By: Joanne M. Haas/DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
Ask a Wis. Department of Natural Resources conservation warden to name one of the most enjoyed aspects of the career and you are likely to hear: "No two days are the same" or "You don't know what's coming around the corner."
That's about the way things have been for the Wisconsin DNR conservation warden service since Warden Wire last brought you a round-up of warden highlights earlier this year. This past spring and rapidly ending summer have proven the same - no two days have been the same. And what's coming around the corner for the wardens was -- and remains today -- anybody's guess. The only sure bet? Wardens are ready to respond!
Warden World has compiled a pile of highlight stories to show you the variety of duties wardens performed on any given day, and put them into two editions. Today is Spring & Summer: Part One!
Let's get started!
DNR wardens not only respond to citizens, but also to local law enforcement agencies in need of an assist.
That was the case in April when the Marinette County Sheriff's Office was tracking two burglary suspects wanted in connection with a convenience store heist the day before. The wardens were called upon to back up the local officers - and they did. In addition to the sheriff's office deputies and wardens, up to 12 or so regional agencies assisted in the massive two-day manhunt. And, the U.S. Coast Guard searched from the air in their helicopter. The suspects were taken into custody without injury. Teamwork strikes again.
Wisconsin DNR wardens also assisted Canadian enforcement in an operation that led to four men from Canada being charged more than $71,000 in fines for illegal outfitting activities in that country in 2014. The illegal activities were tracked in southwest Saskatchewan. In a May 2017 release from Canada's Ministry of Environment, officers spent more than 2 years investigating the activities - which included the illegal shooting of a mule deer transported to the United States. The case involved four individuals and charges that included unlawful activity as a guide, unlawful hunting and providing false information. In addition to the DNR wardens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also provided support. This was a true international team!
Speaking of teamwork, here's another great show of citizens working with wardens to help wildlife!
Nearly two dozen of Wisconsin’s swimming dinosaurs are living large in the Chippewa River, saved from low water levels thanks to a public-private rescue team initiated after an attentive citizen saw something that didn’t look right.
Warden Kevin Christorf of Chippewa Falls was on his July 2 patrols when he got a call from citizen Greg Gilbertson, who told Warden Kevin of seeing what looked like stranded sturgeon caught in the pools just off the Chippewa River. With the heavy rains, changing water levels, it seemed possible the fish took an unlucky paddle.
"The caller’s tip was concerning not only because these massive fish were in trouble, but also because the summer heat was in the forecast to intensify,” Warden Kevin said. “Sturgeon are strong, big fish. But the scene the caller relayed sounded like we needed a rapid response.”
That’s no over statement. Sturgeon can be big, big -- BIG fish. Sturgeon species are among Wisconsin’s most unique fish because of their history.
They’ve been around for a while – as in since the dinosaurs. Their looks haven’t changed much in the millions of years they’ve been floating around. But they can get old – we're talking really old -- as in more than 100 years old. One more fact, if you are 6 feet -- or 72 inches -- tall, there are records showing sturgeon that have been taller than you.
Warden Kevin knew he first had to check out the scene to confirm the caller’s information. The caller had it right. There were sturgeon swimming in a pool that measured about 30 feet by 30 feet and more in other area.
“Then, I knew it was going to take more than me to move those fish,” Warden Kevin said, adding the then-recent varying water depths is likely what snared the massive fish.
So, Warden Kevin returned with reinforcements. He enlisted two more wardens – John Schreiber and John Moore – and Deputy Warden Ryan Strzok to join the rescue team that also included two DNR Fisheries staff and four enthused private citizens who shared the wardens’ passions about the state’s natural resources. Mr. Gilbertson came with his daughters, Beth and Hannah. And Citizen Eric Krista also joined in the natural resources rescue!
The team found and rescued 23 sturgeon from pools around the dam. The sturgeon ranged in lengths of 21.7 inches to 63.3 inches. Wow.
“The wardens netted the fish out of the water hole,” Warden Kevin said, adding the sturgeon then were tagged and measured. “Next, the fish were transported from these holes in special nets across the rocks to the main Chippewa River where they were freed.”
How long did it take to give 23 sturgeon a lift to the river? “It took several hours and most of the day,” he said. “Mostly because of the size of the fish and the challenge of netting sturgeon.”
Warden Kevin says the story would have had a very different outcome had the citizen not taken the time to call.
“Ask any warden,” he said. “We can’t be everywhere which is why we value our citizen partners so much. It truly is a priceless partnership – and we all benefit.”
Timing is everything.
Warden Kyle Kosin got a call during the spring flood season (which seems to have had a long run in this state) about a little fawn bedded down near fast-approaching water along the Rush River.
That didn't sound good.
Warden Kyle rushed off himself to check out the report of the fawn about to get doused to see if the little guy was oblivious to the water -- or had moved. Nope, there he was, looking rather relaxed and unaware he was about to meet his maker or learn how to swim fast.
“The flood waters were already coming up and I could see they would be coming over the edge of the county road soon,” Warden Kyle said. “That would push the fawn into traffic. So I grabbed him and carried him up the opposite hillside where it was nearly vertical and put him near a deadfall.”
The old sprint or swim tactic. It worked!
Just before 9 a.m. on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Warden Dale Hochhausen heard the 911 call to the Onalaska Fire Department about a boat with two men in trouble near the Onalaska Spillway.
Warden Dale wasted no time getting his boat in rescue mode.
Sure enough, there was a boat that had been sucked into the spillway and the boaters were having no luck getting the boat free.
Warden Dale was able to maneuver his rescue boat close enough to get the two men out of the boat, but the boat was stuck for the time being. The two boaters were OK and refused medical treatment. Later that day, the boat was pulled from the spillway.
Like usual, Warden Dale was among a team of area responders there to assist – Onalaska Fire Department, Campbell Fire Department and the LaCrosse County Dive and Rescue.
Community is important to wardens, who live in the towns, villages and cities they serve. Often, you’ll see wardens participating in local events. Here is Lt. Russ Fell enjoying some time at the Barron County Fair helping local kids learn about animal tracks. Lt. Russ says the kids made about 60 T-shirts showing what they learned. Lt. Russ was among DNR staffers from Fisheries, Forestry, Wildlife and Law Enforcement to work with the kids. Looks like they had a lot of fun!
MORE COMING IN PART TWO!
If you have information regarding natural resource violations, you may confidentially report by calling or texting: VIOLATION HOTLINE: 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367. The hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained staff relay report information to conservation wardens.