Babes in the Woods

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When driving on a back road, I met this fawn standing in the road. It attempted to run away, but could not climb the steep bank next to the road so it lay down in the shadows to hide. I took a quick photo and drove past. When I was a ways away, mom came of of the brush and lead the fawn to safety.

As I was driving home last week, two Canadian geese with a bunch of goslings attempted to cross the road twixt my car and an on-coming pick up truck. Both drivers saw the geese scramble out of the ditch and head across the road, so we stopped and gave the geese plenty of room. That didn’t stop the adults from excitedly honking and flapping their wings while herding the goslings across the road. One gosling slipped on the edge of the black top and flipped head over webbed feet. The fuzzy yellow bird which was nearly the size of a crow ended up on its back. Both the goslings’ webbed feet and undersized wings were flailing madly in the air as it righted itself and then proceeded in a hurried waddle across the road.
This comical incident is a reminder that many species have recently given birth. Creatures from deer to rabbits to possums to birds to bears have young ones that need to be protected, raised and taught the ways of survival. Each species has a repertoire of tricks to ensure the survival of enough newborns to ensure the survival of the species.
Camouflage is one method adult animals protect their young. I tend to despise yard work and lawn mowing in particular so I delay mowing as long a possible in the spring. Hence the grass gets a bit long sometimes. One spring day, I noticed our dog Izzy running back and forth from her dog house to a single spot in the long grass. I investigated and discovered that Izzy had found a nest of baby bunnies and that she was carrying them in her mouth, unharmed, to her dog house. The nest was within five feet of where we park the car and was invisible until one had knelt down and parted the grass. We distracted Izzy long enough to put her back on her chain and then place the bunnies back in their nest. By the next morning, the mother had moved the bunnies to a safer location.
Many newly born animals are scent free, which makes it easier for them to hide from predators. Fawns are one of the critters that are scent free for at least a few days. Fawns rely on being scent free and on hiding to survive. The spots on a fawn serve as camouflage and the fawn instinctively knows from birth to remain motionless for long periods of time. The fawns remain in one location for several weeks while the doe wanders off to eat and ruminate. The doe only approaches the fawn when it is feeding time for the fawn. If the doe has multiple fawns, she will hide each fawn in a different location. This strategy increases the odds that a least one of the fawns will survive – even if the others become dinner for a hungry bobcat or coyote. As deer have become more prevalent in urban and suburban areas, hiding fawns are found more frequently by well intentioned but biologically misinformed people. They see the “cute little Bambi” all by itself and assume the deer has been abandoned by its parent. Then they scoop up the deer and head to the DNR office or to a wildlife rehabilitator. Since the fawn and parent are pursuing a time proven survival strategy, the best course of action is to take a picture or two, from a long distance, and leave the fawn in its spot.
Producing prodigious numbers of offspring is another survival strategy. Rabbits, squirrels and many birds have adopted this strategy. The idea is simple: produce more offspring than will die before they reproduce. Robins are the masters of producing multiple broods of young in a year. Robins pull off at least two broods every summer and maybe another one in the winter. I can observe the prolific nature of robins every spring because a robin always builds a nest on the front porch light. So many nests have been built there over the years the siding on the house is permanently stained. Yet, it is highly doubtful that the same robin builds the nest from year after year since robins have an 80 percent mortality rate. That the robin population remains so large while 8 out of 10 robins die annually makes it apparent just how many robins must be born each year. Distraction is how birds like killdeer and waterfowl protect their young. When I lived in Southeastern Ohio, I walked home everyday across a park. A killdeer had a nest in the corner of the park and like clockwork, the killdeer presented me with the “broken wing” pose at the same spot every day. The killdeer would trill loudly and flap its ‘broken wing” all the while leading me away from the nest. After leading me for about 50 yards the bird would fly away. Most hen ducks will also exhibit this behavior on the water. Many times I have surprised a hen and her ducklings while canoeing; the ducklings will beat a hasty retreat to the nearest cover, while the mother begins to quack loudly and beat her wings against the water while swimming away. The duck will lead the canoe around two or three bends in the river before taking flight back to her offspring.
Aggressive behavior towards threats is another means of ensuring the survival of young. The old adage of never getting between a mother bear and her cubs has been proven statically true. Most bear attacks on humans do involve a mother with cubs. Other animals with young can also become aggressive. One spring, I was hiking and camping in the Jones Spring wilderness area in the Nicolet National Forest. Suddenly an animal burst out of the weeds along side the trail and headlined towards me. I had a brief thought of a bear attacking as I stumbled back. Then I realized the whir of motion and sound of furry was actually a mother grouse. I also saw her poults scampering off in the opposite direction. My brother and I once attempted to fish a small remote lake in Northern Minnesota, but found it impossible because a pair of loons were using the lake to raise their little loonie (not sure what you call a baby loon). The two adult loons repeatedly dive bombed the canoe. Sometimes they swooped as low as our heads when they passed over the canoe. We decided there were other lakes in the area that had better fishing and left.
Critters with young become less mobile during the rearing season. Thus animals like bears, foxes and coyotes, which normally roam a large territory, hunker down near the den or limit travel to a small area until the offspring can travel large distances. The dilemma the animals face is eating while remaining in one place. Hence any good food source will be utilized repeatedly. This causes issues in populated areas as bears and other large critters raid feeders, garbage cans, fledgling gardens, and any other food source. The best method of dealing with feeding animals in the spring is to remove easy food sources like feeders. If an animal like a fox is suddenly present repeatedly in a yard or area, be aware that there is most likely a den nearby. Give the den as much space as possible and use the opportunity for some wildlife photography.
Wild critters, both feathered and furred, have many means of ensuring the survival of their young and the species. We humans can best help the animals pursue raising their offspring by doing no more than observing the process.

Results are Tabulated for the 2020 Spring Conservation Congress Hearings

The results for the first ever fully on-line Spring Conservation Congress hearings are out. Many of the questions involved major changes to the deer season. But Wisconsin deer hunting traditions run deep and many of the proposed changes to deer season were rejected. The statewide results are divided into two categories “All Participants” and “Wisconsin Residents,” and the county results are divided into “Dunn County Residents” and “Respondents indicated they recreate in Dunn County.” For consistency and simplicity, the results listed will use the “Wisconsin Residents” and “Dunn County Residents” data.
The first deer season question was Question 10 which sought to add 10 days to the current 9-day season. It failed statewide 14,380 yes to 41,531 no and in Dunn County 190 to 592. Eliminating the holiday hunt was the subject of Question 11 and statewide it passed 32,461 yes to 20,057 no. The question also passed in the county 483 to 273. Question 12 had three potential results, a 2 day or a 5 day no hunting period prior to the start of deer season or no change to the current no hunting period before the deer season. Maintaining status quo was the overwhelming choice both statewide and in the county. Invalidating crossbow and archery buck tags during the gun deer season was the purpose of Question 13. It failed 17,897 yeas to 34,608 nays and 256 to 492 in Dunn County. Question 14 called for limiting the crossbow season to October only for most hunters in the state. The question was defeated by a relatively close margin of 25,159 to 27,407. The county results were 343 for and 409 against. Question 15 called for the elimination of the deer management zones and just using the county deer management units. It passed 34,368 to 14,073 overall and the tally locally was 500 to 206. Question 17 called for closing the crossbow season in November and then reopening it when the 9-day season opens. In Dunn county, the tally was 268 ayes and 468 nays. Statewide, the totals were 20,387 to 31,113. Question 19 sought to reinstate the authority of the DNR to authorize the Earn-a-Buck management tools. The statewide total was 20,185 for and 32,399 against and in the county the total was 278 for and 466 against. Question 20 proposed giving CDACs the ability to use Earn-a-Buck tools in their respective counties. The tally was 19,646 for and 29,716 against. And locally it was 267 to 427. Giving the CDACs new tools for managing the anterless deer population was the goal of Question 23. It passed statewide by a tally of 23,082 to 20,675. The vote in Dunn County was 322 to 300. Going to a 16 day gun deer season which would open a week earlier than the current season was the suggestion in Question 24. By a vote of 15,231 to 37,502 it failed. It it also failed by a wide margin in Dunn County.
Questions 1-7 surveyed the willingness of hunters to use non-toxic shot and projectiles. The use of non-toxic shot on all DNR lands was approved by a vote of 28,952 to 26,136. Dunn County respondents approved the Question 377 to 359. Question 2 on the use of non-toxic bullets and slugs on all state owned and managed lands failed on a vote of 22,856 to 32,604 and also failed in the county 284 to 465. Questions 3 and 4 called for the use of non-toxic shot while hunting doves and pheasants. Both questions passed in the statewide vote but both failed in Dunn County. Using non-toxic shot while turkey hunting (Question 5) failed both statewide and in Dunn County by margins of 25,009 to 31,075 and 329 to 426. Question 6 looked at using non-toxic shot for grouse. The state wide vote was 25,853 to 29,203 and locally 341 to 409. The final non-toxic ammo question was Question 7 and it recommended using non-toxic shot and bullets for hunting small game on state owned and managed lands. It failed statewide 22,373 to 33,302 and in the county 274 to 475.
Multiple questions dealt with the subject of baiting and feeding. Restrictions on using artificial water sources for attracting deer and elk was the topic of Question 8. In Dunn County the measure failed by a 242 to 551 vote and statewide the total was 23,245 to 32,574. A prohibition of baiting and feeding was the topic of Question 16. It failed 25,307 to to 28, 521 across Wisconsin and failed 253 to 509 in Dunn county. Question 21 calls for giving the DNR more authority to create baiting and feeding regulations-especially bans to help control the spread of CWD. In Dunn County, which just had CWD identified in the county, the measure failed 288 to 439. The tally statewide was 24,725 to 26,457. Question 22 sought to give CDACs authority to make recommendations on baiting and feeding their respective counties. It failed on a narrow vote statewide 24,536 to 24,766. The vote locally was 310 to 380.
All the questions concerning bear hunting passed. Question 18 called for establishment of a spring bear season. It passed by a wide margin both locally and statewide. Questions 25 and 26 made modifications to what is considered a legal container for bear bait. The two Questions also passed by wide margins.
Other Questions that had a statewide impact included, opposing the Back 40 Mine on the Michigan side of the Menominee River by a very wide margin of 35,406 to 6,946. Question 49 calls for having appropriate harvest and protection levels for native Buffalo Fish. It passed by a wide margin both statewide and in the county. Moving the opening day of muskie season to the first Saturday in May (traditional opening day of fishing season) in the northern part of the state, with the May season being catch and release only passed by a vote of 24,048 to 8976. The vote was 347 to 98 locally.
One important feature of the Spring hearing is the ability of citizens to introduce their own resolutions into the process and if they pass to have the resolution taken up by the Conservation Congress. Three citizen resolutions were introduced in Dunn County. The first resolution calls for CDACs to have more options to recommend for deer hunting structure in their counties to help stop the spread of CWD. Some possible options are additional permits for buck harvest and hunters choice permits in counties affected by CWD. This resolution passed by a vote of 273 to 233. Another resolution in the county called upon the WI DNR to deny permits for the Dairyland Energy Cooperative Nemadji Trail energy Center. The resolution states that the construction of the plant threatens to dry up the water table, pollute underground water, destroy wetlands, and exacerbate climate change. The resolution passed by a vote of 293 to 128. The final citizens resolution calls upon the WI DNR to accept the national Every Kid Outdoors pass at Wisconsin state parks. Currently, the program is not accepted by the DNR. The program is a federal program for 4th grade students and encourages the children and their families to get outside. The tally on the resolution was 437 to 79.

Deer Hunting the Focus of Major Questions at the Spring Hearings

Many major changes are being proposed to Wisconsin’s hunting and fishing regulations at the Spring Hearings this year. Some of the proposed changes include a non-toxic ammo requirement on DNR lands, a baiting and feeding ban, longer gun deer season options, and a spring bear season. The Hearings will be held on Monday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m. The Dunn County hearing will be held at the Dunn County Fish and Game Club House. Citizens can attend the hearings or use an on-line option to cast their votes on the questions.

The Proposed Questions

Questions 1-7 require the use of non-toxic ammunition on state owned or managed lands. Each of the seven questions asks about the use of non-toxic shot in different situations. Question 1 asks about the general use of non-toxic shot. Question 2 would require the use of non-toxic bullets and slugs. Questions 3-7 ask about using non-toxic shot and or ammo on various game species including, doves, pheasants, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and small game.

Multiple questions deal with the issue of baiting and feeding in Wisconsin. Question 8 would restrict the use of artificial water sources in areas with CWD. Baiting is already prohibited in areas with CWD and this question would make artificial water sources a type of bait. Question 16 in the Natural Resources Board section of the Hearing calls for prohibiting baiting and feeding of deer statewide. This ban is designed to help stop the spread of CWD and other diseases like bovine tuberculosis. Questions 20 and 21 ask if CDACs can have authority to make recommendations on baiting and feeding. Currently baiting and feeding can only be restricted within a certain area if CWD is detected, and the restriction can only last for a limited time. Question 21 asks if the DNR should have greater authority to determine baiting and feeding regulations. Question 22 queries if CDACs should have the ability to regulate baiting and feeding in their counties.

Question 9 suggests using a raffle to award a new type of hunting license and tag. This question proposes to create a special license awarded through a statewide raffle that would allow the holder to hunt critters that have a long wait period like elk, and bear, plus possibly other species like turkey, bobcat, and waterfowl hunts in access restricted areas. The funds from the license raffle would go to fund wildlife habitat restoration and management.

Questions 10-17 suggest major changes to the current structure of the deer hunting season and have been placed on the Spring Hearing Questionnaire by the Natural Resources Board. Some of these questions will radically change the way deer hunting is conducted in the state. Question 10 suggests adding 10 days of hunting onto the end of the current nine day season to create a 19 day season. This proposal would also eliminate the muzzle loader season. Hunters could use rifles, shotguns with slugs, crossbows and bows during the 19 day season. Question 11 calls for the elimination of the antlerlesss-only holiday hunts. Eliminating the holiday hunt is being proposed because of the possible change in the season length proposed in Question 10. Question 12 surveys participants to see if they would like to establish a 2-day or a 5-day no-hunting period prior to the opening of the gun deer season. All hunting seasons, except for waterfowl hunting would be closed during this no-hunting period. Question 13 is a bit confusing as it invalidates archery and crossbow tags during the gun deer and muzzle loader seasons. However, hunters could still use bow or crossbows during the gun deer season but only to fill gun deer tags. Question 14 would limit the use of crossbows for hunting from October 1 to October 31 and then again after the gun deer season is over. Hunters with a disabled license or over the age of 60 would still be able to hunt with crossbows during the entire archery season. This rule is being suggested because some feel that crossbow hunters are killing more than their share of bucks. Question 15 seeks to eliminate the current 4 deer management zones (Northern Forest, Central Farm Land, Central Forest and Southern Farm Land). If this question passes, all deer management questions would be decided at the county level by the CDACs. Question 17 calls for closing the crossbow season during the month of November. Question 17 differs from Question 14 by opening the crossbow season up during the months of September and October but closing it during the month of November. The implications of Questions 10-17 are profound for deer hunting in the state. Every deer hunter in the state should vote on these questions.

Question 18 seeks to establish a spring bear hunting season that would most likely last between two to three weeks. While not known for sure, baiting and spot and stalk hunting would be most likely methods used to hunt bears in the spring. Harvesting cubs or a sow with cubs would be illegal in the proposed spring hunt. Hunters would be issued only one tag and could use the tag either in the spring or the fall.

Questions 19 to 55 are being posed by the Conservation Congress. The Congress generates its questions either from citizen resolutions that are introduced at prior spring hearings or through the work of its committees. Passage of resolutions on this portion of the Questionnaire could result in changes to laws and regulations at a future date. Many of the Conservation Congress Questions deal with local issue like bag limits on specific lakes.

Questions 19 and 20 do have a statewide impact on deer hunting. Both questions ask if the state should bring back the Earn-a-Buck program. Proponents of Earn-a-Buck note that it was very effective in reducing the deer population in areas where the deer exceeded population goals. However, many hunters despised Earn-a-Buck because it made it difficult to harvest a buck and thought that there should be more deer rather than fewer deer. Question 19 asks if the DNR should have the authority to use Earn-a-Buck, and Question 20 asks if county CDACs should have the authority to use Earn-A-Buck in setting up hunting seasons.

Question 23 proposes that CDACs be given the ability to designated portions of deer hunting season as anterless only.

Question 24 is a two part change to the structure of the deer season. The question lengthens the season to 16 days and opens the season up approximately one week earlier by moving opening day to the Saturday closest to November 15. Currently the opening is determined as the Saturday immediately preceding the 4th Thursday (Thanksgiving) in November.

Questions 25 and 26 deal with the topic of bear baiting. Question 25 would allow the use of man made containers for bear bait on private land, but not public land. Question 26 would allow bear baiters to nail bottoms on the hollow logs that they use for bear baiting to keep unwanted critters out of the bear bait.

Question 28 Opposes the propose Back Forty Mine metallic sulfide mine on the Menominee River. The mine would be located on the Michigan side of this outstanding border rive but pollution would effect Wisconsin sports men and women who use the river and contaminate Green Bay.

Question 31 seeks to establish an experimental Badger trapping season with a limited harvest.

Question 49 looks to protect native Buffalo fish by ending their rough fish status and setting up harvest parameters.

Question 50 asks for a legislative change in boating regulations so that operating a boat at speeds in excess of slow and no wake could only occur on lake that are larger than 50 or more acres.

Question 50 seeks legislative change so that DNR game wardens would have the ability to enforce trespass laws.

Expanding the funding sources from license and stamp fees to other potential revenue streams is the goal of Question 55.

How to vote in the Spring Hearings.

Citizens can vote on the questions by either attending the Spring hearing on April 13 or by going on line. Meeting attendees can choose to fill out the forms immediately, or stay and give input on each individual question. The input from citizens is then part of the public record. The on-line option goes live at 7:00 PM on April 13. Individuals who want to complete the form on-line can go to the Spring Hearing and get a code (VRN-Variable Random Number) that verifies that they are a resident of a specific county so their vote will be included in the official tally for that county. Or they can just go on line and vote. Their votes will be listed as a county resident but in a separate tally for that county. The on-line voting portal can be found at [https://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/springhearing.html] or go to DNR.WI.GOV and search keywords “Spring Hearings.”

County Conservation Delegates Selected.

The delegates who represent each county are also selected at the Spring Hearing. Every year, one delegate is selected for a 2 year term and one is selected for a 3 year term on the Conservation Congress. To vote for the Conservation Congress delegates one must attend the hearing.

The entire spring questionnaire can be found at [https://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/Documents/spring_hearing/2020/2020_Spring_Questionnaire.pdf]

Wisconsin’s New Bear Hunting Plan

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The Wisconsin DNR has proposed, and the Natural Resources Board has adopted a new bear hunting management plan. The current plan was adopted in 1980 so it was a bit out of date. In the thirty-nine years since the last plan was adopted, many factors in bear management have changed. The two factors with the largest change are an expanding bear range and an expanding bear population. In 1980, the bear population was limited to the northern third of Wisconsin i.e. most of the bear lived roughly north or near U.S. Highway 8. The bear population has also greatly increased in the same time frame. A study that occurred in the last 6 years determined there were roughly three times as many bears in Wisconsin as previously thought.
The new Plan has many interesting new features. One on the most innovative features is that the new plan will not use numerical quotas to set harvest total but use a number of metrics to determine harvest total. The metrics that will be used to determine bear population goals and subsequently annual harvest quotas include agricultural damage, nuisance complaints, hunter crowding, success, and satisfaction, bear disease and health issues, and maintaining bears’ ecological role. The bear advisory committee will study the data on a yearly basis and help to set the harvest quotas. Most species are managed with a specific population goal that is maintained by increasing or decreasing the harvest quotas. By managing with a variety of metrics, the DNR will be working on a different approach to game management. It will be vital for the DNR to gather sound scientific data on the bear population since black bears are vulnerable to over hunting. Part of the plan calls for extensive scientific research on the number of bears in the woods and periodic reviews of the estimates to ensure that an accurate population count is established and maintained.
Dealing with nuisance bears and agricultural damage from bears is also written into the plan. One feature of the damage abatement portion of the plan will allow the DNR to issue ag damage kill permits to landowners who have a history of bears damaging the crops before the crops are damaged, so the landowner can respond quickly when further damage occurs. Bears really like corn that is in the “milk phase” and this proactive approach may help limit the damage done to corn crops.
There are two types of way to measure the potential for a wildlife population-biological and cultural carrying capacity. Biological carrying capacity is the number of animals that can survive in an area given the amount of food and the amount of space the critters need. The cultural carrying capacity is how many critters people will tolerate in a given area. This plan is designed to manage the bear population based on the social carrying capacity.
The other major change in this plan is the redrawing of the bear hunting zones. Under the old plan there were four zones. Zones A, B and D covered the northern third of the state and Zone C covered the remainder of the state including Dunn County. Under the new plan, there will be five zones. Zone A, B, and D will still be in northern Wisconsin. However, the boundary of Zone D will shift southward from highway 8 to highways 64, 128, 170 and 40. So Southern Barron County and Northern Dunn County will now be in Zone D. This also means that norther Dunn County will go from being a bait only hunting area to an area that hunting with hounds and bait will be allowed. Zone C will shrink to primarily cover the central portion of the state. A new zone E will cover most of the western part of Wisconsin including the southern two-thirds of Dunn County. And a new Zone F will cover much of eastern, southern, and a portion of central Wisconsin.
The DNR plan states that they will manage zone A, B, C, D, and E for the cultural carrying capacity of the Zone and that they will provide liberal harvest opportunities in Zone F. Liberal harvest opportunities translates as keeping bears out of zone F as much as possible. Zone F has the least suitable bear habitat and the densest human population, hence the potential for bad human-bear interactions is the greatest there.
Besides changing the zones, it was also proposed that the new Zone C be opened to hunting bears with hounds. This change proved to the most controversial provision in the new plan. Many hunters in the new zone C were opposed to allowing hunting with dogs in the Zone for a variety of reasons which included lack of public land in some areas of the Zone, trespassing issues, bear hunter overcrowding, disruptions to bait hunters who have hunted this area in previous season, and conflicts with bow deer hunters. The hound hunters contend that hound hunting is a more efficient method of hunting so nuisance bears would be more likely to be harvested. They also noted that training bear dogs is currently permitted in this area. At the end of the debate, the Natural Resources Board decided to remove the hound hunting in Zone C from the new plan.
The issue of the use of chocolate in bear bait was also discussed by the Natural Resources Board. Chocolate contains theobromine which is toxic to some animals. Dogs are particularly vulnerable. Documented deaths of bears from theobromine poisoning have occurred in New Hampshire, and Michigan. As a result, Michigan has banned chocolate in bear baits, and New Hampshire has a near total ban on chocolate in bear baits. In Wisconsin, 3 cubs found dead in 2011 were necropsied and presumed to have died from theobromine poisoning. In 2013, the DNR issued an advisory about use of chocolate in baits. Since then there have been no documented bear deaths from theobromine in the state. This is an issue that will get more scientific study under the new plan.
Now that the plan has been adopted, the long process begins to write the rules needed to implement the plan. The rules writing process usually takes a fair amount of time. The earliest the new rules will go into effect will be for the 2020 hunting season.

Cooperative Habitat Improvement Project on Lake Menomin

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Trees are dropped into the water to improve fish habitat. The tree are cabled to their trunks to keep them from floating away and becoming a navigation hazard.

A cooperative effort between the Evergreen Cemetery Association Board of Directors and the Dunn County Fish and Game Club will result in improving habitat in Lake Menomin and in a small reduction in the algal blooms that plague the lake.
The combined efforts of these two organizations will continue the Tree Drop program begun on Lake Menomin a couple of years ago. Patrick Thibado, Sextant of the Evergreen Cemetery, explained the project from the perspective of the Cemetery Board. Mr. Thibado stated that the Cemetery is an integral part of the Lake. The island on which the cemetery is located was not an island at one point in time. When the lake level was raised by 10 feet in the 1950s, a section of cemetery land was flooded and now makes up the bay between the island and shore on the south side of the cemetery. The causeway that runs to the cemetery had to be built at that time to ensure continued access to the cemetery. Being an island, the cemetery has riparian habitat around its entire outer edge. Also, being an island, water quality has a major impact on air quality in the cemetery. What happens in the lake effects the cemetery, and what happens on the cemetery effects what happens in the lake.
The first time the Fish and Game approached the Cemetery Board, they discussed the idea but took no action. The second time, the Board agreed to take on the project. The Dunn County Fish and Game has been working to improve wildlife habitat in Dunn County for decades. Project coordinator for the Fish and Game, Gary Buss, stated that the project is a win-win project which improves habitat on the lake which benefit fish, wildlife and the community. Mr. Buss really likes the program because of all the scientific research which demonstrates how well the tree drops work.
After agreeing to the project, it was time to get the professional help in planning the project, which will occur on the north side of the island. DNR fish biologist. Marty Engle, (Mr. Engle has since retired from the DNR) surveyed the cemetery and plotted all the shoreline trees with a GPS. Trees with a short life span like poplar and birch or trees that could become problems like box elder or cottonwood were identified for cutting. Volunteers from the Dunn County Fish and Game will cut the trees and cable them to the stumps. The cutting that takes place this year is the first year of a two-year project. Additionally, the project is designed to last multiple years if necessary.
The concept behind the tree drops is that on a wild lake that is unmarred by residential or commercial sprawl there are a lot of trees in the water. Some trees fall along the shore and some fall perpendicular to the shore. The trees provide habitat to aquatic critters and help slow down erosion. Since this project is a habitat improvement project the trees will be dropped in the lake perpendicular to the lake shore. After the tree is in the water, a hole is drilled through the stump and the tree is fastened to the stump with a metal cable to prevent the tree from floating away. Scientific studies that have been done on tree drops have demonstrated that up to 15 different species of fish can inhabit one fallen tree. Mr. Thibado also stated that the trees don’t die, they become living under water plants. So the trees will provide fish habitat for years to come.
One concern about the project is that more anglers will fish from the cemetery land. A few sloppy anglers have left trash behind in the past and a few have violated cemetery rules by parking in the cemetery and blocking the road. Mr. Thibado noted that it’s hard to get a hearse past a car parked in the road. He requests that anglers park on the causeway and pack out all of their trash.
Unfortunately, the initial work on the project has been delayed twice by the unseasonable weather that is occurring. Both Mr. Buss and Thibado are hoping for some cold weather next weekend so the chain saws can be fired up. Anyone who would like to come observe the work is welcome. The hope is that other organizations will be interested in starting tree drop projects in different parts of Lakes Menomin or Lake Tainter, or on other lakes.

Tree Drops to Make a Splash for Improving Lakes Tainter and Menomin.

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The shore along Lake Menomin in Menomin Park before the tree drop project began

To clean up the lake, we must take care of the land. While this fact may seem counter intuitive, the green slime in Lakes Tainter and Menomin is a product of the ill health of the land. The most critical land is the riparian zone which is the land, and water on both sides of the shore of the streams, rivers and lakes. Or to use a modern term, it is the interface between land and water. Riparian areas are critical for most of the critters that live in the lakes and rivers at some point in their life cycle. Healthy riparian areas with lots of trees in the water produce clean lakes and lots of fish while unhealthy riparian areas produce siltation, fewer fish and lots of green algae.
A new program known as either Fish Sticks or Wood Drops which designed to improve riparian areas and help clean up the lakes is being implemented on Lakes Menomin and Tainter. The Dunn County Fish and Game Club is sponsoring the program, but the idea comes from Ma Nature herself. My many trips to places like the Boundary Waters confirms that the shores of healthy lakes are full of trees and wood. So why not add trees and wood to the shore of developed lakes to see if they improve water quality and habitat.
Scientists have studied the effect of wood in water and have found out some amazing facts. Up to 15 different species of fish may inhabit one submerged tree. One submerged white pine tree in Wisconsin harbored black crappie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, muskellunge, rock bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed, mottled sculpin, logperch, Johnny darter, yellow perch white sucker and minnows. The different species of fish use the trees in different ways. Smallmouth and largemouth bass will build their spawning nests near submerged trees. And Rock bass makes the nests under trees. These species of fish defend their nests so nesting nears underwater trees means less perimeter to defend. Smaller fish like blue gills use the submerged branches as cover while bigger fish like walleyes and northern lurk about the trees looking for a meal. Some types of minnows will actually spawn in the holes in the tree to protect their eggs. Other studies have shown that invertebrate species also thrive in the underwater woods. Turtles and birds use the emergent portion of the trees to roost and as a sunning station. Amphibians need the structures provided by submerged trees to lay their eggs. A lack of wood means the eggs will be concentrated in smaller areas and make the eggs more susceptible to predation. Studies show that lakes with fewer submerged trees have fewer amphibians. Birds like egrets and herons find the trees great places to catch supper.
In addition to providing a place for fish and other critters to live, trees have many other positive effects on lakes. The trees lessen the power of waves and of ice that impact the shore: Thus reducing erosion by these two forces. As a result plants are able to germinate and take root near the shore where there are submerged trees. The trees preventing erosions and allowing vegetation to grow on the shore has a multiplier effect for healthy lakes. The grasses filter out run off and reduce phosphorus entering the lake and the bugs that live in the grasses end up feeding the fish in the water.
Trees can last a very long time in the water. Some studies have found that white pines can last as long as 900 years under water! How long a tree lasts is dependent on the species of tree. Aspen has the shortest underwater life span while the eastern white pine can last up to 900 years. The more branches a trees has underwater the better the habitat it provides for more species of critters. However, as the tree begins to rot under water and loses its small branches it still provide good habitat for many critters and even some fish and invertebrates prefer to hang out in or near the trunk of the tree rather than in the branches.
If trees are so good for lakes and river why is there a dearth of trees in most of the lakes in Wisconsin? The answer is shore land development. Building that dream home on that dream lake shore is about the worst action that can be done to a lake. One study in Maine looked at two similar lakes; one that was undeveloped and one that had significant development. The study found a 720 percent increase in phosphorus runoff in the developed lake.

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The same portion of the bank a year after the tree drop project was installed

So what are “Wood Drops?” . I spoke with Richard Mechelke about a pilot wood drop program that was completed last year by the Dunn County Land Conservation Department at Menomin Park. He explained that Wood Drops are a method to reintroduce woody structures into developed lakes so that the woody structure will have a maximum habitat and water quality benefit. He also noted that habitat quality is as important as water quality in having a healthy lake. A highly eroded section of the lake bank was selected for the project. Mr. Mechelke noted that based on the number of old bricks found on the site, the erosion problems had been occurring for decades. The two keys to a successful Tree Drop are placing the tree in bunches and keeping the trees from floating away. C R Bryan & Sons Inc did the work on the project. Mr. praised CR Bryan for doing excellent work and for volunteering some of their time spent on the project in order to help meet the budget. Since there were no trees on the shore to use, the contractors got the trees from a nearby timber stand park. The trees were mostly pulled out by the roots. First trees were placed parallel to the shore right at the water line. Other trees were placed perpendicular to the shoreline so they extended into the lake. Some of the trees were placed in clumps and some were placed singly. About 5 to 6 feet of the logs that were perpendicular to the shoreline, were buried in the dirt to ensure they did not float away and to hold the rest of the wood in place. In areas where the trees line the shores, the trees are cut down into the water with a chain saw, and then the trunk of the tree is attached to the stump with a cable to keep it from being washed away by wind and waves.
I toured the site with Mr. Mechelke this summer and the changes are amazing. Soil erosion has been stopped, grasses and other plants are starting to take root in the once barren soil. I also observed minnows and other small fish swimming around the submerged wood. This demonstration project has been a major success.
The Tree Drop program has been successfully implemented on several other lakes in Northern Wisconsin. One of the benefits of the programs is to diversify and expand fish habitat in the lakes, which will spread out the fish population. Spreading out the fish population will also spread out fishing pressure in the lake since anglers will have more secret holes to find fish.