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January 10, 2012

The state endangered species act turns 40; yearlong highlights planned

MADISON -- Wisconsin's law safeguarding rare wildlife and plants turns 40 in 2012 with eagles, trumpeter swans, osprey and gray wolves among the successful comebacks made under its protections.

Help save our endangered species from your tax form.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and partners will highlight these successes in the coming year and the people who helped make them possible. A new web feature every month will showcase videos, slide shows, an interactive timeline and other multi-media to tell the stories, provide listings of events and places to see and learn about these species, and how people can get involved in restoration efforts on the ground. The "Comeback Champ" feature will shine the spotlight on an individual, organization or business that played a critical role in the particular species' comeback.

"Wisconsin has a lot to be proud of on this important anniversary," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "Some of our most beloved natural treasures are back from the brink, and we're leading the way with innovative approaches to safeguarding others. Our kids and grandkids will get to enjoy eagles soaring overhead thanks to the great work that DNR staff, partners and citizens have done together under the state's Endangered Species Act."

Stepp said it's important to celebrate Wisconsin's successes and also urged citizens to keep up their support, both through donating money to continue the important wildlife work and to get involved through the many volunteer opportunities available.

Efforts to safeguard rare wildlife and plants are supported in large part by private donations and by sales of endangered resources license plates. Each dollar from citizens who donate funds by checking a line on their income tax form or who make a direct contribution is matched by a dollar from the state's general purpose fund. That match can be up to $500,000 annually, and it's a critical part of the funding to safeguard Wisconsin's wild species and special places, according to Laurie Osterndorf, who leads the DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources.

Getting citizens involved on the ground is another cornerstone. "Each year, citizens donate more than 300,000 hours of labor helping us monitor wildlife populations," Stepp says. "That's an amazing number and it's why Wisconsin has some of the nation's longest running wildlife records - like the breeding bird survey and the frog and toad survey."

"Together, we can do more to save the special places and wildlife that make Wisconsin a wonderful place to live, work and visit."

An evolving effort and list of rare species

Wisconsin lawmakers passed the Endangered Species Act in 1971 and it became effective in 1972, a year before the federal Endangered Species Act was passed. Under the leadership of Ruth Hine, a zoologist who was chief of the DNR research, information and publications, the agency developed the first list with 15 species on it.

Under the Wisconsin law, it's illegal to kill, transport, possess, process or sell any wild animal on the endangered or threatened species list. Any private or public construction project DNR reviews, any grants it makes, or any action DNR undertakes on its own properties must consider whether there is potential harm to species on the list.

According to Osterndorf, the law has encouraged changes that have helped limit the impact on threatened species. Oftentimes, she notes, avoiding a rare species may be a matter of properly timing the project. For instance, people wait to cut down a tree until after the nesting season is over.

Through encouraging project applicants to seek review early in their design process, DNR staff have been able to help applicants plan their project in ways that avoid impacts. "That saves them a lot of time and money in the long-run and helps safeguard the species," Osterndorf says, noting that a recent streamlining of the review process and move to Internet-based communications has cut turnaround time from 12 weeks to 10 days.

Other keys to Wisconsin's success include the state's commitment to gathering up-to-date information on species and research that can help suggest effective strategies for avoiding impacts to those rare species, efforts to protect habitat through incentives to private landowners, and acquisition of land rich in rare species to become State Natural Areas.

"We are always evolving our program, working with and learning from our partners and the regulated community to try to do a better job safeguarding these natural treasures in the best way possible," Stepp says. "I'd say Wisconsin wears 40 pretty well!"

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Laurie Osterndorf - 608-267-7552 or Rebecca Schroeder 608-266-5244

Last Revised: Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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