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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published February 11, 2014

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Water quality and habitat improvements lead to whitefish resurgence on Green Bay

GREEN BAY - With the deep freeze thawing this weekend, ice fishing pressure for lake whitefish is expected to pick up again as anglers enjoy a resurgent fishery made possible in part by cleanups that have improved water quality and habitat.

Winter creel data for Green Bay shows a growing number of anglers fishing for lake whitefish and a significant increase in the number they caught and harvested.
WDNR Photo

"We have some fairly strong year classes of younger fish on the doorstep, and documentation of spawning populations in the tributaries on the western shore, so the future looks good for the lake whitefish fishery in Green Bay," says Scott Hansen, Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist stationed in Sturgeon Bay.

For the first time in decades, DNR fisheries crews in November 2013 documented spawning condition whitefish in the Fox, Peshtigo, and Oconto rivers. Until now, they had only been documented in the Menominee River.

"These recently emerging west shore tributary spawning populations are probably contributing a lot to the fishery and we are just beginning to understand their life histories.," Hansen says. "We're hopeful they'll sustain the bay ice fishery for a long time."

The whitefish sport fishery came on quickly; harvest rates in 2007 were one-one hundredth of what they were in 2013. [link to PDF with harvest rates] Hansen says it's difficult to point to a clear cause to explain the growing fishery, but that a couple theories exist and they may be synergistic.

First, there has been a re-colonization of the Menominee River population of whitefish, more than a century after huge runs of the fish dried up. "The river is a cleaner place than when lake whitefish were extirpated back in the late 1800s and the fishing is regulated so overfishing isn't an issue," Hansen says. "Fish populations in general have responded to those beneficial changes."

Federal Clean Water Act regulations that limited pollutants allowed in discharges into the bay and its tributaries have helped improve waters since the 1970s, and in more recent years, efforts by federal, state and local governments working with citizen groups and businesses to remove contaminated sediments and improve habitats in the Menominee River are paying off, as recounted in "Healing the Lower Menominee River" in the August issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

Also, because whitefish as a whole on Lake Michigan have been in a rebuilding phase over the last 10 to15 years, this population probably originated from whitefish straying from adjacent stocks during the November spawning period-- the Big Bay de Noc stock (Upper Michigan) or North Moonlight Bay stock (east of Door County). Some genetic analysis that's been done by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has supported this to a certain extent though the data demonstrated a mixture of several whitefish stocks contributing to the Menominee River population, Hansen says.

Back in the mid-1990s a few whitefish were discovered in the river in fall brown trout surveys. By the mid-2000s the run had grown substantially and tagging efforts indicate these fish are contributing to the winter sport fishery; 2003 looks to have been a big year class for whitefish recruiting from the Menominee River.

The strength of the Green Bay lake whitefish fishery also may reflect the species' search for new sources of food as the levels of Diporeia, the preferred food of lake whitefish, have declined dramatically throughout Lake Michigan. Whitefish size-at-age has declined significantly over the past 10- 15 years as a result of this lost food source and is compounded by their increased abundance.

Green Bay whitefish harvest (click on image for PDF)

"The preponderance of whitefish in Green Bay in the winter may in part be a result of the fish looking for food. The decreased body condition reflects the diminished preferred food source and therefore hungrier fish may simply be more apt to bite on hook and line," Hansen says. "It appears a primary food source, among available forage fish in Green Bay, is round gobies, although we don't know that the gobies are necessarily more abundant in Green Bay than other parts of Lake Michigan."

This phenomenon somewhat contradicts lake whitefish foraging habits as they are not known to be a primarily piscivorous (fish eating) species. Furthermore, DNR's tagging study suggests that lake whitefish from the Menominee River do not migrate out of Green Bay so these fish may just be taking advantage of food that is most available to them in their home range.

Round gobies are an invasive, bottom dwelling fish that is an aggressive, voracious feeder and has taken over prime spawning sites traditionally used by some native fish species.

Hansen says that documentation of the emerging west shore tributary spawning populations helps increase the likelihood that the whitefish fishery will continue, even as the Lake Michigan and Green Bay ecosystems continue to change.

"These emerging spawning populations are probably contributing a lot to the fishery and we are just beginning to understand what those fish do," he says. "Perhaps they'll sustain the Bay ice and commercial fisheries for a long time. Let's hope so."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Hansen, 920-746-2864



City tree champions from all over lauded for outstanding service to their neighbors

MADISON -- They hail from Fond du Lac, Sparta, Mequon, Stevens Point and Milwaukee. Their selfless work has brought economic, environmental and social benefits to their neighbors - and it all started with the trees up the street.

Every year about this time, the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council honors citizens, groups and communities for their hard work making sure there are healthy, thriving trees that can make a community unique and special.

Jeff Treu, chair of the council's award committee, says these local leaders take it upon themselves to care for a resource that many take for granted.

"Trees are beautiful, and knowing that, residents miss a tree when it is removed for reasons of health or safety. In addition to aesthetics, trees contribute to our health and well- being," Treu says. "These awards honor those who appreciate not only the beauty of trees, but in addition, how they help clean air, hold soil in place, increase property values, help manage storm water, and promote sustainability in our urban forest -- the forest where we live.

"Well-managed trees pay back to their home communities three-times the cost to plant and to maintain them," Treu says. "It must be noted that the work of these people, many of whom are volunteers, help their neighbors in economic ways as well."

In times of limited budgets, these award winners have helped stretch those limited dollars with volunteer labor and savings by keeping valuable resources from going into landfills. These savings have been plowed back into the community's urban forests that line streets, fill city parks and grace lawns.

The Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council waded through many worthy nominations and selected the following for the five awards that reflect their efforts in 2013. The awards were announced at the 2014 Wisconsin Arborist Association/DNR conference in Green Bay this January and will be presented in their individual communities at special events.

Interested in previous winners? Have ideas for nominees? The deadline for 2014 nominees is December 30. However, you can nominate your tree champions any time. Learn more by searching the DNR website for Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura Wyatt, Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council Liaison, 608-267-0568; Joanne M. Haas, DNR Division of Forestry public affairs, 608-209-8147



Strong partnership bolsters Wisconsin pheasant population and creates great hunting opportunities

MADISON -- With tens of thousands of pheasant hunting enthusiasts about to descend on Wisconsin for a national "Pheasant Fest," state wildlife officials say this is a good time to recognize the partnership with the festival sponsor that has been instrumental in providing another great year of pheasant hunting in Wisconsin.

Pheasants Forever's annual national gathering known as the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic runs from Feb. 14-16 in Milwaukee. The tenth annual festival and national Pheasants Forever convention will be held at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee. The festival attracted almost 29,000 upland bird enthusiasts to Minneapolis last year. The organization has more than 140,000 members nationwide, including 33 Wisconsin chapters.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has worked closely with Pheasants Forever in the past to acquire thousands of acres of land that continue to provide prime pheasant habitat and superb hunting opportunities.

"Our relationships with our non-profit conservation partners are invaluable to our mission," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "We intend to work closely with Pheasants Forever for many years to come in order to continue improving pheasant habitat and expanding pheasant hunting opportunities in Wisconsin."

Pheasants Forever began applying for Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program grants in 1997 and since then has leveraged more than 3.4 million in grant funds and an equal amount of private funding for land purchases in Wisconsin, according to Eric Lobner wildlife program manager for southern Wisconsin.

Some of the land protection highlights of this long-standing partnership include:

In addition to purchasing land for habitat and hunting, DNR and Pheasants Forever have teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund four farm bill biologist positions in Wisconsin. These positions implement DNR's private lands wildlife habitat programs and provide a critical link to private landowners interested in conservation and habitat projects to benefit pheasants and other valuable wildlife species.

With the presence of many other similar joint efforts and pheasant stocking on the rise, Lobner says Pheasants Forever and DNR have reaffirmed a mutual commitment to improving pheasant habitat and pheasant hunting in Wisconsin.

For more information regarding Pheasant Fest, visit the Pheasants Forever website (exit DNR); for more general pheasant hunting information, search the DNR website, for keyword "pheasant."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Eric Lobner, Southern Wisconsin wildlife program manager, 608-235-0860



Gogebic Taconite proposes modified bulk sampling plan, DNR determines no additional approvals necessary

MADISON - Gogebic Taconite has submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources a modified approach to conduct its proposed bulk sampling activity in the area of a potential iron mining project in northern Wisconsin.

Under the new plan, the company would take advantage of the frozen conditions at the site to use existing roads to access the bulk sampling sites and haul rock off of the property rather than construct a new access road. This approach entails completing the work while the access roads are thoroughly frozen, which will allow use of the roads without causing significant erosion and sedimentation.

DNR staff reviewed the new approach and determined that no additional approvals are necessary. Gogebic Taconite may proceed with the alternate bulk sampling plan. Previously submitted documents, including the reclamation bond, Cutting Plan related to the Managed Forest Law lands, the claim of exemption from air pollution control operation permit requirements and other aspects of the bulk sampling plan submitted on November 25, 2013, are all applicable to the modified bulk sampling activity.

Gogebic Taconite is seeking approvals for possible mining of portions of the Penokee/Gogebic deposit, generally defined as the 21-mile western end of the 60-mile long Gogebic Iron Range. Gogebic Taconite is also currently conducting exploratory drilling of the deposit and is beginning to collect environmental baseline data in the area.

The public can view the recent correspondence between the company and DNR, as well as sign up for email information about the project, by searching the DNR website for "Gogebic Taconite project."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Larry Lynch, 608-267-7553



Additional species added to statewide incidental take permit and authorization for grassland management

Additions are result of recent revision of Wisconsin endangered and threatened species list

MADISON - As a result of a recent revision of the Wisconsin endangered and threatened species list, the Department of Natural Resources is proposing to add four species to the Broad Incidental Take Permit and Authorization for grassland and savanna management in Wisconsin.

The permit and authorization will allow for the "incidental taking" of endangered and threatened species recently that may occur as a result of grassland and savanna management activities in Wisconsin. 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 Broad Incidental Take Authorization for Grassland and Savanna Management was originally approved in 2000 and has since been revised several times. This revision will create protocols for four species recently added to Wisconsin's endangered and threatened species list: Robertson's planthopper (Fitchiella robertsoni), slender shovel-headed leafhopper (Attenuipyga vanduzeei), Kirtland's warbler (Setophago kirtlandii) and ottoe skipper (Hesperia ottoe).

The disturbance caused by grassland and savanna management may result in some mortality; however, grassland and savanna species are dependent upon management to set back natural succession and the incidental take of species will be minimized by following protocols designed for each species.

DNR staff has concluded that the grassland and savanna management activities covered under this permit and authorization would minimize impacts to the species by adhering to conservation measures; is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence or appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and/or recovery of the state population of these species or the whole plant-animal community of which they are a part and the habitat that is critical to their existence; and has benefit to the public health, safety or welfare that justifies the action.

The conservation measures to minimize the adverse effect on the endangered and threatened species will be incorporated into the proposed Incidental Take Permit/Authorization. Copies of the jeopardy assessment and background information on the species are available by searching the DNR website for "incidental take public notice" or upon request from Rori Paloski at 608-264-6040. Public comments will be taken through March 13, 2014 and should be sent to Rori Paloski, Conservation Biologist, WDNR, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Rori Paloski at 608-264-6040


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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