How Wisconsin Earned Its Reputation as a Champion for Wildlife and Mother Nature

About that reputation: it sometimes seems too obvious, or maybe even trite to keep bringing it up – Wisconsin’s reputation as a leader in the protection of wildlife and natural resources. Sometimes you have to wonder: does it really bear repeating all the time? Or is it just something we, in Wisconsin, tell ourselves because now and then we’ve gained attention beyond our borders for our natural resource policies

I wondered that yesterday when I wrote here about the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and cited Wisconsin’s similar statute that went into effect almost two years before the federal law. I’m happy to say I found an answer to this quandary by spending time at the DNR’s “There’s A Lot to Celebrate!” website, and by following a link I found there to the “History of Endangered Resources Program 1970-2006”.

Spring wildflowers in Door County, Wisconsin (A “Badger & Whooping Crane photo)

That link led to another website – one belonging to the South Central Wisconsin Association of Retired Conservationists. Interesting, I thought, immediately seeing a new source for blogposts, but I’ll leave that for another day! For now, let’s look at why I’ve come to believe that Wisconsin has truly earned its reputation.

It’s not just that Aldo Leopold settled here, wrote here, and held the first professorship in wildlife management – the first in the nation; nor that Wisconsin played a nurturing role in the boyhood of John Muir, although it did.

Continuing on the theme of what it “isn’t” – Wisconsin’s national reputation does not principally derive from so-called “recent” events – like the pretty-much global recognition of Wisconsin’s Senator Gaylord Nelson as the “Father of Earth Day.” Nor does it mostly stem from the state’s bureaucratic decisions, like the creation of the Department of Natural Resources in 1966. The DNR goes back a long way: it was the direct successor of the Wisconsin Conservation Department which had been established in 1927. And the WDC emerged from the state’s Conservation Commission – the first one appointed in 1908.

By consulting the timelines embedded in the “History of Endangered Resources Program”  (referenced above),  I feel that I’ve found the evidence that Wisconsin’s conservation ethic really IS part of the fabric of our state, and has been from the state’s beginnings. From random notes from the pre-20th century timelines I learned that Wisconsin’s first game management laws were passed in 1851, just three years after statehood was granted.

Here are other gems from that time period. For 1857: “Birds, nests, and eggs protected in any cemetery or burial ground.” And from 1867:  “Increase Lapham reported on the destruction of state forests.” A 3-man Fish Commission was appointed in 1874, and in 1877, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to prohibit the killing of birds for “millinery purposes.” The state’s first warden, Rolla Baker, was appointed in 1879.

Once into the 20th century the “Conservation Events Impacting Endangered Resources” become all that more numerous. But one of my very favorites is listed in 1935: “Teaching of conservation made compulsory in public schools.” That’s three and a half decades before the words “earth day” ever crossed anyone’s lips, but conservation lessons were being taught to Wisconsin school children from those early years.

At Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in northern Juneau County in 1941 (A "Badger & Whooping Crane" photo)

At Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in northern Juneau County in 1941 (A “Badger & Whooping Crane” photo)

So yes, I do believe that Wisconsin’s reputation comes from more than making a few headlines now and then. Maybe it’s more like a package of things have come together to create a climate where an Aldo Leopold and a Gaylord Nelson could thrive. What about you – would you agree that Wisconsin has earned its reputation as a champion of wildlife and natural resources? Or do you see it another way? Comments are always welcome!


Celebrating 40 Years of Endangered Species Protection Is ‘Business-as-Usual’ in Wisconsin

Everyone in Wisconsin knows we have a long history here of caring for our natural resources and wildlife management. In fact, when the federal Endangered Species Act reached its 40th anniversary – officially December 28, 2013 – Wisconsin had already celebrated its own 40 years of protecting endangered and threatened species in the state.

Wisconsin became first in the nation to have such a state law, passing the Endangered and Threatened Species law in 1971, and enacting it in ’72 – nearly two years before the federal protections were signed into law. Take a look at this series of Wisconsin DNR webpages, headlined “There’s A Lot to Celebrate”  – dated January 1, 2012.  It’s the DNR”s anniversary tribute to the state’s Endangered and Threatened Species law, and it includes a slide show of bald eagles, osprey, trumpeter swans, whooping cranes and nine more species and programs that have been beneficiaries of the Wisconsin law.

Success story:  bald eagles were removed from Wisconsin's endangered list in 1997, and from the federal list in 2007. (USFWS photo)

Success story: bald eagles were removed from Wisconsin’s endangered list in 1997, and from the federal list in 2007. (USFWS photo)

But Is Congress a Danger to the Endangered Species Act?

When it comes to the federal Endangered Species Act it seems most Americans follow the Wisconsin example; the great majority of Americans show support for such protections.  In 2013 the Center for Biological Diversity commissioned a national poll that showed that 2 out of 3 Americans want the Endangered Species Act either strengthened or left as is – but not weakened. Nonetheless some in Congress are eyeing certain reforms that wildlife experts say would spell danger for the 1973 law and the species it protects.

Congressman Doc Hastings, a Republican from the state of Washington who has been the Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources since 2011, admits that there is “strong and widespread support for helping to protect endangered species.” Yet, Hastings says he has the evidence that shows a need “to bring this 40-year-old law into the 21st century.” He said the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group, which he convened in 2013, has held forums and solicited comments from hundreds, and taken testimony from 70 witnesses.

A report from the group was issued in February and four recommendations have led to four bills which Hastings hopes to introduce and pass in this Congress. They call for more transparency and the posting of online data about endangered species listings, more reliance on data submitted by local governments and private landowners, and a curtailment of citizen lawsuits.

An analysis of the proposed legislation by the Defenders of Wildlife counters that the asked-for online disclosure of data would imperil protection efforts, and that the efforts to curtail lawsuits ignore the benefits that citizen suits do – protecting endangered species by holding federal agencies responsible. Defenders of Wildlife also opposes more reliance on data submitted by local governments and private landowners unless it can meet the standard for “the best scientific and commercial data available” which is already in place.

Two weeks after Hastings’ Congressional Working Group issued their report, the Center for Biological Diversity visited Congress, distributing their book-length report,  “A Wild Success: American Voices on the Endangered Species Act at 40.”  It contains more than 200 letters to the editor and op-ed pieces written by Americans all over the country during 2013. These talked about the importance of the Endangered Species Act to the writers, and they were published in local, regional and national newspapers, in celebration of the law’s anniversary.


Just Hatched! News about the Whooping Crane Chicks of 2014

Hard to believe , but it’s been almost a month since The Badger & the Whooping Crane last posted about the 2014 whooping crane nesting season and the hatching of chicks. Now I’m happy to report that chicks have been hatching all over the place!

A 5-day old whooping crane chick! (Photo by Damien Ossi, courtesy of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

A 5-day old whooping crane chick! (Photo by Damien Ossi, courtesy of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

They are hatching at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center  where some of the incubating eggs become the chicks that will be costume-reared and trained to follow the ultralights to Florida, (see a link below to learn more about these chicks);

and at the International Crane Foundation where some of the chicks will be costume-reared and eventually released at Horicon NWR where they will learn the migration route from adult cranes (see a link below for more information);

and – partially answering the burning question of the 2014 nesting season – chicks have been hatching in the wild.

All but two of the 100 (approximately) adult cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) started life as chicks hatched from incubated eggs produced by the captive populations of whoopers at either ICF or Patuxent. The population has successfully and steadily grown to 100 birds from those sources. But now the task for the EMP is to become self-sustaining – reproducing itself. Only two adult birds in the EMP (W#1 of ’06 and W#3 of ’10) at this time have been hatched in the wild, from within the population.

So how are EMP cranes doing this year at the task of hatching chicks? Pretty well, it seems (though it is too soon to know about the ultimate survival rate of the chicks). The Badger and the Whooping Crane posted on May 14th that the first wild chick of the year had been reported, and updated that news on May 15th with a report of two more chicks.

Then on May 16, the International Crane Foundation posted what seemed amazing news to its Facebook page: “Seven wild chicks!” Here is that Facebook post:



It got even better that same day when Necedah National Wildlife Refuge posted on Facebook the news that refuge biologists had witnessed “not one, but TWO whooping crane chicks at the nest of parents 13-03 and 9-05! W1-14 and W2-14, . . .” These whooping crane parents were the first pair of cranes that had been reported with a chick earlier in the week. Here is that post:



You can follow all the news about the chicks at Patuxent that will be trained to fly with ultralights at the Field Journal of Operation Migration. Training has already begun for the just-days-old tiny whooping cranes, and the OM Field Journal includes regular posts of their progress, their personalities, and often their too-cute-for-words pictures!

Visit the International Crane Foundation’s Egg Score Card page to read updates about the eggs produced from ICF’s captive population, as well as the results of aerial surveys of the wild population. The most recent aerial survey was conducted May 28, and revealed five crane families with one chick each; 3 more families (one chick each) were not observed at all.


BlogTalk: “Friends of the Wild Whoopers”

This may just be a no-brainer, but it has come as a surprise to me. One of the unexpected pleasures of creating a blog is making new friends with other blogs and their bloggers. Sometimes I just want to share their stories, too, so I’m starting a new – “occasional” – feature here at “The Badger & the Whooping Crane” – BlogTalk.

This inaugural “BlogTalk” is all about Friends of the Wild Whoopers, a new blog (as of February 1, 2014) that is focused on the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population (AWBP). This is the only natural surviving flock of whooping cranes; these are the cranes that migrate between the Texas Gulf Coast and far northern Canada.

The Logo for Friends of the Wild Whoopers, designed by Pam Bates

The Logo for Friends of the Wild Whoopers, designed by Pam Bates

This post is about the blog’s two co-founders and their hopes and plans for it. This is also about my story of discovering their blog, and who they are. It begins one Sunday night in April when The Badger and the Whooping Crane received a nice compliment in the form of a comment. Included was a link to follow in case I wanted “some good history of the Louisiana whooper flock. . .” So I clicked, and was both surprised and delighted that Friends of the Wild Whoopers was where I landed.

But I was puzzled at first by a few little details – such as “who is writing this blog?” Though I couldn’t find a name associated with it, the commenter who had left the link to it had also left his name: Chester McConnell. This rang a bell.  Hadn’t I seen that name somewhere; maybe  on articles at the website of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association? A quick check there revealed that yes, I had. But the mystery remained: was Chester McConnell the human behind Friends of the Wild Whoopers?  I couldn’t tell.

This little puzzle was unexpectedly solved a few days later when a Google Alert for “whooping cranes” brought me to this article in the Victoria Advocate.  Sara Sneath, the environemntal reporter at this Texas newspaper, who writes occasionally about the whooping cranes that winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, had featured Friends of the Wild Whoopers in a news story.

Whooping cranes at or near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Photo courtesy, "Friends of the Wild Whoopers")

Whooping cranes at or near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Photo courtesy, “Friends of the Wild Whoopers”)

From Sara’s story I learned that “Chester McConnell first read about whooping cranes when he was in 5th grade.”  This was in the 1950s, she wrote, and an issue of The Weekly Reader magazine informed the young Chester, that there were only a very small number of whooping cranes left in the world and they were fighting for their very existence. It was a moment that set the boy on a lifetime course of actions to benefit the whooping crane species.

Now Chester McConnell was more than just a name I remembered from somewhere on the internet.  I learned that he’d had a career as a wildlife biologist, that, as he told Sara, he had “always made it my business to look up the whooping cranes when I had a chance,” and that he is, indeed, one of the partners behind Friends of the Wild Whoopers. I felt a lot of satisfaction in discovering this, and was grateful too, that someone so close to the whooping crane cause, had stopped to comment at this blog.

But that’s not quite the end of my “discovery” story. Less than a week later I found an email from the blog’s second partner, Pam Bates, introducing herself, and, noticing the similarity in our blog themes, she wondered if I could help with a technical question. I recognized Pam’s name right away, from the newspaper article, and was delighted to meet her in my email!

I knew from the Victoria Advocate story that Pam lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York where her interest in birds began with loons. Although she has never seen a whooper, her interest in them grew strong after reading about them in a news article in 2010. She joined the Whooping Crane Conservation Association soon after.  I asked her when she really knew she was “hooked” on the whooping cranes’ cause.  “Almost immediately,” she told me. “I always side with the underdog and if I can, try and make a difference, even if it is only awareness . . . because like so many, I didn’t know about that population.”

A family of whooping cranes belonging to the Aransas/Wild Buffalo population (photo by Chuck Hardin, courtesy of "Friends of the WIld Whoopers")

A family of whooping cranes belonging to the Aransas/Wild Buffalo population (photo by Chuck Hardin, courtesy of “Friends of the WIld Whoopers”)

Pam was talking about the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Population (AWBP) of whoopers; although they are the historic and wild, single surviving flock of whooping cranes, she feels (probably correctly) that the Eastern Migratory Population (the EMP  – those are “our” Wisconsin-based cranes) are the ones more often in news reports; probably because of the novelty of their origin – from captive population eggs – and their need to learn to migrate through a surrogate-parent program.

“The AWBP really doesn’t have any big groups out there in the public eye advocating and helping them,” she continued. “Knowing that, I knew that I had to do something  and was thankful to get to know Chester, who feels as I do.  Hence, Friends of theWild Whoopers was born.”

Pam explained that she and Chester have big plans for their new venture, hoping to expand beyond blogging. The goal, she said, is to “become a nonprofit, concentrating on establishing habitat and easements along the central flyway” as the whooping crane population grows.

Chester elaborated on the need for this: “There are now an estimated 300 birds in the population . . . So there has been a slow but sure increase. . . Over time the larger population is using more space at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and along the migration corridor.”

He explained in more depth the territorial nature of whooping cranes and their need for space.  Each pair can claim an average of 400 acres as their own, and they defend it from other whoopers to ensure they have ample food. Along the 2,500 mile migration corridor used by the AWB population – where the cranes stop to rest and feed everyday – towns, highways, and intensive farming fields are being developed and wetlands are being drained.

“While there are a number of wildlife refuges, privately owned wetlands, and open farm fields for the whoopers to stop on, there is a rapidly growing need for more secure areas that will be protected as whooping crane rest and feeding areas,” Chester continued “FOTWW wants to be prepared to help in the acquisition of these rest and feeding areas. We hope to have fund raisers in the near future to have dollars ready to assist . . .

“As Pam explained, we are relatively new but have big dreams,” he concluded.

To focus on this and accomplish as much as possible for these big dreams, Chester, has resigned from WCCA, a group he has served for decades – as president, as Trustee, as newletter editor.  He also built and has managed the group’s website for 14 years. But he feels so strongly the need to focus on the single Aransas Wood Buffalo Population, calling it ” the crown jewel of all whooping crane programs.  Were it not for this population, none of the others would exist.  It is composed of only wild birds and, importantly, has the gene pool necessary to maintain itself.”

As the focus at The Badger & the Whooping Crane is the reintroduction of a second flock of whooping cranes – one that nests and breeds in Wisconsin, I believe I’ve only mentioned the Aransas Wood Buffalo population one time – in a post in March: “Where the Birds Are.” But from time to time it certainly is desireable to talk about the bigger picture of the Whooping Crane species. Now, at times like that I’ll be looking and linking to -& will be grateful for – “Friends of the  Wild Whoopers” as the source of information about the many, many things concerning the AWBP.