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Weekly News Published - December 19, 2017 by the Central Office


First Day Hikes to be held at 17 properties January 1, 2018

[EDITOR'S ADVISORY: The First Day Hike at Willow River and Perrot state parks and Stower Sever Lakes State Trail have been cancelled due to frigid temperatures in the forecast.  Additional cancellations will be noted here and on the DNR Facebook Page and Twitter feed.]

MADISON - The Wisconsin State Park System is once again hosting First Day Hikes on New Year's Day. These hikes offer visitors an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenated and connected with nature. In its biggest year yet, First Day Hikes will be happening at 17 state properties, spanning all four corners of the State. From Bong to Pattison, and Newport to Buckhorn, everyone's invited to kick off 2018 on the right foot.

This is the seventh year Wisconsin has participated in the nationwide First Day Hikes campaign with 17 hikes statewide -- the most ever offered. On Jan. 1, 2017, 679 participants hiked 1,748 miles at 13 different Wisconsin state park properties. Nationwide last year, more than 62,000 people took part in guided hikes that covered over 114,165 miles on 1,300 different hikes across the country, according to the National Association of State Park Directors.

There was a good turnout for the First Day Hike at the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in 2016. - Photo credit: Dave O'Brien
There was a good turnout for the First Day Hike at the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in 2016.Photo credit: Dave O'Brien

A 2018 Wisconsin state park admission sticker is required for entrance to most parks for these events and will be on sale at park offices.

In Wisconsin, 2018 First Day Hikes will be held at the following properties:



DNR confirms cougar photos from Douglas County

MADISON - Department of Natural Resources biologists confirmed four photos of a cougar wandering through Douglas County in mid-November 2017.

A cougar was confirmed on a trail camera photo in Douglas County Nov.11, 2017 - Photo credit: DNR
A cougar was confirmed on a trail camera photo in Douglas County Nov.11, 2017Photo credit: Contributed

Two of the photos were captured on the same day on two properties roughly 2.5 miles apart in the Foxboro area. Three days later, an additional two photos were captured on separate properties in the Bennett area, roughly 4.5 miles apart.

It is unknown whether this cougar is the same animal photographed on multiple trail cameras in central Wisconsin between early August and late October 2017.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff confirmed two photos of a cougar near the Iowa border in early September 2017, this confirmation coincided with confirmed trail camera photos of a cougar in Marathon County during a similar time period. Without biological material for genetic testing, there can be no confirmation whether the cougar photographed in Douglas County is one of these animals.

This map shows locations of confirmed video and photos of cougars in Wisconsin in 2017. - Photo credit: DNR
This map shows locations of confirmed video and photos of cougars in Wisconsin in 2017.Photo credit: DNR

Confirmed cougar sighting trail camera photos and a map with the location of these sightings from 2017 and previous years can be found at, keyword "cougar."

As a reminder, suspected cougar sightings can be reported using the large mammal observation form.

There is currently no evidence that cougars are breeding in Wisconsin. Biologists believe the cougars known to have entered Wisconsin are male cougars dispersing from a breeding population in the Western United States.

Cougars are a protected species in Wisconsin and cannot be shot unless attacking a human or a domestic animal. Cougar attacks on humans are very rare, and there have been no confirmed conflicts between cougars and people or domestic animals in Wisconsin.



Gains for endangered turtles, bats, monarchs, State Natural Areas detailed

Year-end review jam-packed with photos, stories and videos from the field

MADISON - Wisconsin has experienced a record year for work to sustain rare prairies and oak savannas: an 85 percent reduction in rare turtles killed at one deadly roadway crossing; nearly 1,000 newly restored acres of habitat for Karner blue butterflies; and the first peregrine falcon nest in Door County since the 1950s.

These are just a few of the gains for Wisconsin's rare wildlife and State Natural Areas through work by state conservation biologists, partners, volunteers and donors. Their stories are told in the colorful, photo-packed 2017 Annual Report of the Natural Heritage Conservation Program.

The program, or NHC for short, is the Department of Natural Resources unit responsible for protecting, managing and restoring rare animals and hundreds of State Natural Areas that are the best remaining examples of prairies, oak savannas, wetlands, forests and unique geological and archaeological sites.

"Our annual report is one way we recognize and thank our partners, volunteers and donors for their contributions to Wisconsin's rare species and State Natural Areas," says Drew Feldkirchner, who directs the Natural Heritage Conservation Program.

"It's also a chance to highlight what we've accomplished together over the last year and encourage more folks to join in - and there's a lot of ways they can do that."

Inside the annual report

Volunteers can choose from dozens of citizen science projects to help collect valuable information about the location, number and trends of native species. There are also many opportunities to lend a hand on State Natural Areas, including some of Wisconsin's most unique areas, by cutting brush, pulling invasive plants, and collecting seeds and other work. Look for opportunities in the coming weeks.

Thousands of donors provide critical financial support; their donations to the Endangered Resources Fund are matched dollar for dollar and account for up to 25 percent of the funding needed for NHC's work with rare species and State Natural Areas. People can make tax-deductible donations online or by mail directly, or through their state income tax form. They also can buy an Endangered Resources licenses plate that includes a $25 annual donation to the Endangered Resources Fund.

To read the 2017 annual report and see videos sharing the inside stories of the work done and the gains made, in 2017, search the DNR website,, for "NHC annual report."



State's smallest bat flies 35 miles in 3.3 hours and into conservation history

Conservation biologists radio-track bat to reveal summer habitat secrets

HUDSON, Wis. -- Somewhere in a Pierce County cave, one of the state's smallest bats is getting a well-earned rest from its 35-mile flight into conservation history.

Photo of the eastern pipistrelle bat radio-tracked by NHC conservation biologists. The wire is visible.  - Photo credit: Heather Kaarakka
Photo of the eastern pipistrelle bat radio-tracked by NHC conservation biologists. The wire is visible. Photo credit: Heather Kaarakka

The bat, an eastern pipistrelle weighing less than a nickel, led state conservation biologists on a historic chase last spring.

"Nobody had ever really done this before with this particular species in North America," says Heather Kaarakka, the Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist leading the eastern pipistrelle radio-tracking.

"We had tried the same thing the previous year and it didn't work. So to be able to track a bat this year from its hibernation site to its presumed summer roost was super exciting."

The biologists radio-tracked the bat as part of research to better understand the connection between habitats of bats that hibernate in caves or mines in the winter and spend their summers in the forests. Such understanding is particularly important as eastern pipistrelles in Wisconsin and other states die from white-nose syndrome, a deadly bat disease that strikes while they hibernate. Study results will funnel into a habitat conservation plan for cave bats that roost in forests, including eastern pipistrelles and northern long-eared bats, Kaarakka says.

So in early May, she and other DNR biologists and volunteers placed fine-mesh nets over the entrances of a Pierce County cave and waited. They captured two female eastern pipistrelles, weighed them, and outfitted them with radio transmitters.

Photo of NHC conservation biologist Katie Luukkonen tracking the bat. - Photo credit: Heather Kaarakka
Photo of NHC conservation biologist Katie Luukkonen tracking the bat.Photo credit: Heather Kaarakka

They released the bats around 11 p.m., and in a flash, the bats were gone. The bats headed due west and their human trackers did too. A few teams heard signals periodically as they headed west toward the Mississippi River following the bats, but by 12:15 a.m., all of the teams had lost the bat signals. "It was heartbreaking," Kaarakka says.

More than an hour later, Conservation Biologist Katie Luukkonen, who had been driving westward hoping to pick up the signal, heard a beep. "I think I lucked out on that," she says. "Finding that signal again was one of the most exciting things I've done in conservation biology."

Spring emergence map.  Click on image for larger size. - Photo credit: DNR
Spring emergence map. Click on image for larger size.Photo credit: DNR

The other teams crossed the river to parallel her and they all spent the next two hours tracking the bat back and forth across the Mississippi River until it settled on a birch tree north of Hudson. It was 3:30 a.m. Kaarakka and Luukkonen stayed until dawn to make sure the bat didn't move. They returned the next few nights to watch its movements.

"Katie saved the day," Kaarakka says. "There was a lot of hugging. It was pretty incredible to finally see some results."

The bat had traveled roughly 35 miles in 3.3 hours, at a rate of about 10.6 miles per hour, in a straight line from the hibernation site to the river as the bat flies. The telemetry results for this bat also suggest this species may move its greatest distances from hibernation sites during the first night of emergence.

"This is just one bat, so you can't draw too many conclusions from its behavior, but it's 100 percent more than what we knew before," Kaarakka says. "There is still so much to learn about eastern pipistrelles, but this is one piece of the complex puzzle of how we conserve them in the future."

To learn more about Wisconsin bats and efforts to protect them, search the DNR website,, for keyword "bats."



DNR announces Urban Forestry Grant recipients for 2018

MADISON -- Thirty communities, nonprofit groups and counties will share $465,661.99 in 2018 state grants from the Department of Natural Resources Urban Forestry Grant program to promote and sustain urban forest resources in Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin's urban forests provide a wide range of ecological, economic and social benefits for the 70 percent of Wisconsin's population that lives in an urban area and visitors to these communities," said Alexandria Elias, urban forestry grants manager. "Beyond aesthetics, urban forests reduce air pollution, mitigate storm water runoff, conserve energy, and increase property values. The 2018 urban forest grants help communities maximize these benefits."

The grants range from $1,000 to $25,000, and grant recipients must match each grant dollar for dollar. A startup grant of up to $5,000 is available for communities that want to start or restart a community forestry program. Out of the 30 Urban Forestry Grants awarded for 2018, six are for startup grants.

Wisconsin's urban tree portfolio needs more diversity in species. State and national efforts are in place to increase the urban forest canopy and the benefits it provides, environmentally and economically.

"DNR Urban Forestry Coordinators encouraged communities to apply for grants to develop emerald ash borer management plans and raise public awareness regarding its impact on ash trees in their community," Elias said. "Increasing species diversity is the best way to reduce the impact of future tree diseases or insect infestations."

The urban forest encompasses trees on both public and private property. Priorities for the 2018 grant cycle include, but are not limited to, projects that increase the ability of local municipal partners to expand their urban forestry program; increase the ability of all local partners to provide ongoing urban forestry funding, services and/or markets; benefit multiple communities; and put existing inventories of urban trees to use.

To view the list of selected grant recipients [PDF] visit, or for more information about the DNR urban forestry grant program, search for keywords "UF Grant."


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 19, 2017

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