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March 22, 2011

MADISON - This past winter, nearly 300 trumpeter swans were counted overwintering on open water near the confluence of the St. Croix and Hudson rivers in Hudson, Wisconsin, attracting weekend crowds of birdwatchers.

A mid-winter aerial survey along the Lower Wisconsin River corridor last January found 473 bald eagles along the 180-mile survey route running from the Petenwell dam between Adams and Juneau counties to the river's confluence with the Mississippi River in Crawford County. Bald eagle watching events in Sauk City and Prairie du Sac, Cassville and Prairie du Chien attract hundreds of visitors to those communities.

These two large and impressive bird species are emblematic of the state's efforts in the recovery of endangered species. While both were once listed as endangered, successful recovery plans led to significantly increased populations and both have been removed from the endangered and threatened species list.

Like much of the work conducted to protect and manage rare species and habitats, a significant amount of the funding for these efforts has come from the Endangered Resources Fund, which state residents can voluntarily contribute to through a checkoff on state income tax forms.

But the state's endangered resources program is much broader than these high-profile success stories.

This past week, biologists entered the Neda Mine in Dodge County, the site of the largest bat hibernaculum in the Midwest, to survey for white nose bat syndrome, a fungus killing cave bats across the eastern United States. This was just one of more than 100 sites that have been surveyed for the disease. So far the disease has not found it in Wisconsin, but results from these surveys won't be know for several weeks. These surveys are part of a broader effort to save Wisconsin bats.

While there are more than 200 animals and plants listed as endangered or threatened in Wisconsin, a primary goal of the program is to keep species off the list in the first place.

"It's much more effective to manage land and resources to keep species off the endangered or threatened list than it is to develop plans to aid in their recovery after they are listed," says Laurie Osterndorf, director of the Endangered Resources program in the Department of Natural Resources.

This may involve conducting controlled burns to maintain prairie habitat, working with landowners to control and remove invasive and exotic species that threaten native species, and protecting unique habitats through dedication or designation as State Natural Areas.

In the last year, an additional 45 State Natural Areas have been added, bringing to the total number of areas protected in Wisconsin to 653. State Natural Areas include outstanding examples of Wisconsin's native landscape of natural communities, significant geological formations and archeological sites. More than 90 percent of the plants and 75 percent of the animals on Wisconsin's list of endangered and threatened species are protected on State Natural Areas.

Among those added this year is the Apostle Islands Yew Forest on parts of Raspberry, Rocky, Cat, and York Islands in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. These sites are unique in that they still retain Canada yew in the understory -- a plant that is negatively impacted by deer browse.

At Moose Lake in Iron County, the state purchased 2,600 acres of one of the largest blocks of mature to old-growth hemlock-hardwood forest remaining in Wisconsin. This site may also be the best habitat in Wisconsin for American marten, a state endangered animal.

2011 marks the 60th anniversary of the State Natural Areas Program, created by legislation in November 1951. Wisconsin's in the oldest state-sanctioned natural areas protection program in the nation and a model for other states' programs.

"With the arrival of spring, this is a great time to get out and visit some of our State Natural Areas to view spring ephemeral plants, and look for the return of Neo-tropical and other migratory birds," Osterndorf says. "But spring also brings on tax time, and we hope that residents who haven't yet filed state income taxes will 'Look for the Loon' to help support the protection of Wisconsin's natural heritage. Every contribution, big or small, adds up to make a huge impact on Wisconsin's quality of resources and quality of life. It is a vital investment in the health and well-being of the environment, economy and quality of life. These are benefits everyone can appreciate and enjoy, now and for generations to come."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bureau of Endangered Resources (608) 266-7012

Last Revised: Tuesday, March 22, 2011

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