Conference tackles plunging populations of martins, swallows, swifts

MADISON, WI - Some of Wisconsin's most beloved birds - purple martins, chimney swifts, tree and barn swallows, Eastern whip-poor-wills, and common nighthawks - are in trouble and residents can learn more about why and how to help these birds around their home during an early September conference in Waukesha.
The Sept. 6-8 event is the combined annual meeting of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, a coalition of 180 groups committed to conserving native birds, and a summit of the 109 Bird City Wisconsin communities. Registration for the event, which includes evening field trips to look for one of these declining species, the chimney swift, closes Aug. 21.
"Conservation groups have taken notice and are beginning to address declines in these beneficial insect-eating birds, but citizens can help too," says Ryan Brady, a conservation biologist for the Department of Natural Resources and bird monitoring coordinator for the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
"We invite you to attend the conference to learn more about these birds, why we should be concerned, and the work being done to address the concerns. Most importantly, you can learn more about how you can help at home. The time to act is NOW!," Brady added.
In Wisconsin, data from the federal Breeding Bird Survey indicate nearly a 2 percent annual decline in chimney swifts, a 4 percent decline in bank swallows, and a 7 percent decline in purple martins ... each year! Brady said.
These birds, as well as other swallows, some flycatchers, and even bats, are known as "aerial insectivores," species that feed on their insect prey in flight. Causes of these declines are likely complex and involve multiple factors depending on the species, such as loss of foraging habitat, decreased availability of nesting sites, increased predation, etc., but the one feature these birds all share is their reliance on flying insects as a primary food source, Brady says.
"Although solid long-term data is lacking, there is widespread belief that numbers of flying insects have declined dramatically in recent decades," he says.
Adds Karen Etter Hale, WBCI chair and Wisconsin Audubon Council's Director of Community Relations, "Some of us remember, from years ago, how we had to scrape "bugs" off our windshields. That hardly ever happens anymore."
Hale says that the bird conservation coalition and the Bird City Wisconsin organization thought combining their meetings would offer the opportunity to quickly expand efforts on behalf of these aerial insectivores.
"Come and learn about these fascinating birds, how to visualize airspace as habitat, and what you can do to help. We can guarantee you'll head home inspired to take action in your own community."

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR


Ripe wild rice harvesting season opens in late August

Wild rice harvesting season occurs annually between Aug. 15, and Sept. 30, and wildlife managers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say it’s shaping up to be a challenging harvest season. More than 1,200 lakes and rivers in 54 counties contain wild rice, with concentrations of rice being the highest in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itasca and St. Louis counties. But harvestable stands of rice can be found from the Canadian border down to the metro area.
“This year, wild rice conditions are variable across much of the state,” said Ann Geisen, DNR wildlife lake specialist. “In some parts of the state, rice stands are poor due to lots of rain and flooding. But in other parts of the state, the rice is looking really good. Harvesters who spend some time scouting waters for harvesting will probably have the best success.”
Peak harvesting dates are estimated to be in late August to early September as long as weather remains mild and dry. Like other forms of gathering, finding a mentor who is willing to share skills and knowledge can greatly improve success. Scouting lakes ahead of time can also be very helpful for finding harvestable stands of rice and locating access sites.
Minnesota’s green rice law makes it illegal to harvest unripe or “green” rice.  So even though rice beds may look like they are maturing well, ricers must make sure the grain is ripe before attempting to harvest it. With many rice beds impacted by storms, harvesters will need to take extra care this year to make sure they are not harvesting too early and damaging the limited rice stands that remain.

Here are some updates from around the state:
Northwest Minnesota
* Bemidji – The rice in the Bemidji area is variable. Much of the river rice is poor because several large rain storms uprooted the rice. Lake rice is similar, although there are bright spots because the winter and spring were dry. Upper Rice Lake, southwest of Bagley, will be the best spot in the area for rice. A fair-to-good crop is expected on Upper Rice, with a poor to fair crop elsewhere.
* Detroit Lakes – The rice crop looks good in the Detroit Lakes area. Abundant rains in June and July had an impact on production, but overall stands are still in pretty decent shape.
* Park Rapids – Wild rice looks good in the Park Rapids area. The recent rains caused some plants to uproot, but the beds look pretty good on most lakes and rivers.
Northeast Minnesota
* Aitkin – Several large rain storms hit the area in June and July, drowning out or uprooting beds on many lakes and rivers. Some popular harvesting spots were completely washed out or severely impacted. Lakes with harvestable stands are limited this year, so pre-harvest scouting is highly recommended.
* Brainerd – Several scattered large rain storms this summer impacted many rice beds and resulted in overall rice production fair to below average for the area. Scouting will be key for harvesters as some rice beds were entirely wiped out by rains, and others may not be ideal for harvesting because rice stalks will not be high enough out of the water.
* Cloquet – The wild rice crop is expected to be average to below average throughout southern St. Louis County, all of Carlton County and the northern part of Pine County. The southern part of Pine County is expected to be below average to very poor due to multiple floods. Much of the area has had abundant rain and flooding in June and July.
* Grand Rapids – Rice conditions are very spotty. Isolated thunderstorms in July dropped considerable rain that caused water levels to fluctuate quickly, uprooting rice plants on some rice beds. If the high water levels drop quickly, rice will be in danger of falling over. Pre-season rice scouting will be necessary to assess rice conditions.
* Orr – Wild rice stands are average to below average due to the heavy rains earlier in the growing season that caused localized flooding. Rice beds of moderate density can be found in lakes and rivers that did not receive as much rain. Scouting will be necessary.  Most stands are currently flowering.
* Tower – Overall, rice beds are average to below-average due to the heavy and persistent rain storms earlier in the summer that caused localized flash flooding. Lakes and rivers that did not receive as much rain do have moderate stands of rice with some areas of higher density. Scouting will be needed. Most stands are currently flowering.
* Two Harbors – It is shaping up to be an average year for rice with some lakes looking better than others. Sporadic, heavy rain storms did have an impact on some lakes and rivers in the Isabella and Brimson areas, but the recent drying trend has helped water levels return to normal. Scouting will be needed. Most rice stands are beginning to flower.

Central Minnesota
* Fergus Falls – The rice looks really good this year in Otter Tail County. It varies among lakes, but there are many good, thick stands to be found.
* Little Falls – This year’s rice crop seems to be better in Morrison and Todd counties than last year, but is still below average overall due to significant precipitation during critical growth stages. But the rice stands on individual lakes range from poor to good, depending on the exact location.
* Metro area – The north metro area has so far avoided the torrential rain and flooding that happened elsewhere in the state. The wild rice crop looks very good to excellent here at this time.
* Sauk Rapids – The rice is average to a little better than average, as rainfall has not been excessive.
In addition to being a traditional food source for Minnesota’s early inhabitants and an important part of American Indian culture, wild rice is an important food staple for migrating waterfowl each fall. The growing plants also provide important habitat for fish, invertebrates and waterfowl broods.A license is required to harvest wild rice, unless a harvester is a Minnesota resident age 17 or younger and is accompanied by a licensed harvester. Wild rice harvesting regulations are available at mndnr.gov/wildrice with management and harvesting information at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/wildlife/shallowlakes/wildrice.html
The 1854 Treaty Authority website at 1854treatyauthority.org provides updates from ground and aerial surveys on some lakes within the 1854 ceded territory in northeastern Minnesota. The aerial surveys are tentatively scheduled for mid- to late August; the results will be posted soon after.
Those interested in harvesting wild rice are reminded that it is unlawful to take wild rice grain from any of the waters within the original boundaries of the White Earth, Leech Lake, Nett Lake, Vermilion Lake, Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and Mille Lacs reservations except for American Indians or residents of the reservations listed. The Tribal websites have more information about which rice lakes are within the reservation boundaries.
In addition, all nontribal members wishing to harvest or buy wild rice within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation must have Leech Lake Reservation permits.
Aquatic invasive species are a serious threat to Minnesota waters. Like any other water users, rice harvesters must follow cleaning protocols to avoid spreading invasive plants and animals, available at mndnr.gov/invasives/aquatic.
Harvesting licenses can be purchased online via desktop browser and smartphone at mndnr.gov/buyalicense or any DNR license agent. Funds from the sale of wild rice licenses support DNR management of wild rice, including managing water levels on wild rice lakes, improving or maintaining outlets and assessing habitat.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR

Pick your favorite park for recreation activities

MADISON, WI - The 2018 Friends of Wisconsin State Parks Gold Seal Award contest is going to be a tough vote for people on many of the questions this year.
With so many beautiful waterfalls how can you pick just one? Best rock formation with Wisconsin's geological wealth? Best rail trail out of statewide system that has so many gems? Come on! Best beach in a state with 10 parks or forests on the Great Lakes and numerous beaches on some of Wisconsin's 15,000 inland lakes?
"Yes, this year I think voters really have their work cut out for them," said Patty Loosen, Friends of Wisconsin State Parks executive director.
The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks is the umbrella organization for the more than 80 local friends groups organizations organized to provide support for state park system properties. The organization's mission is preserving, promoting, protecting, and enhancing Wisconsin state parks, forests, trails and recreation areas. The organization runs the Gold Seal Award program each year to highlight Wisconsin's state parks, trails, forests and recreation areas.
"If you are a biker, hiker, swimmer, bird watcher, snowmobiler or just a regular park visitor, cast your vote for your favorite state park, forest, or trail in one of our new categories," Loosen said.
The contest ends on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 and the winning parks, forests, trails, or recreational areas will be honored with a Gold Seal Award at the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks Awards Banquet on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.
The 2018 categories are:
* Best state park system property for eagle watching.
* Best state park system property for single-track mountain biking.
* Best state park waterfall.
* Best state park system property for stand-up paddle boarding.
* Best state park system property for school trips and presentations.
* Best state park system beach.
* Best dog friendly state park system property.
* Best rock formations at a state park system property.
* Best state park system group camping area.
* Best rails- to- trails trail in the state park system.
More information and details on entering the contest and rules are available on the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks website friendswiparks.blogspot.com by clicking on the tab for "Gold Seal Contest."
For more information about Wisconsin State Park System properties, search the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, dnr.wi.gov, for keyword "parks."

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR


Paddling event scheduled on refuge

A paddle through the backwaters of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Winona, MN, is scheduled Friday, Aug. 24.
Join refuge ranger Ed Lagace (pictured) and fellow paddlers as they travel around the City of Winona’s Aghaming Park beginning at 5:30 p.m., and returning by 8 p.m. The loop trail is approximately 6.5 miles and does include paddling against the river current for nearly half of the trip, so some prior experience paddling is recommended.
Participants should meet at the kiosk on the north side of the Wagon Bridge which connects Latsch Island to Aghaming Park.
Registration is required by 4 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 23, by calling or emailing Ed Lagace at 507-494-6236 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The refuge will provide canoes, paddles and PFDs for paddlers, or they can bring their own equipment.
 
SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

DNR to host public hearing on draft for Wisconsin River Basin

MADISON, WI - Work to improve the water quality of the Wisconsin River Basin will soon take another step forward when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources begins accepting public comments on a draft study.
The draft Total Maximum Daily Load Study will provide a strategic framework and prioritize resources for water quality improvement in the Wisconsin River Basin.
A public hearing on the study is scheduled for Aug. 22, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Portage County Courthouse Annex Building located at 1462 Strongs Ave., Stevens Point.
"We incorporated comments received during the March listening sessions and comment period and we will outline those changes at the hearing," said Kevin Kirsch, DNR water resources engineer and manager of the project. "In addition to those changes, we also added additional material to aid in implementation efforts."
One important addition is a summary of phosphorus goals for agricultural sources expressed in pounds per acre at the edge of the field based on Wisconsin's nutrient management planning software, SnapPlus. This effort required integrating the TMDL analysis with over 36,000 separate SnapPlus model runs.
"To my knowledge, no other TMDL in the country has gone to this level of detail. It will really aid in implementation by allowing agricultural producers to evaluate the management options needed to protect water quality at the field scale," said Marcia Willhite, chief of the DNR Water Evaluation Section.
In addition to the TMDL Study, efforts are moving forward on the adoption of site-specific water quality criteria for Lake Wisconsin, Castle Rock, and Petenwell.
"We have received DNR Board approval and are moving forward with the rule making process. If the process continues as planned we will be looking at Fall of 2019 for final adoption of the revised site-specific criteria," said Sharon Gayan, DNR Water Quality bureau director.
Analysis conducted during the TMDL Study revealed that numeric phosphorus criteria, different than those currently in rule, would better suit the water quality standards necessary for the three reservoirs.
"One misconception has been that the recommended site-specific criteria will allow increased phosphorus loads over current loadings and that is not true; reductions are required," said Pat Oldenburg, implementation coordinator for the TMDL Study. "I look forward to continuing to work with the diverse stakeholders across the basin in improving water quality and realizing the benefits associated with clean lakes, reservoirs, and rivers."
A copy of the public hearing version of the TMDL Study will be posted on the website on August 20. The TMDL Study and supporting documentation can be found by searching the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for Wisconsin River TMDL.
The public hearing version of the TMDL Study incorporates input and comments received during the March listening sessions and comment period. The August 22 hearing will include a presentation outlining the modifications made. For those who are unable to attend the public hearing, comments on the TMDL Study can be submitted to Kevin Kirsch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by mail to: Kevin Kirsch, Wisconsin DNR, PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921
Oral comments, received during the public hearing, and written comments received prior to the close of the comment period will be considered prior to making a final approval and submittal of the TMDL Study to EPA. Written and oral comments carry the same weight. A summary with response to comments will also be included in the final TMDL Study report.
The study area covers the Wisconsin River Basin north of Lake Wisconsin encompassing or touching portions of 22 counties. The Wisconsin River Basin has 109 stream and river segments and 38 lakes or reservoirs that are currently listed as impaired due to elevated levels of phosphorus. The EPA, under the Clean Water Act, requires that waters not meeting water quality standards be listed as impaired and have TMDL or equivalent restoration plans developed. TMDL plans quantify the different sources of pollution, provide allocations, and prescribe reductions, if needed.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR


Apply by Sept. 15 for shooting range grant program

MADISON, WI - Applications for cost-sharing grants for the construction, renovation and maintenance of both private and publicly owned shooting ranges that provide opportunities to the public at least 100 days per year are now available through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Shooting Range Grant Program.
Emily Iehl, coordinator with the DNR R3Team, says the program was created to help meet the growing demand for safe, public and well-maintained target ranges - especially around more populated areas. The R3Team is a specialized team dedicated to recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters, anglers and trappers.
A total of $300,000 is available for this program during the coming two years.
"There is no upper limit on the dollar amount of individual awards," Iehl said.
The money comes from the state's Wildlife Restoration grant - commonly known as Pittman-Robertson or PR funds - and is generated by an 11 percent excise tax on firearms and ammunition.
The deadline for proposal submission is Sept. 15, 2018.
The program can provide cost-share between 50 and 75 percent of approved renovation and development costs, depending upon the amount of public access allowed. Counties, cities, villages, townships, other governmental agencies or units, clubs or organizations, tribes, businesses or corporations, and educational institutions are eligible for this program.
Eligible projects include but are not limited to: backstops, berms, target holders, baffles, gun racks, signs, field courses, benches, trap and skeet houses, platforms, sanitary facilities, classrooms, protective fencing, storage areas, shelters, parking, accessible pathways, and support facilities. Project costs must be commensurate with benefit. Indoor range projects will be considered for funding at the department's discretion.
Application materials and program guidance can be found on the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, by searching for "shooting range grant program."

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Regional West Nile virus monitoring of ruffed grouse begins this fall

MADISON, WI - In collaboration with the Minnesota and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources, Ruffed Grouse Society and Wisconsin Conservation Congress, the Wisconsin Department of Natural resources will begin a multi-year monitoring program this fall looking at West Nile virus in ruffed grouse.
The DNR is asking ruffed grouse hunters for their participation in this monitoring effort. Similar to past disease monitoring efforts, the department is asking that hunters submit samples from their harvested ruffed grouse using self-sampling kits. This effort will focus on the core ruffed grouse range in the central and northern forests.
The DNR has assembled 400 self-sampling kits for ruffed grouse hunters to use in 2018. The WNV sampling kits contain detailed instructions and all the supplies needed to collect and ship one sample. Hunters will be asked to collect a small amount of blood along with the heart from their harvested grouse.
If you hunt the central and northern forests and would like to participate in the West Nile virus monitoring effort, sampling kits can be requested through your county wildlife biologist and will be available in early September. The number of kits provided per individual may be limited to ensure samples come from a large geographic area.
Hunters will be provided test results via email. Be aware that testing of samples will not begin until after the grouse season has closed and final results will not be available for several months after the close of the season. WNV is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito and there is no evidence that WNV can be spread by handling dead birds or by consuming properly cooked game. It is one of several bird diseases afflicting native bird species.

Sick and Dead Birds
In addition to collecting samples from harvested ruffed grouse, the DNR is asking the public to report any sick or dead grouse observed while out in the field.
If you see any ruffed grouse that appear sick or emaciated, or if you find a freshly dead grouse, take note of the location and promptly call your county wildlife biologist for possible submission of the dead grouse for further investigation and to help us keep track of such reports statewide.
If you are willing to collect the carcass testing, please keep the entire bird intact. Place it into a plastic bag and keep the bird cool, but not frozen. Bring the whole ruffed grouse carcass to your county wildlife biologist the same or next day. Prompt collection of ruffed grouse is necessary to prevent decomposition or scavenging. It is recommended you wear gloves whenever handling dead animals, even those that appear healthy.
If refrigeration and prompt delivery are not possible, carcasses should be frozen and submitted to county wildlife biologists as soon as possible.
Carcasses in poor condition (scavenged with openings into the body cavity, having an odor, more advanced decomposition) will not be usable for testing, but please take note of the location and report these sightings to your county wildlife biologist.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR