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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Blanding's turtle © Shane Rucker

December 2008

Gifts that keep on giving

Enjoy this sampler of the natural riches that your support for the endangered resources tax checkoff has brought in the program's first 25 years.

Kathleen Wolski

Blanding's turtle

© Shane Rucker
Bald eagle | Osprey | Kirtland's warbler
Black tern | Eastern massasauga rattlesnake
Ornate box turtle | Timber wolf | Prairie white-fringed orchid
Karner blue butterfly | Mink frog
Sustaining the best of our natural heritage
Artful support for the rare and beautiful

Bald eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Bald eagle © Stephen J. Lang
Bald eagle
© Stephen J. Lang

In July 2007, a months-old eaglet left a nest atop a white pine and took its first flight along the lakeshore. Though a common sight near rivers and on lakes in northern Wisconsin, this particular solo flight was along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Mequon, a few miles from downtown Milwaukee.

This past spring, a pair of eagles returned to the area. For a second year, after an absence of more than a century, another baby eagle took flight in southeastern Wisconsin. A permanent, secluded nesting area for these birds was secured thanks to gifts from individual donors, the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, financial help from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and a state Stewardship Fund grant.

Thanks to your generous spirit, eagles soar and Wisconsin is a leader in bald eagle recovery with about 1,150 breeding pairs found statewide, the third largest population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.

Pandion haliaetus

Osprey © Vic Berardi
© Vic Berardi

Like the bald eagle, osprey numbers declined rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s, victims of pesticide contamination and emergent suburbs.

Today, these magnificent birds with their fivefoot wing spans are staging a remarkable recovery. Osprey are nesting in more than half of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Last year about 480 pairs of nesting ospreys successfully hatched nearly 570 chicks; two-thirds of these birds rely on artificial nesting platforms built by volunteer organizations and sponsored by Wisconsin businesses.

Kirtland's warbler
Dendroica kirtlandii

Kirtland's warbler © Joel Trick
Kirtland's warbler
© Joel Trick

Breeding pairs of these very rare warblers were discovered in Wisconsin for the first time this summer. At least 10 of these warblers fledged in young jack pine forests of central Wisconsin on parcels owned by the Plum Creek Timber Company and managed with assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Black tern
Chlidonias niger

Black terns © Jack Bartholmai
Black terns
© Jack Bartholmai

Wisconsin is fortunate to host some of the largest black tern colonies in the Midwest, attracting researchers and biologists from across the country to study, band and record observations of this Species of Special Concern. Research aims to quantify its population and range in the upper Midwest.

Learn what steps you can take to provide further support for endangered resources at the Endangered Resources Donation Center.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake
Sistrurus catenatus

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake © Don Blegen
Eastern massasauga rattlesnake
© Don Blegen

Massasauga means "great river mouth" in Ojibwe (Chippewa), and the massasauga rattlesnake is usually found in river bottom forests and nearby fields. Historically, these snakes were found across southern Wisconsin. Records indicate thousands of them were killed in the late 1800s as the city of Milwaukee expanded. The eastern massasauga is one of two poisonous snakes in Wisconsin, and until 1975 a bounty of up to $5 a tail was paid to kill this "swamp rattler" and its cousin, the timber rattlesnake.

When the bounty was lifted, the massasauga was placed on Wisconsin's endangered and threatened species list. While some feared this protection would allow the snake to multiply out of control, their numbers actually appear to be steadily declining. Loss of wetlands and other habitat continues to be a limiting factor, and the number of snakes killed for the bounty may have reduced the population to such low levels that recovery is difficult.

Presently, massasaugas are found only in isolated areas of southeastern, central and west central Wisconsin. There is no solid evidence of how many massasaugas remain in the state; consequently, there is no recovery or management plan for this species. Life history studies have been proposed and hopefully will yield information from which a management plan can be crafted. Without such protection, the massasauga has little chance for survival.

Ornate box turtle
Terrapene ornata

Ornate box turtle © Thomas A. Meyer
Ornate box turtle
© Thomas A. Meyer

Two of Wisconsin's 11 turtle species are threatened – the wood and Blanding's turtles – and the ornate box turtle is endangered.

The five-inch ornate box turtle is strictly terrestrial, preferring dry prairies and oak savannas with sandy soils where it can burrow deep enough to avoid freezing in winter. This turtle is slow to mature but can live 40 years or more. As its name implies, when threatened, the box turtle retreats into its shell and draws its upper and lower hinged shells tightly together. Loss of habitat, fatal encounters with cars and illegal collection by people looking for unusual pets have threatened this ancient species with extinction.

Timber wolf
Canis lupus

Timber wolf © Wayne Nelson
Timber wolf
© Wayne Nelson

A little more than 40 years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the timber (or gray) wolf federally endangered. When wolves began to re-colonize Wisconsin in 1975, the timber wolf joined the state endangered species list.

Many wildlife advocates recognized the importance of a healthy wolf population to a diverse and healthy ecosystem. The Department of Natural Resources began intense monitoring using radio collars, winter snow-tracking and summer howl surveys. In 1980, 25 wolves in five packs were documented statewide. In the 1990s, the wolf population grew rapidly, and last year's count found about 540 wolves across northern Wisconsin and expanding southward. Federal courts recently restored national protection for the timber wolf.

Prairie white-fringed orchid
Platanthera leucophaea

Prairie white-fringed orchid © Thomas A. Meyer
Prairie white-fringed orchid
© Thomas A. Meyer

This rare orchid that is endangered in Wisconsin and threatened nationwide grows in pockets of moist prairies and wet meadows. Perhaps as few as 400 plants remain in the 11 spots where this orchid has been identified. Restoring the higher water table, discouraging invasive plants and carefully monitoring set prairie fires may help this rare species.

Karner blue butterfly
Lycaeides melissa samuelis

Karner blue butterfly © Steve Apps
Karner blue butterfly
© Steve Apps

The Wisconsin landscape supports the largest and most widespread Karner blue populations worldwide. For the past five years the Department of Natural Resources has been working with the federal government and 25 partners on a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan to ensure suitable habitat across the state for this thumbnail-sized butterfly.

Mink frog
Rana septentrionalis

Mink frog © A.B. Sheldon
Mink frog
© A.B. Sheldon

This small frog is found only in northern Wisconsin, northern Ontario and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Its call has been likened to the sound of horses' hooves trotting over a cobblestone street. The males call while floating or seated on lily pads. Its most unique feature is its smell, a musky odor compared to rotting onions.

Sustaining the best of our natural heritage

Prairie burn © Thomas A. Meyer
Prairie burn
© Thomas A. Meyer

More than 590 State Natural Areas protect remnants of our natural past and provide home and habitat for rare species. But natural areas don't protect themselves. People provide the oversight to prevent development, remove invasive species, repair weather damage and slow down succession. Here, a parcel of Spring Green Preserve in Sauk County is periodically burned to retard weedy growth and open up space for native plants, a role that wildfires used to play to maintain the sand prairie in this Wisconsin "desert." This steep bluff adjoining the prairie grades into an oak forest at the bluff top. The site is home to nearly 40 species of plants, including plains snake-cotton and Venus' looking-glass. Birds, three lizard species and invertebrates – including predatory wasps, five species of cicada, eight tiger beetles and 10 species of burrowing spiders – thrive on this property.

Kathleen Wolski is the public involvement manager for the Department of Natural Resources in Madison.

Artful support for the rare and beautiful
The Endangered Resources program recently received this original watercolor painting of the boyhood home of John Muir titled Through the Eyes of John Muir, a gift from Baraboo artist, Janet Flynn. The painting depicts species of native plants and animals in rich, vibrant colors and will be offered in an Through the Eyes of John Muir © Janet Flynnexclusive line of signed, limited edition prints, note cards and posters. Proceeds will help the Endangered Resources program continue its work.

The painting reflects an oak savanna, Ennis Lake and many colorful species of plants and animals once found at the property, including the now-extinct passenger pigeon. Muir's family settled on this land in 1849, and his life was shaped by the beautiful, diverse landscape that surrounded him.

Many people will recognize the painting as Muir Park State Natural Area, located within John Muir Park in Marquette County; one of Wisconsin's 590 State Natural Areas purchased to protect outstanding examples of native species and their habitats in our state. These properties are in place for us to enjoy now and are preserved for future generations. To order copies, see "Through the Eyes of John Muir".