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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published March 10, 2015

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Wisconsin stocked chinook salmon outperform Lake Michigan average, new research shows

A cooperative research project by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNR and agencies in other states used a mechanical process to insert tiny coded wire tags into the snouts of young lake trout and chinook.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Photo A cooperative research project by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNR and agencies in other states used a mechanical process to insert tiny coded wire tags into the snouts of young lake trout and chinook. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Photo

MADISON -- Chinook salmon stocked by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources survive very well and contribute substantially to the state's strong Lake Michigan fishery, new research from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and DNR shows.

As the lake's top predator, it's common for both stocked and wild chinook to travel hundreds of miles to feed as they mature and at any given time during the summer, state anglers may catch chinook stocked by Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois or Indiana. However, the ongoing three-year cooperative research project shows Wisconsin stocked fish have an above average likelihood of surviving to harvest and are being caught in comparatively large numbers in an area stretching from Door to Kenosha counties.

At the same time, state anglers are benefiting from natural reproduction of wild fish from Michigan streams and tributaries to Lake Huron.

"Wisconsin offers a world class recreational fishery and DNR's Lake Michigan stocking efforts continue to play a key role in sustaining this resource and its multimillion dollar economic impact," said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. "This study reinforces the importance of our high quality hatchery efforts while supporting the value of ongoing investments in our fisheries operations."

Dave Boyarski, DNR fisheries supervisor for northern Lake Michigan, said the department has been working closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service's Fish Tag and Recovery Lab near Green Bay to tag chinook fingerlings as well as collect and analyze the tags from the heads of recovered fish. Chinook salmon tagging for the recent multistate project began in 2011 and the analysis involved some 46,000 recovered tags.

The coded wire tags resemble tiny pieces of pencil lead and are inserted through a mechanized process that has proven more efficient and less stressful to the fish than previously used hand-held methods. During 2014 alone, state fisheries managers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan tagged and released more than 2.9 million chinook salmon bound for the waters of lakes Michigan and Huron. Wisconsin DNR's Wild Rose and Kettle Moraine Springs hatcheries contributed about 824,000 of that total.

Illustrating the excellent returns of fish stocked by Wisconsin's hatcheries, from 2011 to 2013 Wisconsin provided 38 percent of all the chinooks that were stocked in Lake Michigan. Yet from 2012 to 2014, Wisconsin stocked fish accounted for some 49 percent of stocked fish harvested throughout the lake and 57 percent of the stocked fish taken in Wisconsin waters.

The results of the analysis show the fish stocked by Wisconsin DNR appear to survive at better than average rates and account for a relatively large percentage of the stocked chinook salmon harvested throughout Lake Michigan, Boyarski said. In addition, anglers are benefiting from strong reproduction among wild chinook, which accounted for about 60 percent of the total harvest throughout Lake Michigan in 2014.

Brad Eggold, DNR fisheries supervisor for southern Lake Michigan, said the study demonstrates the benefits of Wisconsin's investment in the Wild Rose Fish Hatchery where the majority of Wisconsin Chinook salmon are reared. The results also reinforce the importance of multistate cooperation and the involvement of anglers throughout the region.

"We greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife team to collect this data, which will inform our management efforts going forward," Eggold said. "We also want to thank the many thousands of anglers and other partners who aided this effort by collecting the tens of thousands of fish heads needed for the analysis."

Charles Bronte, senior fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the multistate effort was initiated in an attempt to understand the growth and survival of chinook, their movement throughout the connected waters of lakes Michigan and Huron and levels of natural reproduction. These measures are critical to the DNR for managing chinook in response to a changing base of forage fish.

"If we're going to find the answers, we need this kind of coordinated research among all the states in the region that stock chinook because the fish don't stay in one place," Bronte said. "What we learn from this work will help guide best practices for producing healthy fish throughout the region, maximize returns and provide further insight into the conditions essential for these fish to thrive."

Other important insights gleaned from the work include the fact that natural reproduction now accounts for some 60 percent of the chinook population from the combined year classes 2011, 2012 and 2013. However, lower lake levels and stream flows during 2012 and the subsequent harsh winter contributed to a reduction in successful natural spawning and survival for the 2013 year class of chinook, which was only 37 percent wild fish.

The team of experts said more work and more time will be needed to assess whether natural reproduction will rebound following the difficult 2013 cycle. Disruptions in the lake's food web caused by invasive mussels and other species also bear further monitoring and will influence future management decisions.

"The study reinforces the importance of science-based management efforts and provides a wealth of information that we intend to share with our stakeholders," Boyarski said. "In the months ahead, we'll use what we are learning to examine our own management practices and implement strategies that increase the return on our stocking and management efforts going forward."

To learn more about the research and the Lake Michigan fishery, search the DNR website and search "Fishing Lake Michigan and "chinook salmon research."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Dave Boyarski, DNR northern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor, 920-746-2865;; Brad Eggold, DNR southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor, 414-382-7921,; Charles Bronte, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service senior fisheries biologist, 920-412-8079,; Jennifer Sereno, DNR communications, 608-770-8084,



Lake draw down will limit water activities at Willow River State Park

Willow Falls at Willow River State ParkWillow Falls at Willow River State Park

HUDSON, Wis. -- Little Falls Lake at Willow River State Park will be drawn down, which will limit water recreation at the park.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning to draw down the lake and inspect the dam on the Willow River. The duration of the drawdown will depend on results of the inspection, according to Aaron Mason, Willow River State Park superintendent.

The nearly 3,000-acre Willow River State Park is located in St. Croix County in northwestern Wisconsin, just northeast of the city of Hudson. The park is known for its panoramic river scenery, including the 100-foot wide and 45 foot high Willow Falls.

The Willow River State Park swimming beach, boat launch, and canoe and kayak rental will be closed for the duration of the project. The picnic area at the dam may also need to be partially closed during the dam inspection. The drawdown will also coincide with a major construction project at the Willow River beach, which will replace the old bath house and restroom building. A new restroom facility and outdoor picnic shelter will be constructed in its place.

"The drawdown should have no effect on the waterfall or the river upstream. Trout fishing should remain good on the upstream portion of the Willow River. Below the dam will also be fishable," Mason said.

There are more than 15 miles of hiking trails available for visitors to explore the park. The park's 150 family campsites and four group sites will also be fully functional. Camping reservations can be made by visiting www.WIPARKS.NET or by calling 1-888-WIPARKS (1-888-947-2757).

Along with park employees, DNR dam safety, water management and fisheries staff will be involved in the project throughout its duration. Public informational meetings will be held periodically throughout the process.

People who are interested in receiving updates on the park or this project can subscribe to email updates by searching the Department of Natural Resources website,, for keyword "Willow River."

For more information on Willow River call the park office at 715-386-5931. For more information about the dam inspection process, contact Craig Thompson, DNR district land representative at 608-785-1277.

"With the cooperation of the community and patrons of the park, Willow River State Park will continue to make life long memories and strengthen one's connection with nature," Mason said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Thompson, DNR district land representative, 608-785-1277



Spring snowmelt and rain can contaminate wells; well owners encouraged to pay attention to their drinking water

MADISON -- As spring approaches, the warming temperatures, snow melt, residual frozen ground and rain all create conditions that can affect wells and drinking water.

"Now is the time of year for well owners to watch for signs of flooding and to notice any change in the color, smell or taste of their drinking water," said Liesa Lehmann, DNR private water section chief. Well owners who observe flooding or changes in their water should assume their wells are contaminated and take the following steps:

Flood waters and runoff contain bacteria and other contaminants that can affect water supplies and cause water-borne illness. Wells located in pits, basements and low-lying areas are especially susceptible to contamination. Even without obvious signs of flooding, a well can become contaminated.

"Disinfection and sampling is best done by a licensed well driller or pump installer," Lehmann said.

Any water supply system that has been submerged by flood waters should be pumped out once the floodwater recedes, then thoroughly disinfected and tested to determine that the water is safe. Well owners are encouraged to test their wells annually for bacteria and nitrates, to check for problems and ensure the water is safe to drink.

More information on bacteriological contamination of drinking water wells, along with lists of licensed well drillers, pump installer and labs certified to analyze water samples are available by searching the DNR website,, for "wells."

For individuals who receive their drinking water from a public water supply, these systems are designed and operated to keep out contaminants. If you have concerns about the safety of your community's drinking water, contact your public water supplier.

For more information about private wells, join a "Ask the Experts" online chat on March 24 at noon. Employees from the department will be available to answer your questions about private wells. Go to and click on the top banner to join the chat.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Liesa Lehmann, DNR private water section chief,, 608-267-7649; Marty Nessman, DNR private water field supervisor, 608-267-2449,



Friends groups receive Stewardship grants for improvements at state parks, forest and trails

A Stewardship grant to the Friends of Devil's Lake State Park will help fund trail renovations at the popular park.A Stewardship grant to the Friends of Devil's Lake State Park will help fund trail renovations at the popular park.

MADISON - Fifteen state park, forest and trail friends groups will share in nearly $240,000 in matching grants from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.

The grants will fund improvements including renovation of hiking trails at Devil's Lake State Park, construction of a picnic shelter at the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, extension of the National Scenic Ice Age Trail through Hartman Creek State Park, Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area and other properties, and building of a new campground playground at Wyalusing State Park.

The Stewardship program makes annual matching grants available to non-profit and conservation organizations with priority given to projects submitted by friends groups. The groups must match the contributions with cash and in-kind donations of materials and labor. For the 2015 grant cycle the friends groups and Ice Age Trail Alliance are matching the grants with more than $780,000 in cash and nearly $100,000 in in-kind donations.

"These grants to our friends groups allow us to make improvements to our park and forest properties that we would not be able to accomplish without their assistance," said Patty Loosen, DNR friends group liaison.

The complete list of grants and projects [PDF] is available on the Department of Natural Resources website. For more information about the Grants to Friends Groups, search the DNR website,, for keyword "Stewardship" and click on the link for "Grants to state property friends groups." For more information about state parks friends groups search for keyword "friends."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Patty Loosen, friends groups liaison, 608-267-7474 or Lavane Hessler, Stewardship nonprofit grant manager, 608-267-0497


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, March 10, 2015

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