Wisconsin’s New Bear Hunting Plan


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 The current plan was adopted in 1980 so it was a bit out of date.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

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.

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.

2019 Conservation Congress Spring Hearings are Happening Soon

The 2019 Conservation Congress hearings will be held on April 8th at 7:00 PM. The Dunn County hearing will be held, as usual, at the Dunn County Fish and Game Club House. For a listing of all the other hearing locations in the 71 other counties in the state click on this link: https://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/Documents/spring_hearing/2019/2019hearinglocations.pdf
A major change for the Spring Hearing is that it will be possible to fill out the questionnaire on-line. A live link will be posted on the Conservation Congress web page that will go live at 7:00 PM on April 8. The link will be live for three days. The Conservation Congress has adopted this procedure for using the on-line option: “Individuals in attendance at the Spring Hearings can choose to fill out the paper input form the night of the hearing or take a random verifiable number that can be submitted through the online system. The random verifiable number will allow an individual’s input to be tallied along with the input provided by in-person attendees in the county in which they attended.
Individuals who are unable to attend a Spring Hearing in person can provide input through the online version (without the random verifiable number). This input will be compiled and considered with the overall input but will be separate from the county-specific (in-person) input.” The Conservation Congress page can be found with this link: https://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/springhearing.html
Overall there are eighty-eight questions this year. The first forty-nine questions are DNR generated questions and the remaining thirty-nine are from the Congress. Changes to fishing rules make up the largest number of questions.
Questions 20 through 26 propose changes to the regulations for fishing on the Mississippi River. Questions 20 and 21 propose changing the bag limit for walleye and sauger in pools 3 through 8 to a combined 4 fish with a 15-inch size limit for walleye and none for sauger. The new proposed limit for pools 9 through 12 is a combination of 6 total walleye and sauger with no size limit. The suggested regulation changes are due to research showing that the fish grow faster but live shorter lives in the Mississippi than in other Minnesota or Wisconsin Waters. Also, the Sauger population is declining in the upper pools. Question 22 seeks to lower the white bass limit from 25 fish daily to 10 daily in pools three through 9. This change is being suggested because research has shown that white bass live much longer than previously thought so lower limits are needed to protect the white bass population. Question 23 proposes lowering the sunfish, crappie, and yellow perch bag limit in pools 3 through 9 from 25 to 15 fish per day. Pan fish are subject to strong fishing and harvest pressure, so the lower bag limits are designed to protect the currently healthy population of panfish in the Mississippi. Question 24 looks to lower the daily bag limit for Shovelnose Sturgeon from 10 to 3. Again, this lower bag limit is designed to protect the shovelnose sturgeon population. Not a lot of information is known about the shovelnose sturgeon other than it is a long-lived fish. It seems prudent to the fish managers to lower the limits to avoid harming the fish. If approved, Question 25 would lower the daily bag limit on Northern Pike from 5 to 3 and only one of the three fish can be over 30 inches. This change is designed to protect the population and to help create a trophy fishery for Northern Pike. Question 10 and 11 are a statewide fishery’s question for bass. Question 10 would allow the DNR to exempt permitted fishing tournaments from special local regulations and instead use the common state wide total of 5 fish per day with a 14-inch size limit. Question 11 proposes a year-round bass season but would only allow harvest of fish during the traditional bass season.
Several Questions pertain to hunting and trapping. Question 4 asks if the closing time for hunting pheasants on public land, like Dunnville Bottoms, should be changed from 2:00 PM to 12:00 to reduce hunting pressure on stocked birds.
The first Conservation Congress question is number 50 and it proposes an increase in the setback along water ways to 30 feet to help stop suspended solids and nonpoint pollution of our waters that cause algal blooms.
Question 52 proposed a new pilot program to help curb the spread of CWD. The Payment for Positives Program’s (P4P) goal is to use hunting to target herds most likely to have CWD by paying landowners and hunters cash for turning in CWD positive deer. Payments are suggested to range from $750 per deer to $1250 per deer. Sponsors of the program are suggesting that the legislature use approximately one percent of deer hunting license fees to fund this program. The pilot programs are designed to see if the program would remove more CWD positive deer from the herd and increase the testing and reporting of CWD infected deer.
Question 56 seeks to restore the tagging requirement for harvested deer. Question 56 proposes a statewide ban on feeding and baiting of deer. Question 70 seeks to restore funding for public lands.
Questions 78 and 79 seek to enhance hunter safety. Question 78 propose restoring the age limit for youth hunting back to 10 years old after the age limit was eliminated last year by the legislature. Question 79 would restore the requirement that on a mentored hunt only one gun may be carried between the mentor and mentee.
Questions 82 and 83 call for an increase in the Inland Trout Stamp fee (82) and an increase in the Great Lake Trout and Salmon Stamp (83). The new revenue would help pay for trout stream restoration and improvements, and funding for staff, maintenance and upgrades to fish hatchery’s that stock the Great Lakes.
Questions 85 and 86 support a ban on lead fishing gear (85) and ammunition (86). Lead is the primary material used in ammo and fishing tackle. Lead in tackle and ammo has also been shown to be a source of often fatal lead poisoning for 130 species of critters. There are non-toxic fishing tackle and ammo alternatives available.
Finally, one of the first orders of business at the Spring Hearings in electing delegates to the Conservation Congress. Every county has a team of five delegates that represents the county. The Conservation Congress is the only statutory body in the state where citizens elect delegates to advise the Natural Resources Board and the Department of Natural Resources on how to responsibly manage Wisconsin’s natural resources for present and future generations. The Conservation Congress is citizen democracy in action. It won’t function without your participation.

LCIP Ups Its Game

LCIP Executive Director Chris Gaetzke describing several invasive species on the 2018 Invasive Species Tour in Dunn County

In the on-going efforts to contain and maybe eliminate some invasive species, the Lower Chippewa Invasives Partnership (LCIP) has opened its own independent office and hired an executive director, Chris Gaetzke. LCIP, which has been a 501c3 organizations for a number of years, received a startup grant from a family foundation to take this step. LCIP serves a five-county area-Dunn, Chippewa, Eau Claire, Pepin and Pierce. LCIP has been most active in Dunn, Pepin and Pierce Counties. With the hiring of an executive director, LCIP will be working to increase its efforts in Chippewa and Eau Claire Counties. LCIP assisted with the Erickson Park project in Chippewa Falls, WI during the past three years during the Leinenkugel’s Great Work Month events in September. LCIP has worked with many volunteers cutting and treating invasive plants to reveal the native species for everyone to enjoy this summer when the park opens up.
Mr. Gaetzke states that the move to a full-time director will allow LCIP to provide more services in the effort to control invasive species. LCIP provides assistance to both private landowners and local units of government. One service is the LCIP Invasives trailer. The trailer can be used by any group in the LCIP’s five county area and is fully equipped with tools including gloves, chain saws, sprayers, loppers, safety glasses, and more that are necessary to eradicate invasives in an area. LCIP also has a program to provide chemicals, training and sprayers to landowners for treatment of small areas that have invasive species.
Another promising initiative from LCIP is the Pull a Weed, Plant a Seed alternative plants program. This program gives guidelines for native plants that can be planted in an area after the invasive plants are removed. The concept is to keep the invasives from coming back by planting native plants that can out compete the invasives. Different species of plants can be used to foil the return of the invasives, depending on the habitat which Buckthorn, Garlic Mustard, Wild Bush Honeysuckle, Japanese Barberry and Japanese knotweed are removed. In sandy Loam soil American Hornbeam, Red Oak, Speckled Alder, Common Witch Hazel and False Solomon’s Seal are some of plants that can be used to keep the invasives from coming back. In areas with Silty Clay Loam Soil, some plantings can include Burr Oak, Black Cherry, Gray dogwood, and Winterberry Holly.
src=”https://jimswansonmanofthewoods.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/amur-cork-1-e1551805562357.jpg” alt=”amur cork” width=”280″ height=”374″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-198″/> The distinctive yellow underneath the bark is a good way to identify the Amur Cork [/caption]

LCIP also organizes many education programs on invasive species. LCIP will also be making presentations to many area clubs. The annual invasive species tour will occur on June 13th. The tour will be in Dunn County. (I participated in last year’s tour and it was enlightening how many invasive species could be found in a small geographical area). LCIP also works with schools to educate students about invasives and to organize invasive removal projects. Some of the schools that LCIP works with include Menomonie Middle and High Schools, Colfax and UW-Stout. Students from the Durand School District removed 1,520 pounds of garlic mustard from the Birch Creek Wildlife area last year.
One important service LCIP provides to landowners who realize that they have invasives on their property is the development of a management plan. (Chris can you describe the process here?)
LCIP also partners with The Wisconsin First Detector Network (WIFDN) which is a citizen science network that empowers people to take action against invasive species through invasive species monitoring, management, and outreach. WIFDN provides training and resources through a combination of webinars, instructional videos, and hands-on workshops, in addition to providing volunteer opportunities to citizen scientists. Wisconsin First Detector Network provides access to online training resources brought on invasive species experts from across the state. Training topics include terrestrial and aquatic invasive species biology, identification, and reporting. WIFDN emphasizes species of concern to Wisconsin (e.g. emerald ash borer, late blight, giant hogweed), but also discusses general resources for other species.
The LCIP office has lots of information on invasive species as well as very knowledgeable staff.

Invasives are a problem that affect everyone, and it will take everyone to fix the problem. So LCIP is primarily a volunteer-based organization. Mr. Gaetzke is the executive director, but he can’t do all the work alone. LCIP has a strong group of volunteers and do much of the on the ground work necessary to fight invasives. You too could be a volunteer. Mr. Gaetzke wants anyone with concerns about invasive species to come check out the new office at Bayview Office Park, next to the Menomonie Public Library at 700 Wolske Bay Road, Suite 275. Chris Gaetzke is usually there from 7:30 AM to 4 PM Monday-Friday.