly flooded areas. As a result, traditional spots of waterfowl concentrations in the marshes adjacent to the river channel may not be holding as many ducks as usual during opening weekend.

"The flooded woodlands of the river floodplain, especially where there are oaks and acorns, are going to be pretty attractive to ducks and, as a result, hunters may actually find better hunting opportunity inland, away from the main river channel and open marshes," Ishmael said.

Warden Dewald notes that the Mississippi River has been gaining in popularity with duck hunters.

"We have some groups that have been hunting the same island or marsh for 25 or 30 years. We don't want them to be disappointed. We'd rather have them wait and make a visit later in the fall."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: DNR Wildlife Supervisor Bill Ishmael (608) 935-1918; Warden Steve Dewald, La Crosse 608-785-9970; Warden Mike Cross, Prairie du Chien, 608-326-2915; Ed Culhane, DNR communications, west central region, 715-839-3715

Last Revised: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

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