Prescribed burns are essential tools for managing "fire-dependent" habitats.
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Role of "good fire" should be highlighted
I recently read the article "Fire! Wildfire Prevention and Control in Wisconsin" in the April 2012 issue. It was an excellent and accurate article on the successes and challenges Wisconsin faces with wild fire risk and suppression. Beyond question, Wisconsin DNR suppression staff provides a vital service to the people of Wisconsin.They should be commended for their work, which they conduct in an efficient, safe and professional manner, often with limited resources.
I was, however, disappointed to see no mention of the historic role fire played in shaping Wisconsin landscapes and, similarly, no mention of the substantial prescribed fire program the Department of Natural Resources and many other partners implement in the state. Upwards of 40,000 acres a year are treated with this critical management tool in Wisconsin, while many times more acres than that are considered fire-dependent systems that actually need to be burned to thrive. While it is critical to inform people of "bad fire," it is a missed opportunity not to simultaneously educate about "good fire" and the benefits it provides to both natural and human communities.
While no one wants to see fires burning out of control in unplanned incidents, prescribed fires are a way to balance natural and human community needs. In 2005, the magazine addressed the role of fire in Wisconsin, and I was pleased to see the June 2012 article "Reinforcing a foundation in oak" also addressed the role of fire. But there has yet to be an article that addresses the current controlled burning programs that are active in the state; how professionals, volunteers and private landowners implement burns, how weather conditions are carefully chosen to mitigate risk and what the public can expect to see on the landscapes during burn season.
Over the past 10 years, the use of prescribed fire as a management tool has increased in the state as managers and private landowners learn more about the role of fire and expand their implementation. Similarly, more of the public is curious about the why, when and how of implementing fires as they see more smoke columns in the spring and fall. I would encourage the magazine to consider a future article on the role of fire from a statewide ecological perspective, which includes interviews with prescribed fire practitioners and shares the current successes and opportunities of "good fire" on the landscape.
We enjoy your magazine and wanted to share a picture that I snapped in our backyard. This bird hit our window so I went out to make sure it was okay and picked it up. He enjoyed riding on my hand around the yard for quite a while and then flew off. It's always fun to see all of the different species of birds in our yard each spring.
What snake is this?
I was weeding alongside our raised raspberry patch and must have startled this snake. He was along the south edge of a railroad tie. He certainly startled me! By the time I got back from the house to take his picture, his head was not visible. He was approximately 14-16 inches long, with a fairly pointed tail and if memory is correct, his head was pointed. We live three miles west of the city of Hayward in Sawyer County in a very rural area. I have shown the picture to a few farmers and they were very sure that it is a bull snake.
To illustrate how difficult it can be to identify a plant or animal from a photograph, we asked some DNR wildlife biologists for help, and they were unable to determine with 100 percent confidence which snake species this is. They did agree it is definitely not a bull snake whose color and markings don't match this one. Because the photo only shows a small portion of the body and doesn't include the head, they believe it is either an eastern hognose or a western fox snake. The hognose, also known as the puff adder, has a sharply upturned pointed snout, a heavy body and a pair of dark black blotches on its neck that look like "eyespots" when it flattens its neck. They are considered common across most of the state, except in north central and eastern counties. The western fox (or pine) snake is also common and can be found in all counties statewide. Although their coloration usually ranges from brownish to yellow or olive, this could be a juvenile which tend to be gray. Fox snakes are sometimes mistaken for venomous snakes like copperheads – which do not live in or near Wisconsin – and rattlesnakes, because they rattle their tails in dry leaves when disturbed. But their pointed tail distinguishes them as a nonvenomous species.
Blue Hills worth a visit
I was reading Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine's April 2012 issue [listing a field trip on Baraboo Hills geology]. I must write about the blue hills northeast of Rice Lake near the Rush County line and Ladysmith. They are the oldest rock outcroppings in North America. They are true marvels in the state for they were high mountains that changed in geologic history. There is an area of harsh gravel that has stones to pick up and look for minerals.
We like northwest Wisconsin – really!
I recently read the August 2011 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. The articles are generally interesting, but it remains frustrating that the western and northwestern Wisconsin areas continue to have virtually no coverage (vis-a-vis articles), while the eastern, southeastern and southern parts of the state are written about in piece after piece. Each month I draw an imaginary line from Ashland straight south to the Wisconsin- Iowa border and estimate what amount of editorial coverage is about any of those counties. Usually there is nothing. I don't know if your magazine's staff or Wisconsin natural resources experts forget that this area exists, but often it seems that we must live in an arid wasteland or all inhabitants must suffer from some severe and contagious disease, because coverage of western counties and our natural flora, fauna, geology and geography is pathetically absent. Take a careful look at the August issue. Every one of the articles produced by your editorial staff features information about events or locations in the eastern two-thirds of the state. ("Jake's Journal" was a submitted piece.) It seems odd. Our area of the state sports the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers and their flyways and fisheries, the Crex meadows, the Blue Hills, three converging ecological forest types in Pierce and St. Croix counties, and yet, we might as well look west to Minnesota for any meaningful coverage. Any comment?
Your point is well taken, but we certainly do realize the importance and unique resources of your part of the state. In the first three issues of 2011, we carried a story about the Bayfield fish hatchery; a listing of Natural Resources Foundation field trips, including some in western Wisconsin; a story about improvements in trout fishing in the Coulee region and other parts of the state; an account of a youth turkey hunt near Rice Lake; a story about Karner blue butterfly habitat restoration efforts near Crex Meadows and other parts of the state; two back-cover features of State Natural Areas in the Apostle Islands and Wyalusing State Park; and several listings in Wisconsin Traveler. Although our small magazine staff is stationed in Madison, we regularly recruit writers from other DNR staff statewide. We welcome suggestions for stories and promise to continue to feature programs, activities and efforts from your part of the state.
What's the buzz?
My wife and I enjoyed reading Charles Fonaas' cicada article ("The buzz on cicada," June 1999) after we found one on our window screen!