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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published August 17, 2010

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DNA analysis confirms four cougars in state within last two years


Cougars' elusive nature makes tracking a challenge for state wildlife officials

MADISON -- A few drops of blood, preserved by an alert warden, proves that while one male cougar was tracking through St. Croix and Dunn counties this past December, another male cougar was moving near the Flambeau River, 125 miles to the north.

This cougar, crossing a road, was spotted by a female bus driver east of Park Falls. Warden Dan Michels responded and followed the animal's tracks into a cedar swamp where he spotted tiny blood drops behind the cougar's tracks. He collected them in a test tube, froze the contents and submitted them for DNA analysis.

No other sightings of a cougar in that vicinity were reported, and no more evidence was found. Still, the science is irrefutable. The bus driver had seen a wild North American cougar, a male.

The discovery points to just one of the challenges faced by Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials during the past two and a half years as they deal with the first confirmed cougars in Wisconsin since the last cougar native to the state was killed in or around 1908.

A series of incidents in Juneau County during the past several months has proven especially problematic. In May, a hunter reported seeing a cougar attacking a heifer. The cow had to be put down due to injuries. Later, after several sheep were attacked by an animal and killed, and instances of injured horses were reported on two different farms, it was widely assumed to be the work of the same animal, believed to be a cougar.

Later, the hunter was interviewed by a DNR biologist and his descriptions, by his own admission, fall short of a positive identification. The predator he saw was covered with mud and appeared to be less than half the size and length of a young adult cougar.

In Wisconsin, Wildlife Services (WS) - part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture - responds to reports of livestock depredations under a contract with the DNR. WS agents are skilled at responding to predation by other predators, such as bear and wolf, and at trapping predators when necessary. However, despite an ongoing effort by WS and DNR to capture any predator responsible for these animal attacks in Juneau County, none has been located. None have been captured on night cameras at bait sites or by tracking dogs. At this time, no prints that can be definitely attributed to a cougar have been found, no blood, no hair, no scat and no urine. Hunting dogs have failed to pick up a trail.

Faced with this mystery, DNR officials collected all the reports, photographs and other evidence from the Juneau County investigations and submitted them to a panel of four internationally recognized cougar experts through a scientific organization called the Cougar Network.

None of these experts could confirm the presence of a cougar, based on evidence collected so far. The experts acknowledged that their opinions were based on reports, and not on field investigations.

DNR officials, acting on reports from Juneau County residents, including unconfirmed sightings, are proceeding on the belief that the presence of a cougar is possible. Efforts to trap or to locate and kill the animal causing these injuries will continue.

In the meantime, the DNR has formed a cougar working group that includes a Wildlife Services supervisor and a Conservation Congress delegate from Juneau County. The group is collecting information from cougar experts elsewhere and is preparing a detailed protocol for how the DNR will respond to cougar sightings in the future.

DNR biologists have been sent to the Black Hills for hands-on training with cougars, taking part in operations to immobilize cougars and fit them with radio collars. The top cougar biologist from the Black Hills, John Kanta, came to Wisconsin two weeks ago to assist Wisconsin's cougar working group. He calls these elusive cats mountain lions.

"We've never had anyone fatally attacked by a mountain lion," Kanta said. "Your chance of even seeing a mountain lion, in mountain lion country, is a million to one."

The Wisconsin group will not be working on a cougar management plan. The cougars detected so far have been young males seeking new territory. They probably originated in the Black Hills of South Dakota. No females have been detected in Wisconsin and there is no evidence of a breeding population.

Female cougars tend to migrate no more than a couple hundred miles. Breeding populations east of the Black Hills would have to be established, scientists believe, before female cougars could be expected to arrive in Wisconsin, a process that could take 10 or more years, if it happens at all.

In the meantime, the DNR will continue to take all reports of cougar attacks on livestock seriously and to work with Wildlife Services to investigate any reports.

DNR officials emphasized that citizen observations are critical to this effort and they are asking landowners and outdoor enthusiasts to become familiar with the "rare mammal observation form" on the DNR's website. This and much more can be found by typing "cougar" into the search box on the home page.

Although the DNR has been collecting reports of possible cougar observations since 1991, biologists were never able to confirm the presence of a cougar, or to find a single decent cougar track in the state, until January 2008 when a cougar observation near Milton was confirmed by prints and DNA tests of a blood sample. That cougar was killed by Chicago police in April 2008.

In March 2009, a cougar was treed by hunters just west of Spooner. Attempts to capture the cougar were unsuccessful and it disappeared, its fate a mystery. In late May 2009, a Pepin County farmer discovered tracks near his livestock pen and Wydeven confirmed they belonged to a large cat.

Then in December, a cougar that likely crossed the frozen St. Croix River from Minnesota moved through St. Croix, Dunn (and probably Eau Claire and Clark counties) where tracks show it turning north. Tests reveal this same cougar, now dubbed the "Twin Cities cougar," was tracked near Cable in Bayfield County in February.

Since this cat appeared in December, there have been more than 10 confirmed cougar or cougar sign observations in western Wisconsin and one near Lena in northeast Wisconsin. A half dozen of these are believed to be the Twin Cities cougar.

Using DNA tests processed by the federal Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana, DNR biologists have been able to confirm the presence of four individual cougars in Wisconsin, all males, counting the one killed in Chicago. Whether these four account for all the observations is not known.

One thing is clear - cougars have proven to be very adept at covering large distances in Wisconsin without being noticed. DNR biologists say these cougars tend to move 5 to 7 miles a day. A DNR biologist tracking the cougar in Dunn County reported it stopped in one area for at least two days after killing and caching a fawn buck, returning at least once to continue its meal.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Adrian Wydeven - (715) 762-1363



2010 hook and line sturgeon season opens Sept. 4

High water the wild card this season

MADISON - High water in many of the rivers that open Sept. 4 for the 2010 hook and line sturgeon season means that fishing prospects for the state's oldest and largest fish are murky three weeks out but that one thing is clear: bring bug spray.

Wisconsin's September hook and line sturgeon season offers a chance to fish for the state's largest and longest lived fish. Sarah Weeks released this 58-inch sturgeon she caught in 2008 from the Chippewa River.

"The story is the incredible amount of water and the mosquitoes," says Dan Fuller, Department of Natural Resources fisheries technician based in Poynette. "Right now the Wisconsin River, for instance, is running high. Normally it's 4,000 cubic feet per second, now it's 11,000 cfs."

Information on water levels can be found on the U.S. Geological Survey website at [] (exit DNR).

Fuller is not sure how those high water levels will impact the fishing. On the one hand, there is a lot of food washing into the river so the sturgeon may not be as hungry and interested in the baits anglers offer. On the other hand, the increase in water levels from the rain can start the fish moving.

For sure, the high water levels mean a bumper crop of mosquitoes will greet anglers casting from the shore, Fuller says. "Bring bug repellant."

A dozen waters open to harvest and a new C & R opportunity

Anglers looking for a real big fish story can find one on any of the dozen or so waters open for the 2010 season, which runs Sept. 4-30. Additional season information can be found in the current Wisconsin fishing regulations

The 2010 season marks the fourth year that the minimum length for harvesting sturgeon is set at 60 inches, with a one-fish limit per season. There is a catch and release season on a stretch of the Menominee River downstream from the Hattie Street dam to Green Bay.

New this year is a catch and release season on the lower St. Croix River from St. Croix Falls Dam downstream to the Mississippi River from Oct. 1 through Oct. 15 to allow Wisconsin and Minnesota to have the same regulations for the same species. This is not reflected in the Fishing Regulations 2010-2011.

"We continue to provide people with surgeon angling opportunities," says Karl Scheidegger, a DNR fisheries biologist in Madison who co-chairs the state's sturgeon committee. "There are fish out there. With persistence and a little know-how, anglers stand a good chance of landing one of these giants."

Lake sturgeon are slow-growing, late maturing fish, with females spawning for the first time when they are 20 to 25 years old and then only every four to five years thereafter. Because females are larger than males, they are often targeted by anglers, and their overharvest can cause population declines that may take years to recover.

So to protect these vulnerable fish, the state's sturgeon management program seeks to limit harvest to 5 percent of the adults in a particular population. On some waters, harvest rates were significantly exceeding that rate.

"One of the things we wanted to try to accomplish through the regulation change was the reduction in harvest," Scheidegger says. "Clearly we've done that but we need to continue to look at how we manage sturgeon so we can improve management in all areas."

Remember to buy a harvest tag

If anglers do plan to harvest a sturgeon this season, they must purchase a harvest tag before they fish. The sturgeon harvest tag was implemented for the first time in the 2006 hook and line season. All revenues from the harvest tag sales go directly to projects dedicated to the improvement of sturgeon populations and habitats and therefore, better fishing opportunities. No tag is needed if anglers are catch and release fishing only.

The harvest tag is available throughout the season and costs $20 for residents and $50 for nonresidents. It can be can be purchased: over the Internet through the Online Licensing Center; by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4236); at license sales locations; or DNR service centers during their regular business hours (check service center link for hours of operation, which vary by service center).

Anglers who harvest a legal-size fish must immediately attach the harvest tag to the fish and take it to a registration station by 6 p.m. the next day for registration.

All anglers must have a Wisconsin general inland fishing license unless they are under 16 years old, or were born before Jan. 1, 1927. Military personnel who are Wisconsin residents and in active service but on furlough or leave are eligible to receive a free annual fishing license. They still need to purchase the $20 lake sturgeon harvest tag if they plan to keep a lake sturgeon.

Fewer Menominee River sturgeon registration stations

Of note on the Menominee River sturgeon season would be a reduction in the number of registration stations. Beginning this year there will be only four stations, two each in Wisconsin and Michigan. Those locations are:

In Wisconsin:

In Michigan:

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Dan Fuller - (608) 635-8127 or Karl Scheidegger - (608) 267-9426



Wild turkey, pheasant, waterfowl stamp contest entries and winners on display Aug. 28

MADISON -The public is invited to view an estimated 50 pieces of original wildlife art submitted to the 2011 Wisconsin, Pheasant, and Waterfowl Stamp Design Contests at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin, on Saturday, August 28, from 3 to 5 p.m.

"This is the first time in the history of Wisconsin's three wildlife stamp programs that the contests are being held at the same time," said Tom Hauge, director of the DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management. "A judging panel comprised of experts on the biology and management of wild turkeys, pheasants, and waterfowl, and wildlife ecology will pick the winners."

Those attending the event will have the opportunity to view wildlife artwork by artists from across the state and will get a "sneak peek" of the winning designs for the 2011 Wild Turkey, Pheasant, and Waterfowl stamps.

Judging will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. followed by the public viewing from 3 to 5 p.m.

The venue, Baraboo's Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, was chosen as a unique setting in which to celebrate the contributions of wildlife art to habitat conservation. The 1,500-acre Leopold Memorial Reserve illustrates some of the earliest attempts at habitat restoration in Wisconsin and will serve as the perfect backdrop for the judging of the stamp design contests.

For directions to the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, please visit the Center's website at [] (exit DNR). For more information on Wisconsin's wildlife stamp design contests, contact either Krista McGinley, assistant upland wildlife ecologist [(608) 264-8963;], or Michele Kille, assistant wetland specialist [(608) 266-7408;].

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Krista McGinley (608) 264-8963



Wisconsin; Michigan agree to work together on climate change issues

DNR chiefs in both states sign memorandum of mutual effort and understanding

MADISON - Wisconsin and Michigan share common borders and adjacent Great Lakes shorelines, and soon they will share common goals focused on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources Director Rebecca Humphries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding recognizing that the prevention and mitigation of significant global warming must include changes in social, economic, and governmental activities at both state and regional levels.

The joint memorandum provides a framework for the leadership of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to establish common goals to jointly pursue research, planning, and implementation focused on climate change. Common goals include protecting the health and integrity of our natural ecosystems and human population through the wise stewardship of our natural and cultural resources.

In a letter accompanying a signed copy of the memorandum, Frank said: "Our common border and shared Great Lakes make a formal collaboration the prudent thing to do."

The memorandum notes that our geographical and cultural association with the Great Lakes, the governors, tribes, local and regional government, and colleges and universities of the states of Michigan and Wisconsin all recognize the vital importance of the health and quality of the Great Lakes ecosystem including the natural, physical, and economic welfare of all of our citizens.

While two states can begin this cooperative process, it is the goal of both Michigan and Wisconsin to invite others for a multi-state cooperative to help the Great Lakes region by using the collective strengths in research, coordination, strategic thinking, funding, and other advantages.

Moving forward, both states agree to invite additional state partners to exchange information, and enhance coordination and cooperation. They plan to identify and communicate opportunities for joint participation in projects and programs of mutual interest and share the results of research to maximize capability and limit duplication of effort. Wisconsin and Michigan will provide technical assistance to help to ensure that appropriate environmental and engineering evaluations are conducted. And the states will propose action and potential funding options for greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jack Sullivan (608) 267-9753



Owners of large piers have until April 1, 2011 to register piers

MADISON - The clock is winding down for owners of large piers to register those structures to secure their future under a free, one-time registration process.

A 2008 law set size standards for piers, and created the registration process that grandfathered-in most existing piers larger than the size standards.

Owners of piers larger than the standards have until April 1, 2011, to determine if they qualify to be grandfathered in, and to complete the registration process.

"The vast majority of pier owners won't need to register their pier but if they do, that process is free and we've tried to make it as straightforward as possible," says Martye Griffin, DNR waterway policy leader coordinating the pier registration process.

How to measure your pier
[VIDEO, Length 3:36].

A factsheet, video, and interactive decision tool enable pier owners to quickly learn if their pier meets the size standards and is exempt from permitting or the registration process. If the pier is larger than the size standards, the owners can immediately complete the free, one-time registration process. A very few piers are expected to be too large to qualify to be grandfathered in, and the owners will need to seek an individual permit and review or downsize their pier to meet the size qualifications for grandfathering it in.

"Getting your pier grandfathered in will give you peace of mind and protection from complaints about your pier in the future," he says.

DNR responds to complaints from neighboring property owners or boaters or anglers that piers are too big and are interfering with navigation or are harming fish habitat. Having the pier registered will make it easier to resolve such situations.

"Registration doesn't give you a golden ticket, but it does mean that things are more certain than they would be if someone was not registered and they found themselves the target of a complaint about their pier," he says.

A DNR study showed that the majority existing piers already meet these requirements, so most waterfront owners have piers that can be grandfathered. To be eligible to be grandfathered, the pier must have been placed before 2004 and meet specific size standards. Standards were created because piers that are too big can shade out aquatic plants that are important to fish and can interfere with boaters, swimmers, and others enjoying Wisconsin lakes and rivers.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Martye Griffin (608) 266-2997 or



Nonresident seniors now allowed to use crossbows to hunt turkey, bear

MADISON - Beginning this fall, non-resident senior citizens will have the same privileges as Wisconsin residents for hunting a number of game species with a crossbow.

A bill passed by the state legislature which took effect on Feb. 26, 2010, allows non-resident senior citizens to use a crossbow to hunt turkey, bear, and small game with a crossbow under the authority of the appropriate license.

Last year, the legislature granted non-residents age 65 and older the privilege to use a crossbow for hunting deer and small game under the authority of a archery license, the same as state residents.

"These changes make the laws regarding use of crossbows by senior citizens the same for both residents and non-residents for hunting all species," said Tom Van Haren, DNR conservation warden, Madison.

If a person is not age 65, they must hold an appropriate disabled hunting permit which authorizes them to use a crossbow, he added.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Tom Van Haren at 608-266-3244.



Wild Plants: Food, Medicine, Survival Clinic Offered

BABCOCK, Wis. - People interested in learning about what types of wild plants can be consumed for food or medicine can join plant expert and survivalist Jason Faunce for a wild plants clinic at the the Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center on Saturday, September 11. Faunce will walk participants through the wild world of edible and medicinal vegetation. The workshop runs from 10 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Participants should wear comfortable clothing and shoes for the outdoors and bring their own lunch and refreshments.

Registration is limited to 15 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Register by mailing in a registration fee of $20 per person by September 3.

Checks should be made out to DNR-Skills Center. Include the name of each participant, and the address and daytime phone number of one person in each party. Participants may stay in the center's dorm on the night after the course for a donation of $15 per person per night. Send your registration fee to: Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center, PO Box 156, Babcock, WI 54413. Inquiries on the status of registrations may be sent via e-mail to:

The Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center is located 20 miles west of Wisconsin Rapids on County Highway X, 1 mile north of Highway 80 near Babcock, Wisconsin on the 9,000 acre Department of Natural Resources Sandhill Wildlife Area.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Sandhill Skills Center at: (715) 884-6333 or (715) 884-2437


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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