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Weekly News Published - February 19, 2019 by the Central Office

 

Trail cameras provide opportunity to help restore Wisconsin's only state-endangered mammal

Contact(s): Skyler Vold, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation biologist, 715-493-0484; Jim Woodford, Natural Heritage Conservation section chief, 715-365-8856

RHINELANDER, Wis. - Wisconsin conservation biologists hope a network of trail cameras can play a role in helping to restore populations of the American marten, an elusive member of the weasel family and the only state-endangered mammal in Wisconsin.

Starting in December 2018, state conservation biologists began deploying trail cameras in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest among 120 different sites to capture photos of the martens, which inhabit older forests of northern Wisconsin. A special platform mounted on a tree in front of a camera encourages martens to reach for a bait, clearly exposing for the camera the unique pattern of yellowish-orange fur on the animal's throat and chest.

The recent snowfall is especially good news for American martens, which tunnel under the snow in search of prey. Inconsistent snowpack in recent years, however, is one reason conservation biologists are turning to trail cams to help research and monitor marten populations. - Photo credit: DNR
The recent snowfall is especially good news for American martens, which tunnel under the snow in search of prey. Inconsistent snowpack in recent years, however, is one reason conservation biologists are turning to trail cams to help research and monitor marten populations.Photo credit: DNR

Biologists hope to use the resulting photos and data to track individual martens so they can generate more reliable estimates of population size and annual survival. As well, the biologists hope the trail cameras can reveal more about the American marten's habits so the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other conservation partners can refine strategies for recovering the species.

"We're optimistic about the population status of marten in Wisconsin," says Skyler Vold, the conservation biologist leading the project for the DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program. "Establishing long-term research and monitoring with trail cameras may help us discover more details to aid marten recovery in the state."

American martens, small mammals weighing 1 to 3 pounds and measuring 1.2 to 2 feet in length, with about one third of that length its long bushy tail, were historically abundant and widely-distributed in northern Wisconsin before European settlement. Unregulated trapping and widespread habitat destruction led to their disappearance from the state around 1925, and the mammal was placed on the state endangered species list in 1972, according to Carly Lapin, a DNR conservation biologist who also works to recover this species in Wisconsin.

View Slideshow SLIDE SHOW | 5 photos

Trail cam research aims to reveal secrets of elusive American martens

There have been multiple attempts to reintroduce American martens in Wisconsin since the 1950s with varying degrees of success, and many partners have been working together on restoration and habitat protection efforts for the species, Lapin says. The U.S. Forest Service, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Native American tribes, universities, local governments, the forestry community, conservation groups, private landowners and other interested people are among the partners.

"American martens are an important species in Wisconsin because they are known as an "umbrella species," Lapin says. "Managing Wisconsin forests to improve habitat for American martens will also improve habitat for a wide variety of other species that also rely upon older forests."

Using trail camera technology will allow department staff to identify individual martens across multiple years, enabling biologists to monitor populations and estimate abundance and survival through time. Traditionally, individual animals had to be captured and marked to achieve these population estimates.

"Using cameras to collect these types of data is cheaper, requires less time in the field, and is less invasive to the study animals," Vold says.

Importantly too, the trail cameras will be a more reliable survey method than snow track surveys, which require ideal snow conditions, which have not been consistent in recent years in northern Wisconsin. Additionally, lower average snow depths in northern Wisconsin may affect martens' efficiency in hunting prey in winter and their ability to outcompete fishers, another reintroduced member of the weasel family whose recovery has been more successful, Vold says.

"We hope this new long-term effort can continue to help identify the most influential factors constraining marten populations in Wisconsin and use this research to inform management actions for their continued recovery into the future," he says.

Natural Heritage Conservation work to restore endangered wildlife, plants and habitats and keep native species from disappearing are funded in part by the Endangered Resources Fund. People can donate to the fund on their Wisconsin income tax form. All donations are matched by the state, doubling donors' impact.

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Feeding deer during winter months can do more harm than good

Contact(s): Tim Marien, DNR wildlife health specialist, 608-264-6046

MADISON - As cold weather continues in Wisconsin, state wildlife officials say people should consider the negative impacts of wildlife feeding and look to alternatives that provide long-term benefits to help wildlife through a cold and snowy winter season.

"People want to see healthy deer on the landscape, but feeding is not the best solution," said Tim Marien, a wildlife health specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "Improving habitat provides natural food sources that support deer and many other types of wildlife year-round."

Providing deer with a heavy corn diet can be fatal. - Photo credit: DNR
Providing deer with a heavy corn diet can be fatal.Photo credit: DNR

Even a mild Wisconsin winter can cause concerns, but deer and other wildlife commonly seen in Wisconsin adapt both physically and behaviorally to even the harshest winter weather. Animals with adequate fat reserves and good winter cover are more likely to survive.

"Deer start preparing for winter during the summer, when nutritious natural food sources are abundant," said Marien. "When winter arrives, they seek out shelter in stands of pine, cedar and fir that provide cover from snow and wind, and they'll search for winter foods in the vicinity until spring."

However, some winters can overly stress individual animals, and this can reduce their chances of survival. Especially during hard winters with bitterly cold temperatures, concerned citizens may turn to feeding to help deer through the winter. While this may have some benefit to individual animals, feeding often occurs on a scale too small to affect the overall condition of the deer herd.

Feeding can also have a negative impact on deer, as it draws them out of winter range where having forage and cover nearby help deer conserve energy. Feeding also increases the risk of disease spread and severe digestive issues. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search keywords "winter feeding [PDF]" to learn more.

As a reminder, deer feeding is illegal in some Wisconsin counties. Where it is legal, regulations restrict the location and amount of food that may be placed. Feeding deer is also prohibited when elk and bear are using the site. For a full list of wildlife feeding regulations and what counties feeding is allowed, search keywords "feeding regulations."

"Feeding restrictions are in place to protect the health and safety of both humans and wildlife," said Marien. "In areas where elk and bear are present, feeding can present a safety risk when these animals acclimate to people. Also, elk are susceptible to several diseases that deer carry, which can weaken the elk herds that Wisconsin has been working to grow over the past few decades."

Improve habitat to help deer through a tough winter

Creating and improving habitat can give deer and other wildlife the resources they need during summer months and sustain them during the winter. Maintaining nutritious natural food sources like oak, aspen and crabapple provides summer and fall food, while evergreen stands create winter cover and food for deer. Cutting trees and providing browse is a more natural food source and can also provide better cover in the long run. Good habitat fulfills the needs of many deer, rather than a few individuals.

A variety of resources are available to help landowners improve their land for wildlife, including the Deer Management Assistance Program, the Young Forest Initiative and the Landowner Incentive Program. More information on these programs and additional publications is available on the DNR website by searching keyword "landowner."

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Natural Resources Board to meet February 27 in Madison

Contact(s): Laurie Ross, board liaison, 608-267-7420

MADISON - Requests to consider an emergency order related to harvest management of the Lake Superior fishery, a forest conservation easement purchase in Iron County, and master plan approvals for three ecological landscapes in northwestern Wisconsin are among the items the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board will address when it meets February 27 in Madison.

The board will convene at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27, in Room G09, State Natural Resources Building (GEF 2), 101 South Webster St., Madison. At approximately 8:05 a.m. Feb. 27 the board may convene in closed session to confer with legal counsel regarding potential litigation issues arising out of the board's pending decision to approve emergency rules to enable the Lake Superior Fishing Agreement. Following the closed session the board will consider taking from the table the emergency rule, which the board initially adopted at its December meeting, but subsequently tabled at its January meeting. This emergency rule implements provisions of the Lake Superior Fisheries Agreement that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reached with the Red Cliff and Bad River bands of Lake Superior Chippewa tribes. Remote public testimony from the DNR Ashland Office is available on this agenda item.

The board will also consider a request to purchase a 14,352-acre forest conservation easement in Iron County for approximately $4.8 million. If approved it would be designated the Great Northern Conservation Easement and would preserve and protect the land for sustainable forestry and provide public access for outdoor recreation.

The board will consider approval of master plans for three ecological landscapes in northwestern Wisconsin: Northwest Lowlands, Northwest Sands and Superior Coastal Plain. The regions include properties such as Amnicon, Big Bay, Copper Falls and Pattison state parks, the Brule River State Forest and numerous fish and wildlife areas and State Natural Areas.

The complete February board agenda is available by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov for keyword "NRB" and clicking on the button for "view agendas."

The public must pre-register with Laurie Ross, board liaison, to testify at the board meeting. The deadline for Board liaison receipt of your request to testify or your written comment is 11 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. Registration information is available on the NRB pages of the DNR website. No late requests or comments will be accepted.

Board meetings are webcast live. People can watch the meeting over the internet by going to the NRB agenda page of the DNR website and clicking on webcasts in the Related Links column on the right. Then click on this month's meeting. After each meeting, the webcast will be permanently available on demand.

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Entries sought for Wisconsin wild turkey, pheasant and waterfowl stamp design contests

Contact(s): Jaqi Christopher, DNR assistant upland wildlife ecologist, 608-261-8458

MADISON - Artists looking to have their work featured on a piece of history have until July 15, 2019 to submit artwork for the 2020 Wisconsin wild turkey, pheasant and waterfowl stamp design contests.

2019 turkey stamp
2019 Wild Turkey Stamp by Stephen Senechal of Oxford, WI

2019 pheasant stamp
2019 Pheasant Stamp by Todd Haefner of Janesville, WI

2019 waterfowl stamp
2019 Wisconsin Waterfowl Stamp by Jon Rickaby of Green Bay, WI

The contest is open to anyone 18 years of age or older living in Wisconsin who is a U.S. Citizen or legal permanent resident. Artwork must meet technical requirements to be eligible. Applicants are asked to review contest rules carefully to ensure the eligibility of their entries.

"These contests provide a wonderful opportunity for art and science to come together and promote sound wildlife management," says Jaqi Christopher, assistant upland ecologist with the Wisconsin DNR.

Funds derived from the sale of these stamps contribute to restoration and management efforts on thousands of acres of important wildlife habitat.

The winners for the 2019 contests were Jon Rickaby for Waterfowl, Stephan Senechal for Wild Turkey, and Todd Haefner for Pheasant.

To receive text or email updates about the wildlife stamp design contest, subscribe to Wisconsin DNR Gov Delivery updates. Follow the prompts and enroll in the "Waterfowl, Wild Turkey, and Pheasant Stamp Design Contests" list.

For contest rules, entry information and reproduction rights agreements, visit dnr.wi.gov, search keywords "Wildlife Stamps" and click the "stamp design contest" tab.

Stamp design entries must be received or postmarked by July 15, 2019 to be eligible. Judging will take place in late July or early August.

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Incidental take notice for Walworth County

Contact(s): Stacy Rowe, DNR conservation biologist, 608-266-7012

MADISON - A bridge replacement project on U.S. Highway 14 in Walworth County may result in the "incidental taking" of two rare snake species under an authorization the Department of Natural Resources proposes to issue for the project. Incidental take refers to the unintentional loss of individual endangered or threatened animals or plants that does not put the overall population of the species at risk.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation proposes to rehabilitate 2.8 miles and reconstruct 0.4 miles of Highway 14 pavement between State Highway 11 and Interstate 43. Construction is anticipated from April 2019 to September 2019. The pavement will be reconstructed to accommodate the removal of a two-span structure and construction of a new single span prestressed concrete girder structure.

The presence of the state endangered eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) and the state endangered queensnake (Regina septemvittata) has been confirmed in the vicinity of the project site. DNR staff determined that the proposed project may result in the incidental taking of some snakes.

Department staff concluded that the proposed project will minimize the impacts to the species by adhering to conservation measures; is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence and recovery of the state population of the species or the whole plant-animal community of which they are a part; and has benefit to the public health, safety or welfare that justifies the action.

The conservation measures to minimize the adverse effect on these endangered species will be incorporated into the proposed Incidental Take Authorization. Copies of the jeopardy assessment and background information on the eastern massasauga and queensnake are available by searching the DNR website for incidental take public notice or upon request from Stacy Rowe (608-266-7012 or stacy.rowe@wi.gov). The department is requesting comments from the public through March 21, 2019 regarding project-related impacts to the Eastern Massasauga or Queensnake. Public comments should be sent to Stacy Rowe, Wisconsin DNR-NH/6, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921 or stacy.rowe@wi.gov.

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Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, February 19, 2019

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