Quick Links to Conservation News

The following are links to half a dozen conservation stories that have happened recently, or are happening now around Wisconsin. These include stories of things some “citizen conservationists” are doing for causes like land conservation, and water pollution monitoring. There are also links to:

  • a Snowy Owl update, 
  • Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters updates on legislation affecting ground water and the state’s sand mining industry,
  • Followup to a train derailment and ethanol spill

Citizen Conservationists:  Private Land Owner’s Donation to a “Conservation Corridor”

For over a decade the Jim Pines family of Chicago has been a private partner in a large effort to conserve land for wildlife habitat on the Wisconsin River, not far from Portage, WI. Others in the partnership with the Pines family include other private landowners, and non-profits – the Aldo Leopold Foundation, as well as the Sand County Foundation – and government agencies – the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and US Fish & Wildlife Service. Together they manage an area of nearly 12,000 acres known as the Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area.

A view of the Wisconsin River from Ferry Bluff Hill, a few miles down river from the Pines Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area. (Photo at Wikimedia)

A view of the Wisconsin River from Ferry Bluff Hill, a few miles down river from the Pines Leopold Reserve-Pine Island Important Bird Area. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Recently Jim and his wife Maggie purchased 1000 acres to add to the effort, calling it part of  “a beautiful conservation corridor,” as well as an extension of the legacy of Jim’s late father, Phil Pines. The family first purchased property in the area in 1979, and Phil Pines donated over 2000 acres to the Important Bird Area program in 2005.

Citizen Scientists: Monitoring Water Pollution in Kewaunee County

This next link, to a story in Door County’s Peninsula Pulse provides the details of a completely citizen-driven, hands-on project to monitor water pollution in adjacent Kewaunee County. Each month for the past three years, members of the group, Kewaunee Cares, have monitored water quality at 3 different rivers: the Kewaunee, the Ahnapee, and the East Twin Rivers.

Those who volunteer at their own expense, collect six samples from the 3 rivers. They date the samples, document what they’ve found with notes and photos and deliver the samples to a laboratory in Luxemburg, WI. In several weeks the group receives a report on just what’s in the water – nasty things like E. coli and nitrates.

"Welcome to Kewaunee County," in Wisconsin. (Photo at Wikimedia)

“Welcome to Kewaunee County,” in Wisconsin. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Kewaunee Cares samples specifically for these pollutants because they are the ones that are showing up in Kewaunee residents’ wells. And because – in the words of Lynn Utech, one of the founders of the group, no one else is collecting this information that could help identify Kewaunee County’s water problems.

Although this particular article does not reference the problems in the county from large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, I know from other articles that they are considered the source of much of the problem. Here is a summary of Kewaunee County’s CAFOs, By the Numbers, provided by The Pulse.

Another Season of Snowy Owl Visitors from the Arctic?

If you’ve been following snowy owl news at all, you know that the arctic-breeding Snowy Owls are generally a rare sight in Wisconsin; and that their arrival in large numbers all over the midwest and eastern United States in the winter of 2013-14 was a very rare thing called “an irruption;” and that a follow-up irruption last winter was surprising to the scientists that are studying this charismatic bird species.

Snowy Owl researchers, who are poised now to learn more about this arctic visitor (due to its increased availability), seem sure of one thing only: the complete unpredictability of these beautiful snowy birds.

Snowy Owl in flight over Hamden Slough NWR, in Minnesota in 2014. (Photo by Lee Kensinger, for USFWS Headquarters)

Snowy Owl in flight over Hamden Slough NWR, in Minnesota in 2014. (Photo by Lee Kensinger, for USFWS Headquarters)

The early arrival this year of 72 individual snowy owls in Wisconsin by November 9th, was completely beyond prediction; it was far more birds, and a far earlier arrival date than any known before here, in Wisconsin. And now, Ryan Brady, wildlife biologist for Wisconsin’s DNR, has tempered the excitement about that dramatic news with this update on Facebook: reports of snowy owl sightings since early November have dropped off drastically; and the news that many of the new arrivals had seemed to be in poor physical condition, and may have not survived.

It still is early, though, to speculate what this means for the possibility of more winter visitors, Brady cautioned on Facebook. Anything might yet happen. In addition to following snowy owl developments at the DNR’s website (recommended), you will find additional information at the website, Project SNOWstorm (also recommended!).

Conservation Voters: Keeping an Eye on Ground Water Issues

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters maintains that “staggering increases in the number of high-capacity wells” permitted in Wisconsin, threaten the state’s supply of ground water. This newspaper column describes the problem as being “at crisis levels in central Wisconsin.”

Last year, according to WCLV it’s members “took nearly 17,000 actions” – writing letters, making calls, and meetings with legislators – to defeat a bill that would have made our groundwater problems worse. “We are asking you to do that again,” says WCLV.

At their website, WCLV describes two bills being considered now:  Senate Bill 239, which they oppose, and Senate Bill 291 which needs amending to strengthen it.

Conservation Voters Support a Law to Monitor Sand Mining Sites

On their Facebook page the WLCV just announced support for a new bill to require air monitors at all frac sand mining sites. The monitors would measure dust leaving the site.

“This relatively new industry has very little oversight in Wisconsin,” asserts WCLV, adding that the few state laws that would apply to the frac sand mining industry are rarely enforced. Just five years ago Wisconsin had only a handful of frac sand facilities; that number has mushroomed to over 100 today.

A Wisconsin Train Derailment and Ethanol Spill

In early November a train derailment near the small town of Alma, WI, brought home the need for enhanced rail safety, as rail cars carry more and more hazardous cargo. This event also resulted in a spill of 18,500 gallons of ethanol into backwaters of the Mississippi River. At risk of fish kills from this, is a 300 acre backwater area within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

Looking west over the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. (Photo at Wikimedia)

Looking west over the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. (Photo at Wikimedia)

There is a silver lining to an ethanol spill that differs greatly from an oil or gas spill, in that ethanol is known as highly soluble in water and will break down quickly. It will not persist in the environment. This article in the LaCrosse Tribune does a thorough job of explaining all these issues, and other potential environmental effects, as well.

Monday Morning Blogging: Late Fall, Peninsula State Park

Is fall your favorite time of the year? I ask that question because that phrase is one I’ve heard so often this year, and it’s not one I usually agree with. I think of myself as a summer person. I love summer and everything about it; and always hate to see summer’s end approach. Because of that, probably, the season that replaces summer often can make me glum.

Looking north across Eagle Harbor from the Eagle Terrace of Peninsula State Park.

Looking north:  Eagle Harbor from the Eagle Terrace of Peninsula State Park.

But yesterday in Peninsula State Park, against all odds, and to my immense surprise, I found myself delighted by the charms of the glorious late fall day – and just really loving the season.


The woods were warmed by the sun.

It really is late fall now, and the glories of the season – the scarlet and gold and crimson and bittersweet leaf-topped trees – those are all gone. Even so, tracing the perimeter of Peninsula Park, along Shore Road, starting near the Ephraim entrance, I stopped often for short walks and photos. High above Lake Michigan, walking the Eagle Terrace, and looking across Eagle Harbor to the village of Ephraim, and then, at the top of the park, looking across to Horseshoe Island from the Eagle Panorama, the color of the lake was as intense as you’ll find it – many different shades of blue, from turquoise to indigo.

Looking at Horseshoe Island from the Eagle Panorama.

Looking at Horseshoe Island from the Eagle Panorama.

Eventually, after Shore Road curves back toward Fish Creek (the other park entrance), the route brings you much closer to lake level. At stops near Nelson Point and then Weborg Point, the lake seemed to have come alive with waves and swells, as it was pushed to shore by a strong breeze from the west.


At Weborg Point.

Before that though, I took a diversion into the woods along Bluff Road, stopping at the White Cedars Nature Center for a look at the Monarch Waystation (which had been a flower bonanza when I photographed and wrote about it in August).

The woods come to a point at the intersection of Shore Road and Bluff Road.

The woods are empty now, but not unwelcoming.

The monarch garden at rest; at the park's White Cedar Nature Center.

The monarch garden at rest; at the park’s White Cedar Nature Center.

The woods, empty now of both birds and leaves, were warmed by the sun and still lovely to be in. The whole park seemed not empty, nor forlorn (as I might have expected). Instead, it exuded a spirit of something else – a contentment, maybe, or a satisfaction with all that has been, in the season now passed, and all that will come again. This really was a gorgeous day – as beautiful in its way as any day in the entire year. Bravo, Fall.


The indigo waters of Lake Michigan, dancing with the wind.

Ask-the-Experts: Predators, Nesting Prospects, & Newsmakers

(This post continues a report on the long & interesting Ask the Experts event hosted last week  by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. See that post – the one immediately prior to this – for the rest of the report. You can link to the chat itself, here; select the link, “Whooping Cranes” on the right side of the page.)

There was a lot of talk about predators . . .

Predation – an early cause of death for whooping cranes in Wisconsin by predators such as coyote, bobcats, foxes, eagles – was on the minds of many of the participants in the Ask-the-Experts live online chat last week.

How will the chicks hatched in the wild ever succeed “with predation always lurking?” someone asked. Another, made a case for trapping predators, “utilizing professional trappers.”

“I know many share your concerns.”

It would just be common sense, given the amount of money invested in the wildlife “rehab” efforts, said a commenter identified as Sandhill Fan: “Whether it’s elk in northern and central Wisconsin or whooping cranes in the south . . . (there) could be such a greater return if only the state and federal powers could do what most citizens believe needs to be done – reduce the number of predators in the area.”

Trapping has been “considered, but not implemented,” said Davin Lopez, of the Wisconsin DNR, responding to this idea. He explained this is not generally seen as “consistent with the mission” of national wildlife refuges. He did say, however, that he appreciated hearing about this, adding, “I know many share your concerns.”

“What kind of predation studies are being suggested?”

Another question focused on predation studies, and the International Crane Foundation’s Anne Lacy said the issue does need more study, adding there is a plan being developed. “We really need to start with basic information, ” she said. “What predators are at the nest?” Next year, she said, tiny radio transmitters will be attached to the chicks when they are very small, “to track them and find out what may be taking them.”

 Can we keep whooping cranes like this safe from predators? Photo by Richard Urbanek, USFWS; Photo is in the Public Domain.

Can we keep whooping cranes like this, and their chicks, safe from predators? (Photo by Richard Urbanek, USFWS; Photo is in the Public Domain )

The plans for this are “very preliminary,” I learned, but the study that is being developed will mirror others done on Mississippi Sandhills.

“Do You Have Any Updates on Whoopsie?”

The topic of whoophills – cranes that result from a pairing of a whooping crane with a sandhill – is still current. There were a number of sightings of a whoophill, and questions about it, discussed by birders early this past summer at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. It was a complete family that people were seeing and photographing:  a sandhill mother, whooper dad, and their chick.

The family was soon in the news, and soon acknowledged by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership – the chick, given the name, “Whoopsie,” and the very attentive dad identified as WCEP’s #11-16. Not long after that, WCEP announced it would capture Whoopsie, and provide him a life in captivity, since they believe a whoophill, left to potentially breed with whooping cranes in Wisconsin, would complicate the goal of establishing the whooping crane population.

So where is Whoopsie now, and how is he doing, people wanted to know? They learned he’s begun his new life at the International Crane Foundation, and has been undergoing a period of quarantine. Following that he is being moved to a new crane house next to a neighbor picked just for him: “a female sandhill crane who was raised by whooping cranes who lost her mate earlier this year.”

“Are you concerned about the possibility of more whoophills?”

Naturally, learning about Whoopsie’s fate led to more questions about whoophills – in particular, is WCEP concerned about the possibility of more whoophills being produced? Anne Lacy said they believe the pairing that led to Whoopsie occurred this summer because of “the sparse number of whooping crane females out there . . .” Next year, she pointed out, there will be a number of new female cranes in that area.

(There were five females in the ultralight class of 2014, and there are five more this year, as well as six females among the birds for direct autumn release this year. These whooper gals will only be one and two years old – too young for successful nesting, but not too young to attract the attention of the unpaired males, it is expected; not too young to form pair bonds.)

” . . . any nesting activity near White River or Horicon?”

Horicon, where Whoopsie was hatched, and the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area are the new areas in Wisconsin for release of captive-bred whooping cranes. Every bird hatched since 2011 for the ultralight and direct autumn release programs, has been released into these areas instead of at Necedah, as had been routine from 2001 through 2010.

The expectation, of course, is that as they mature, these cranes will nest and breed in the new area. It should be more hospitable to nesting cranes, because of a low incidence of the black fly population that often erupts around Necedah, during nesting season.

So, what are the prospects for this? Kay Ritenour, from the crane foundation explained that although there was one nest made by two young birds last year in Marquette County, that’s all so far. “The birds that spent most of the summer in White River this year were all 3 years old or less, so they are a bit young for nesting. Hopefully next year,” she said.

Most of the whoopers hatched in 2011 (the first year of the crane release areas) are now paired, but these are birds that, contrary to expectations, are nesting at Necedah, not in the new areas. The explanation given for that is that these are birds that, during their first winter on migration, were commingled with the Necedah cranes at the Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

“What about that juvenile that was captured in Iowa?”

And last, but certainly not least, there was lots of curiosity about a single young crane now known as “Kevin.” And there’s little doubt that curiosity will grow from what we learned about him at Ask the Experts.

Kevin was hatched earlier this year at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and “raised by real cranes straight out of the egg” explained Anne Lacy. Then, after fledging, he was brought to Wisconsin, along with two other young cranes, and released near adult pairs who, it is hoped, may adopt and migrate with the young one. (I’ve written about this experimental release program, here, in a post explaining the parent-reared program.)

But before Kevin could form any bonds with an adult pair, he flew away from Necedah, and was soon in Iowa. Dubuque, to be precise, where the bird took up residence behind a strip mall that included restaurants like Red Robbin and Buffalo Wild Wings! Many people have seen the news reports about Kevin’s time in Dubuque, and in particular about the staffers at Buffalo Wild Wings who became fascinated and protective of the bird, (and were the ones to “name” it.)

International Crane Foundation sent a rescue team to capture and return Kevin to Wisconsin. He was released here again, but didn’t stay long, as we learned last week. He flew off again!  Unaccompanied and unexpectedly, said Anne Lacy, who told us his most recent location had been identified as Tallulah, Louisiana.

“He is still fairly far north, separated from the non-migratory flock of whooping cranes.” She added that the refuge staff there (on the gulf coast of Louisiana) is aware, and keeping an eye out for him. She believes, if he shows up, he would be welcomed, and could stay there.

That was a week ago. Where is now? I’m hoping for another Kevin update soon. It would be on the Facebook pages of ICF, or perhaps Operation Migration, in case you are curious now, too.