Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Natural Resources highlights of 2008

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Here were some of the key natural resources highlights for Wisconsin in 2008.]

Mercury rules become law

In June, the state Natural Resources Board approved a mercury reduction rule that will accomplish Gov. Jim Doyle’s goal to reduce the amount of mercury released to the environment by 90 percent.

The rule targets mercury emissions from utilities. Mercury is a toxic byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. Mercury is released from smokestacks and falls into surface waters where it enters the food chain and concentrates in fish and other wildlife.

“This rule is a major step forward in improving Wisconsin’s air quality,” said DNR Secretary Matt Frank. “It will dramatically reduce mercury deposition into Wisconsin’s lakes, benefiting our fish and wildlife and human health.”

Frank added that the rule will also significantly reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, lowering ozone and particulate matter levels leading to major improvements in air quality beyond those already achieved.

Global Warming task force report

In July, the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming finalized its report on addressing global warming in Wisconsin (exit DNR). The 29-member Task Force, comprised of environmental, agricultural, industry, citizen, tribal and utility leaders will now forward the report on to Governor Doyle for consideration.

The task force agreed on a group of interim targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2005 levels by 2014 and 1990 levels by 2022. The long-term targets include a goal to reach 75 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2050.

The Report makes over 50 viable and actionable policy recommendations in the utility, transportation, agriculture, forestry and industry sectors, as well as a number of recommendations in other areas, including support for a proposed federal or regional greenhouse gas cap and trade program. In accordance with Governor Doyle’s Executive Order 191, which created the Task Force, many of the Task Force’s recommendations identify ways to grow the state’s economy and create new jobs arising from the opportunities created by addressing climate change. Careful attention also has been paid to mitigating the potential costs of the recommended policies on consumers and Wisconsin’s industrial base.

“By working together the Task Force has developed an aggressive multi-sector strategy to address global warming that will put Wisconsin on track to being a leader in meeting one of the most significant challenges of our time,” said Roy Thilly, Global Warming Task Force Co-Chair.

“The stringent emission reduction targets combined with substantial new investments in energy conservation and efficiency and increased reliance on home grown renewable power will establish Wisconsin as a national leader on climate change while helping the state achieve greater energy independence in the years to come,” said Tia Nelson, Global Warming Task Force Co-Chair.

Passage of the Great Lakes Compact

In May, Governor Doyle signed Special Session Senate Bill 1 ratifying the Great Lakes Compact (exit DNR), which was endorsed by Doyle and seven fellow Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers in 2005. The Compact creates unprecedented protections for the Great Lakes and ensures their continued availability for regional economic growth. It bans long-distance diversions and provides a framework for ensuring sustainable water use in the Great Lakes basin.

President Bush signed the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact into law (exit DNR) in October. The Compact not only protects one of the world’s largest freshwater sources from long-range diversions, but it also gives the Great Lakes states the legal framework for the sustainable management of this unique resource.

Doyle said the Compact protects Wisconsin’s communities by maintaining each governor’s veto power, while establishing defined criteria against which project decisions or vetoes must be based. The Great Lakes Compact not only keeps this important provision in place, but does so in a way that sets standards for sustainable management of our waters. It also sets up a reliable system for communities near the basin to receive Great Lakes water. These communities will have clear standards that will allow water use, but prevent the depletion of the Great Lakes.

“One of our greatest competitive advantages in the global economy is our water,” Doyle said. “Our Great Lakes grow industries and draw businesses to this region. They are essential to transportation and shipping, they drive recreation and tourism, and they sustain cities.”

Rainbow springs and other big recreational acquisitions

In October, the state dedicated a major expansion of the Kettle Moraine State Forest (exit DNR), after acquiring a 970-acre Mukwonago River parcel that contains critical water resources and important natural habitats.

The newly-dedicated Mukwonago River Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest was made possible through a state Stewardship Fund purchase of the 970-acre tract previously known as Rainbow Springs. Rainbow Springs was partially developed as a golf course and resort facility over forty years ago, and most of its facilities lie in the Mukwonago River watershed and flood plain. The restoration of the Mukwonago River area will protect natural headsprings that support the water quality and diverse animal species in the area.

In addition, the restoration of the Mukwonago River area will protect species in the lakes and tributaries, along with the grassland and wetlands. The diverse, critical species include 16 mussel species, a dense duck population, 59 species of fish and critical trout habitats, as well as wetland and grassland species such as Canada Geese, mallards and sandhill cranes. It will also provide a crucial habitat for the Blandings turtle, and increase habitat available for migratory birds residing in the Vernon Marsh State Wildlife Area and the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine.

Help with flooding

Throughout June and into the summer, Department of Natural Resources staff provided thousands of hours of assistance to communities and residents who were affected by major flooding throughout southern Wisconsin. The department created a “Coping with Floods” web page that directed people to assistance with making sure wells were safe after the floods, cleanup and disposal of flood-damaged materials, and helped coordinated efforts to cleanup miles of debris along the lower Wisconsin Riverway from the catastrophic failure of Lake Delton that destroyed and washed several homes downriver.

The department also had to make major repairs to some DNR properties, including a washed out access road and other damage at Wildcat Mountain State Park, damage to 8 miles of the 400 State Trail, including the destruction of eight bridges, and significant damage to Devil’s Lake State Park and Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area. Repairs were made to all properties except Parfrey’s Glen, where the floodwaters took out the boardwalk and created a new creek channel. The department is evaluating how best to make repairs in this environmentally sensitive and unique natural area.

Wild Rose Hatchery opens

In August, the state celebrated the grand opening of the $15.9 million renovation of Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery. The project updated a century-old facility that’s long been a pillar of Wisconsin’s stocking program, enabling it to meet modern environmental standards and to raise even more fish.

Renovating Wild Rose, which the state bought in 1908, was identified in a 2003 stocking study as the state’s highest priority for addressing the growing demand for fishing opportunities. Its production capacity was decreasing as a result of its aging facilities and water supply problems and the hatchery was under an order to fix the groundwater supply system.

Construction work on the coldwater facilities started in 2006. Work started earlier this year to build new coolwater facilities for musky, walleye, lake sturgeon and northern pike and is expected to be completed in 2010. That expansion will allow Wild Rose to double its production of these species. A third phase will restore the wetland, springs and stream disturbed when the hatchery was originally built in the early 1900s by a private fish farmer.

Lake Michigan depends on stocking and 100 percent of the 2 million trout and salmon produced here are stocked in Lake Michigan. The completion this year of the coldwater facilities allows DNR to continue producing Chinook, coho and brown trout. In the future, it will allow Wild Rose to start raising rainbow trout, eventually increasing by 15 percent the total amount of trout and salmon produced for Lake Michigan.

Ivasive species control

Throughout the year, the department undertook significant efforts to address the threat that exotic and invasive species pose to Wisconsin natural diversity.

AIS grants

Forty-one towns, counties and local lake management districts are among those who will share the funds to fight the spread of aquatic invasive species in state waters.

Since its inception in fiscal year 2004, the aquatic invasive species grant program has invested about $9 million in grants to reimburse local projects up to 75 percent of expenses. Half of the total awarded in the last five years has gone for work in northern Wisconsin, and nearly 50 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have received AIS grants. The program is funded with the state’s motorboat gas tax.

Water guards
The deputy warden force, part of Governor Doyle’s 2007-09 budget, was created to focus solely on educating and enforcing rules to prevent boaters and anglers from accidentally spreading invasive species and diseases.
They complement the hundreds of paid and volunteer watercraft inspectors at landings across the state, educating boaters and anglers about the rules and demonstrating how to clean boats and equipment. But unlike the inspectors, the deputy wardens will have the authority to issue warnings and citations, and they, along with the DNR’s 133 field wardens, will be actively doing so this summer.

Rules to prevent these invaders’ spread call on boaters and anglers to remove all plants and animals from their boat and trailers and drain all water from boats and fishing equipment. These steps have been expanded in the last year to contain VHS by limiting the movement of live fish away from a lake or river.

Emerald ash borer response

The DNR and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection approved a new response plan to address the discover in August of emerald ash borers

The updated Wisconsin EAB Response Plan takes into account the latest science and research regarding the control and management of the emerald ash borer and describes a range of possible management actions and recommends balancing any recommended treatment with environmental impacts, land ownership, cost, sociological impacts, size of the infestation and traditional ecological knowledge.

Officials confirmed the first occurrence of emerald ash borer, an invasive, destructive insect pest of ash trees, in Wisconsin, after forest health specialists investigated a citizen report of dying ash trees in a private woodlot in Ozaukee County, near the Village of Newburg.

State drinking water a bargain price

Wisconsin’s public drinking water systems remain a bargain and are among the cleanest in the world, according to “Safe Water on Tap,” the annual drinking water report the Department of Natural Resources submits to the federal government.

More than 96 percent of Wisconsin’s public water systems fully observed standards set to protect the public’s health and they delivered a full day’s supply to a family of four for less than $1.

Wisconsin and other states are required to submit an annual report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the overall performance of public water supplies in their state. Public water systems are those serving at least 25 people at least 60 days a year. They range from small restaurants and motels up to the state’s largest cities.

Wisconsin has more public water suppliers than all other states but Michigan. The 11,493 public water systems in Wisconsin serve more than 4 million Wisconsinites, and the systems’ 96.2 percent compliance rate in 2007 reflects well on those partners that help provide safe drinking water says Lee Boushon, DNR Public Water Supply Chief.

New online tools launched to help private well owners

The department also increased efforts to assist Wisconsin’s private well owners check on their drinking if they notice that their water smells, tastes or looks bad, or strains their laundry or bathroom fixtures.

The new online diagnostic information can help them learn why your drinking water is brown and possible fixes.

The new “What’s Wrong with My Water?” Web page is intended to help people who draw water from Wisconsin’s one million private wells diagnose the likely cause of their water problems and whether they need to fix it, says Dorie Turpin, the DNR private water engineer who developed the diagnostic information.

Record spring turkey harvest

Preliminary figures showed that hunters set yet another spring turkey harvest record, registering 52,814 turkeys during Wisconsin’s 2008 spring wild turkey season. This is a 3 percent increase from the 2007 spring harvest of 51,306 birds. The statewide hunter success rate for all hunting periods was 25 percent, the same as in 2007.

A total of 208,972 permits were issued for the spring hunt according to licensing officials. This was an increase of more than 3,600 permits sold compared to 2007. Over the counter sales also increased, accounting for more than a quarter of the permits issued.

Hunter success rates continued to be quite good. As in past years, success rates generally were highest during the early and middle hunting periods.

Single, season-long burning permits now available

As of January 2008, landowners in all areas of Wisconsin where the Department of Natural Resources has primary responsibility for wildfire protection and suppression were able to apply for a single, no-cost, season-long, outdoor burning permit.

In the past, homeowners using burn barrels were required to apply for an annual permit for their burn barrel and separate three-day permits for burning brush in piles. At this time of year, burning permits are required anytime the ground is not snow-covered in areas protected by the DNR firefighters.

This new permit system makes it more efficient to obtain a permit and easier to check local fire danger conditions prior to burning. By accomplishing those things the DNR wildfire program expects to reduce the number of wildfires. And permits are good for an entire calendar year so people only have to make one trip to their emergency fire warden, ranger station or DNR office.

Plan proposed to guide CWD management efforts for next 10 years

In 2008 the department developed a draft plan to guide the state’s Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) management efforts over the next 10 years. CWD was first discovered in Wisconsin in 2002.

The draft plan blends recommendations from a citizen CWD Stakeholder Advisory Group and lessons learned over the past six years since discovery of CWD in Wisconsin. The plan assesses what can realistically be done to control the disease based on the best available science.

The goal of the plan over the next 10 years is to minimize the area of Wisconsin where CWD occurs and the number of infected deer in the state. Advances in understanding about the ecology and epidemiology of CWD in Wisconsin have contributed significantly to guiding the department’s management actions. Yet there is no clear prescription for managing CWD.

The key objectives of the proposed management plan are to: prevent new introductions of CWD; respond to new disease outbreaks; control distribution and intensity of CWD; increase public recognition and understanding of CWD risks; address the needs of our customers; and enhance the scientific information about CWD.

The department is analyzing public comments on the draft plan and plans to take it to the state Natural Resources Board for adoption in early 2009.

Trumpeter swans, ospreys proposed to be removed from state endangered species list

In September, state endangered resources officials recommended removing trumpeter swans from the state endangered species list and ospreys from the state threatened species list. Both species have recovered to the point that officials were confident that they no longer qualify as endangered or threatened under state statutes.

The department took a proposed rule that would delete trumpeter swan from the Wisconsin endangered species list and the osprey from the Wisconsin threatened species list to a public hearing in October. The proposed rule is scheduled to go the state Natural Resources Board for approval in January 2009. Both species will continue to receive protection under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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