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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published December 11, 2012

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Snowmobile trail opening is local decision

Take a safety course, steer clear of thin ice during waiting period

MADISON - The recent snowfall probably has snowmobilers anxious to hit the trails, but state officials caution that snow levels vary greatly across the state and they urge people to stay off the trails until local officials declare the season open.

Conservation Warden Gary Eddy, who also is the Department of Natural Resources snowmobile safety administrator, says what little snow fell prior to the latest snowfall had mostly disappeared so there was not any base built up for the recent snowfall and that what ice has formed on lakes is not safe nor strong enough to support a human or vehicle.

Snowmobile enthusiasts must wait for the trail opening decision by the local units of government -- usually counties. According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Snow conditions report (exit DNR), as of Tuesday trails were only open or partially open in a few northern counties.

"Snowmobilers who ride on trails before they are declared open may unintentionally cause problems," Eddy said, adding he understands how the first snowfall is a hard one to resist. But it is crucial to honor the local decision. "There are land-use agreements between landowners and snowmobile clubs to consider. Riding on trails before they are legally open could cause property damage and ultimately could result in the trail being closed for all. Riders also put themselves in danger because some of these trails may not yet have been inspected for hazards such as low hanging branches or closed gates and cables."

"In addition to preparing their snowmobiles for winter, riders should prepare themselves as well. All operators at least age 12 and born on or after Jan. 1, 1985 are required to be certified in Snowmobile Safety Education. Operators turning age 27 this January must have a valid safety certificate," Eddy said

A list of the upcoming classes can be found on the DNR website. Go to and search keyword, snowmobile.

Diane Conklin, snowmobile trails grant manager for the Department of Natural Resources, says most agreements allow for the trails to open by early December. However, there are other factors that are used.

"Snow, standing crops and weather conditions can dictate the actual opening date which is announced by county officials," Conklin said.

Other factors used to determine the opening include frozen ground conditions, temperature, trail preparation and grooming by snowmobile club volunteers statewide.

Eddy says snowmobilers must have permission to ride on private property off the trails. "If you get the permission to ride, that's fine. However, you'll need to use a high degree of caution because the terrain may be rough and hazards such as ditches, farm equipment and rocks may be hidden under the snow."

Snowmobile trail information can be found through county snowmobile coordinators, park and recreation officials, local snowmobile clubs, local chambers of commerce and on the Snow conditions report (exit DNR) on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Travel Wisconsin website.

Wisconsin ranks among the top states in providing snowmobile trails. DNR provides nearly $6 million in grants annually to maintain more than 18,700 miles of trails in the state, Conklin said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Gary Eddy - 608-267- 7455 or Diane Conklin - 715-822-8583



Top 10 unique wildlife photos and stories in 2012

MADISON - Wisconsin's wildlife and plant species yielded some of the most spectacular photos and stories in 2012, from an exceptional irruption of snowy owls, to a 1-in-a million albino bat found in February, to a bald eagle nursed back to health after winding up in the grille of an oncoming truck while diving for roadkill.

Here are the Wisconsin images and stories that made 2012 a notable year, in addition to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the state law that protects endangered species.

These Top 10 selections reflect those photos and stories that came to the attention of Department of Natural Resources communications staff and is decidedly not a scientific survey. If there's a notable story or photo missing, please share it on DNR's Facebook page and add it to the conversation.

  1. Snowy owls fly into record books: Snowy owls staged a massive "irruption" into Wisconsin and more than 30 other states (including Hawaii!) during winter 2011-2012. The owls spend summers on the treeless tundra north of the Arctic Circle and in most years only migrate south to winter in southern Canada, appearing in Wisconsin and the Midwest only in small numbers annually. However, last winter Wisconsin bird watchers reported more than 700 sightings of 200+ snowy owls to Wisconsin eBird's online database, says Ryan Brady, a DNR research scientist in Ashland. No one knows for sure but these irruptions are usually caused by a widespread crash in lemming populations - the owl's primary prey - across Canada. It may take a few years for these populations to rebound. Consequently, owls are again on the move in winter 2012-2013 with approximately 35 snowy owls already reported in Wisconsin, mostly along the shores of Lakes Superior and Michigan. This year's flight won't match that of last year but it will be better than average, says Brady, who has posted photos he took of snowy owl catching and eating an American toad Nov. 21 at the Ashland airport (exit DNR).
  2. Rare albino bat found; Wisconsin bat scientists found the rare 1 in 1 million albino bat while searching more than 100 caves and mines in winter 2012 for signs of the deadly bat disease white nose syndrome. Good news: no sign of the disease was found, although the fungus that causes the disease was detected in an Iowa cave about 30 miles from Wisconsin. The bat, a male little brown bat, was hibernating in a cluster of about 30 other bats. Two other albino bats were found hibernating in a different Wisconsin mine in 2010.
  3. 240-pound sturgeon cruises Lake Winnebago system; State fisheries crews netted a 240-pound, 7-foot 3-inch lake sturgeon on April 10 during surveys on the Wolf River near Shawano. It's the biggest sturgeon captured during Wisconsin's half-century of surveys on Lake Winnebago, and would have been considerably heavier had it not already dropped most of an estimated 30 to 80 pounds of eggs it was carrying before spawning. The fish is considerably bigger than the biggest fish harvested in recent times, a 212- pound sturgeon taken by Ron Grishaber in 2010 in the lake sturgeon spearing season on the Lake Winnebago System. "There are other fish like the one we caught Tuesday out there on the Winnebago system," says Ron Bruch, longtime sturgeon fisheries biologist in Oshkosh. "We've seen them but we haven't been able to get our nets on them. And she wasn't the only big one we saw this spring."
  4. Dickcissels arrive in unprecedented numbers: In summer 2012, Wisconsin experienced an unprecedented invasion of dickcissels, (exit DNR) a grassland bird named for its song. Resembling a sparrow-like meadowlark, this species is a fairly common summer resident in prairies, meadows and weedy fields in the southern half of Wisconsin, only occasionally reaching large open areas in northern Wisconsin. However, this summer, extensive drought throughout their typical breeding areas in the southern and central U.S. forced large numbers northward. Remarkably, dickcissels were documented in all 72 counties in Wisconsin. Not only were Dickcissels farther north than normal, but dense concentrations resulted in what birders called "eye-popping record-high counts" in numerous counties and the state as a whole.
  5. Record warmth brings early winged arrivals: Record high temperatures in mid-March in Wisconsin and much of the country brought early migration and emergence of many winged species. Thirty-eight butterfly species arrived early, according to, a website maintained by butterfly expert Mike Reese. Some, like the clouded sulphur, clocked in 39 days earlier than the previous earliest sighting! According to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, state records fell for the earliest arrival date for an incredible 24 bird species in 2012. Some of these included American avocet, American white pelican, Franklin's gull, Hudsonian, godwit, pine warbler, the wood thrush, and the ruby-throated hummingbird.
  6. Plant records fall, invaders rise with temperatures: More than 250 plants species set records in Wisconsin for earliest bloom dates, fueled by Wisconsin's record setting early and warm temperatures, according to the decades-long records that University of Wisconsin Stevens Point botanists Bob Freckmann and Emmet Judziewicz have kept for the blooming dates of 263 species of plants. These same plants bloomed 14.2 days earlier than the average! In addition, without searching very hard, these botanists also found six new non-native plants that moved into Wisconsin this year - three of which were found at one site in southwestern Wisconsin. The high winter temperatures also allowed a number of invasive plants - water lettuce, water hyacinth and parrot feather -- to survive over the winter and spread for the first time in Wisconsin. Large populations of these highly invasive plants were found in a bay of the Upper Mississippi River (pool 5 - near Buffalo City). Biologists from DNR and other agencies took measures to contain and control these plants and the site will continue to be monitored to see if they survive in future winters.
  7. Trumpeter swan records take flight: Trumpeter swans reached a new peak in the number of nesting pairs statewide, 214, in 2012 and also produced a record number of young, 373, says Sumner Matteson, the DNR avian ecologist who has directed the recovery program started by DNR and partners in 1987. The bird was removed from the endangered species list in 2009. This year was also a milestone as it saw the last annual banding of trumpeter swans done by DNR, partners and volunteers; in coming years, those management activities will occur less frequently.
  8. Three new dragonfly species documented in Wisconsin: Undoubtedly due to the warm weather, three dragonfly species were recorded in Wisconsin for the first time ever in 2012. The blue-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum) was documented and photographed by Ellen Luhman of Whitefish Bay and published in the Journal Argia, the band-winged dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata) was recorded by Cynthia Donegan in Kenosha and Paul Sparks in Milwaukee, and the striped saddlebags (Tramea calverti), was documented by Dan Jackson in five southern Wisconsin counties along big rivers and from Jym Mooney in Grant County. All three species are members of the skimmer family and are commonly found south of Wisconsin, well south in the case of the dragonlet and saddlebags, which are normally found in Texas and Florida. Also seen this year was the comet darner (Anax longipes), not seen here in 34 years! These records are documented by the DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources as part of the newly formed Wisconsin Dragonfly Society and bring the state's total dragonfly and damselfly species checklist to 162 species. For more information about the Wisconsin Dragonfly Society contact Bob DuBois (
  9. Karner Blue butterfly hits milestone on one site: Wisconsin has the largest population of Karner blue butterflies in the world and in 2012, these diminuitive, federally endangered fliers got more wind beneath their wings. Thirty volunteers trained this summer under a new program that engages citizens to help look for the butterflies and assess their habitat, and a lot of restoration work was done in Karner recovery areas due to a large federal grant received the previous year, and one state-owned property, the Sandhill Wildlife Area in Wood County, has achieved its federal recovery goal with Karner counts of more than 6,000 butterflies on one site for five consecutive years. This is the first property in Wisconsin to demonstrate recovery of the Karner by meeting federal recovery standards. The Karner blue butterfly range in Wisconsin runs from Waupaca and Waushara counties west to the Black River Falls area, and then northwest to Grantsburg.
  10. One tough eagle : Wisconsinites got a sense of just how tough bald eagles can be and how caring people can be. An eagle diving in to feed on a muskrat carcass on State Highway 10 near Fremont wound up embedded in the grille of a Pittsville driver's truck. He stopped and called the Waupaca County Sheriff's Department for help. They, in turn, called out a DNR conservation warden who worked to free the bird from the grille, and with the help of sheriff's deputies, stowed it in a dog carrier and took it to a New London bird rehabilitator. After a month in her care, the bird recovered and was released back to the wild, a story captured in Up on the Sandhill (exit DNR), a blog written by Dave Horst.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Ryan Brady (715) 685-2933; Dawn Hinebaugh 608) 266-5243; Lisa Gaumnitz (608) 264-8942



Applicants sought for Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Council

MADISON - People with experience in wildlife rehabilitation, wildlife health, and the captive wildlife industry can apply through Jan. 31, 2013 to serve on a newly form Wisconsin Wildlife Rehabilitation Advisory Council.

The council was established to assist DNR with recommendations pertaining to decisions on wildlife rehabilitation and captive wildlife matters. Council members will also identify and implement education and training opportunities, and assist the department with inspections of licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities.

The Department of Natural Resources is accepting applications for up to 12 voting and six non-voting members who will be appointed by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp to the council for three-year terms.

"The council will be made up of diverse stakeholders providing valuable insights and recommendations on a sector of conservation important to both the department and the public. They will be an essential group of voices providing assistance to DNR, educating the public, and developing consistent standards as we broaden the scope of wildlife rehabilitation to include legal and illegal captive wildlife matters," Stepp said.

DNR is seeking applications from leaders actively engaged in wildlife rehabilitation, including licensed rehabilitators, experts in topics related to rehabilitation, and members of the captive wildlife and cervid industries.

To apply, please visit, search keyword "Rehab." More information on the Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, duties and structure is also available at this location or by calling Amanda Cyr, Wildlife Rehabilitation Program Manager, 715-359-5508.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jennifer Pelej, Public Affairs Manager, 608-264-9248 or Amanda Cyr, Wildlife Rehabilitation Program Manager, 715-359-5508



St. Croix River bridge project may result in incidental take of rare mussels

EDITOR'S NOTE: Wisconsin's endangered species law (s. 29.604, Wis. Stats.) requires the Department of Natural Resources to notify the public when it proposes to authorize the incidental taking of a state endangered or threatened species.

MADISON - State officials plan to relocate rare mussel species out of an area of the St. Croix River where construction of a new bridge between Wisconsin and Minnesota will disturb the river bottom.

The new bridge crossing of the St. Croix River will connect Wisconsin State Highway 64 and Minnesota State Highway 36 over the St. Croix River. The new bridge will cross south of the Stillwater lift bridge, in an alignment south of Stillwater, Minn. and Houlton, Wis. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, in coordination with the Wisconsin DOT, proposes to construct a new bridge crossing at this location.

The presence of the state and federally listed Higgins eye (Lampsilis higginsi), state endangered butterfly (Ellipsaria lineolata) and state threatened buckhorn (Tritogonia verrucosa) has been confirmed at the proposed bridge site area along the Wisconsin side of the river.

To minimize impacts to the mussel population along the Wisconsin side of the river, mussels that occur in the river adjacent to the Wisconsin shore will be relocated out of areas where the river bottom will be disturbed by bridge construction or equipment used for construction. Although mussels will be relocated out of the project area, DNR staff determined that the proposed project may result in the incidental taking of some mussels outside of the relocation area.

Department staff concluded that the proposed project will minimize the impacts to the mussels by adhering to relocation and conservation measures; is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence and recovery of the state populations of these 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. This authorization does not cover mussels on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River.

The conservation and mitigation measures to minimize the adverse effect on the listed species will be incorporated into the proposed Incidental Take Authorization. Copies of the jeopardy assessment and background information are available by searching the DNR website for incidental take or upon request from Rori Paloski at 608-264-6040. Public comments will be taken through Dec. 31, 2012 and should be sent to Rori Paloski DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Rori Paloski, DNR, Bureau of Endangered Resources, 608-264-6040 or P.O. Box 7921 Madison, WI 53707-7921



EDITOR'S ADVISORY: How animals survive the winter chat

EDITOR'S ADVISORY: Ever wonder how turtles can remain under water all winter long? How frogs can freeze solid then defrost in the spring? How a chickadee can survive a cold Wisconsin blizzard? Why snowy owls overwinter in frigid Wisconsin? The DNR will host an online chat with Bill Smith, heritage zoologist, Rori Paloski, conservation biologist, and Rich Staffen, assistant zoologist, to answer your questions about endangered resources and how animals survive the winter in Wisconsin at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 19. To participate, visit the DNR home page,, and look for the advertisement or search the phrase "ask the experts."


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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