Train to Become a Wisconsin Master Naturalist in Door County this Winter

Yes, you read that correctly – in Door County, this winter.

While Door County is a go-to destination for so many of us in Wisconsin, I think very few give it a thought in the winter months. But if you’re anywhere near Ellison Bay, and have a passion for the natural world, and the time to pursue a certification that recognizes your skills and knowledge, here is a special opportunity.

The new Wisconsin Master Naturalist program will be offering its training course at The Clearing this January and February. The Peninsula Pulse has the sign up info and more about the schedule, which includes 40 hours of instruction in the classroom, with field trips, and a service learning component.

At Long Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest - Northern Unit.

At Long Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit.

That may sound like a heavy committment, and the cost of the course, $250, is significant too. But also significant is the knowledge of geology, ecology, plant life, aquatic life, wildlife, and 3 more topic areas, that you will be acquiring. So is the fact that when you successfully complete the course, you will be joining an elite new corps of informed volunteers dedicated to education and service within our Wisconsin communities and wild places.

Environmental Education Specialist Kate Reilly, the director of this new program, said that since launching in the spring of this year, two training courses, one at Saukville and one in Milwaukee have been completed, and two pilot training sessions (in Madison and Ashland) were completed in 2012. As a result there are currently 72 certified Wisconsin Master Naturalists and 16 trained instructors in the state.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay.

Reilly added she is hopeful that 25 more (the maximum class size) will be trained at The Clearing. The Wisconsin Master Naturalist program is similar to Wisconsin’s well-known Master Gardner program, and also modeled on Master Naturalist programs in 25 other states.

Will the Whooping Crane Partners Opt for Black Fly Suppression?

By 2005, four individual birds in Wisconsin’s growing flock of whooping cranes had formed pairs and made a first attempt at nesting. No one was surprised when the two nests that resulted were unsuccessful – these were still young and inexperienced birds. When one of the pairs succeeded in 2006 in welcoming the first wild whooping crane hatched in Wisconsin in more than a century, the wildlife community was jubilant. And optimistic that more such successes would naturally be following in succeeding years.

Parent and chick: Wisconsin is yearning for more of these - in the wild. (Photo courtesy of ICF)

Parent and chick: Wisconsin is yearning for more of these – in the wild. (Photo courtesy of ICF)

But three very long years would pass before even a single wild chick would once again hatch in Wisconsin, and four years before another one hatched and survived. Instead of chicks hatching, what was happening during this time were mounting numbers of “nest abandonment.” Over time it was observed that many pairs, after forming and building a nest together, were suddenly leaving that nest and not returning.

WCEP Studies Nest Abandonments

By 2009 this problem was being actively studied and various hypotheses were put forward by officials of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership – the actual folks responsible for bringing the whooping crane back to eastern North America, and Wisconsin, in particular. These included theories that maybe the cranes were too inexperienced in the wild, or were undernourished, or too stressed by predators, or harassed by biting black flies, or something else.

I don’t think it took long for the biologists involved in closely monitoring the nesting whooping cranes to notice large numbers of black flies on some of the incubating cranes. But it has taken a while for this, and the various other hypotheses to be tested – science, after all, takes its time, and the scientists, understandably, want to get it right.

Are More Bti Treatments the Answer?

However, the citizen scientists and fans of progress for the whooping cranes in Wisconsin – myself among them – who were tuned into the Wisconsin DNR’s Ask The Experts online chat last week, seemed to be expressing a lot of eagerness for a continuation of Bti treatments to reduce the Black fly population. Bti is Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, a naturally occurring soil bacterium – considered a good alternative to chemicals used to suppress insects. It was applied in certain areas of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in 2011 and 2012, to see if fewer black flies would result in fewer nest abandonments by whooping cranes.

It seems like it did, in fact, help. Here is a page all about it at the WCEP website. I once saw a picture of a nesting whooping crane covered with nasty looking black flies, and hoped to find and link to it for this post; while my quest for it was unsuccessful, I urge you to look closely at the eggs in the photo on the WCEP page – they are covered with the flies, and seem to tell the story!

At the Ask the Experts event, Davin Lopez, the DNR whooping crane coordinator could only say that the matter is still being studied. But he seemed to promise that a decision will be forthcoming in winter, 2014. The decision will be made by the WCEP partners, but for now Davin offered the opportunity to contact him directly, , for those with more question or comments.