Friday, July 20, 2012

July 31 hearing for proposed wetland general permit

MADISON – A proposed general permit to streamline the wetland permitting process for some residential, commercial and industrial projects impacting wetlands is now out for public comment, and is the topic of a July 31 public informational hearing in Madison, state wetland officials say.

The informational hearing will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 041 at the State Education Building, also known as GEF 3, located at 125 S. Webster St. in Madison.

The proposed statewide general permit - or “GP” - is the first of its kind required under a new law passed earlier this year by state lawmakers. It would enable people who have a project resulting in the unavoidable filling of up to 10,000 square feet of wetland - just under one-quarter of an acre – to get their permit decision more quickly if the project meets the standards and conditions in the general permit.

Right now, all landowners wanting to pursue projects that involve wetland fill must seek an individual permit and lengthier environmental review.

The proposed general permit identifies the location, design, and construction standards and other conditions any project must meet to qualify for the general permit, and to ensure that minimal environmental effects occur. Once in effect, the general permit will be valid statewide for 5 years. When property owners can apply for coverage under the general permit, DNR is required to issue a decision within 30 days.

“This proposed general permit will simplify the permit process for projects that can’t avoid small amounts of wetland fill. By avoiding and minimizing wetland impacts, and designing their project to meet the GP standards and conditions, a property owner can qualify and get their permit decision within 30 days.” says Cami Peterson, Wetland Policy Coordinator.

Projects that involve more than 10,000 square feet of wetland fill or do not meet the GP standards and conditions will continue to require a wetland individual permit, which has a longer process time, greater level of environmental review, and higher permit fee.

To view a copy of the proposed statewide general permit and environmental decision document go to Public comments are being accepted through August 16. For more information or to submit written comments on the draft general permit or environmental decision document, contact Cami Peterson, DNR-WT/3, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, or by phone at 608-261-6400.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fishing in the Neighborhood program reels in new anglers

MADISON – Smiles shared, fish caught, and new licenses bought are testimony to the growing success of a partnership to introduce fishing to Wisconsin’s growing number of Latino and Hmong youngsters, state fisheries officials say.High schoolers, buying fishing licenses

These high schoolers, shown buying fishing licenses, have been recruited as “fishing buddies” to help younger kids fish with the Club de Pesca offered by Centro Hispano of Dane County and partners.
WDNR Photo

“Our goals are to welcome new people into the community of anglers, to help them establish a relationship with the resource and adopt Wisconsin’s tradition of stewardship,” says Theresa Stabo, Department of Natural Resources aquatic resources education director. “We’re very excited that our Fishing in the Neighborhood program is growing and that partner groups are getting important recognition and funding to expand their local efforts.”

Centro Hispano of Dane County, one of the partnering groups, recently received a $30,000 grant from the national Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (exit DNR) for its bilingual fishing club, Club de Pesca.

Centro Hispano Executive Director Kent Craig says the organization is very excited about the national grant and the ongoing relationship with DNR and other program partners. “What we’re hoping is to see young people get more opportunity to spend time on water fishing and learning more science,” he says. “In addition to expanding the program, we’re hoping to develop a replicable, culturally competent curriculum for offering fishing clubs in Latino communities.”

DNR has long trained volunteer instructors in how to start their own fishing clubs for youngsters and others new to fishing. In recent years, DNR has focused more attention on working with partners to help start fishing clubs within minority communities, as was successfully done at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee and the Boys & Girls Club in Madison.

This year, DNR has provided angler education training to college interns and is paying them stipends to work with five different youth organizations that serve low-income people of color. Andrea “Tess” Arenas at the UW-Madison Office of Service Learning and Community Based Research recruited the interns and identified organizations willing to partner with the state and supervise the interns.

Bad River fishing partner
A youngster and an intern try their luck during a fishing club offered by the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe in Odanah, DNR and other partners.
WDNR Photo

Interns have been placed at five community centers: Centro Hispano of Dane County, Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, Urban League of Greater Madison, Hmong Assistance Association in La Crosse, and the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe in Odanah.

DNR is providing fishing equipment for the interns to use with the youngsters. The interns recruit members for the clubs, instruct the youngsters in basic fishing techniques, set up fishing trips and bring in guest speakers to talk to the participants about aquatic resources topics. In addition to a stipend, they earn college credit for their work.

DNR pays for the costs of the clubs through the Sport Fish Restoration money it receives from the federal government from an excise tax on the sale of fishing equipment. Madison South Rotary Foundation provided additional funding for the Madison groups. It’s welcome seed money, says Centro Hispano’s Craig.

“We wouldn’t have a program without the DNR,” he says. “Getting the national RBFF grant shows it was a wise investment.”

Stabo says that DNR’s Fishing in the Neighborhood initiative recognizes that Latino and Hmong immigrants represent the fast-growing segments of Wisconsin’s population. “We want club members and their families to see fishing as a good choice for weekend or afterschool activities, once summer ends and everyone is back at school.”

Club de Pesca shows how the program seeks to make fishing a good choice by tailoring it to a specific culture. “Having a program which is free, based at a known agency and run by bilingual staff makes fishing much more accessible to the Latino community,” says Jannet Arenas, the intern who is leading the Centro Hispano program.

Another way Club de Pesca fits with the Latino culture is relying on older Latino high school students to teach younger kids how to fish. The older “Fishing Buddies” are paired up with younger students and serve as their coaches during outings. In return, the older students get community service hours.

“Right now, the club meets twice a week and for the first session consists of 25 anglers ages 6-9,” Jannet Arenas says. “So far we have fished at Tenney Park, Vilas Park and Jenny & Kyle Preserve in the Madison area. The last week of the first session features a visit to the local fish hatchery. The next session will be for kids ages 10-13. Both sessions conclude with a graduation in which the participants receive their own fishing rod/reel and parents are invited.”

Jannet Arenas says the national RBFF grant – layered on top of the financial and training support DNR has continued to provide -- has allowed her to get more kids out fishing and to provide them transportation directly to the fishing sites. Last year, club members took the city bus and walked to their fishing spots.

“The participants' feedback has been great -- the kids always show up excited to go fishing,” she says. “My favorite part of fishing club is seeing the kids' excitement when they catch their very first fish. It is a priceless moment and one that I feel blessed to be part of.”

Organizations interested in learning more about how to start a fishing club for new anglers, including Latino and Hmong organizations can contact Theresa Stabo at 608-266-2272.

Drought conditions worsen in southern half of Wisconsin

50 counties now at increased fire danger levels

MADISON – The continued lack of significant rainfall in the southern half of Wisconsin has increased drought conditions and raised the fire danger to extreme, very high or high in 50 southern and central counties.

Coping with drought

The lack of rain is lowering water levels on streams and rivers, making navigation more difficult and increasing the number of fish kills. There have been reports of private wells going dry, and some municipalities are placing restrictions on water use. The hot temperatures and low water levels are increasing the risk of blue-green algae outbreaks and concentrating waterfowl in areas that have been known to have outbreaks of botulism.

“The drought is affecting everyone – with farm crops in jeopardy, fire danger, and well impacts, and more,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. “DNR is doing everything it can to share information and expedite approvals for wells and pumping when we can without endangering the long term health of natural resources. Our hearts go out to people struggling with the dry conditions.”

The Department of Natural Resources has launched a new Web page intended to help the public find drought-related DNR information and assistance. People can go to and search for the keyword drought.”

Fire conditions

Fire danger levels as of July 17 were at extreme in 25 southern counties and very high or high in another 25 central counties. DNR fire control officials have been responding to 10 to 15 fires a day, and since June 1 there have been more than 275 fires. A 40-acre fire closed a westbound lane of Interstate 90-94 Monday. An Army National Guard helicopter assisted in fire suppressing the fire with water drops.

“With these tinder dry conditions, equipment caused fires have become the number one cause of fires, mostly with hot vehicle exhaust systems or farm equipment,” says Trent Marty, DNR fire prevention director.

Emergency burning restrictions remain in place in all or parts of 19 counties. The restrictions prohibit any outdoor burning -- outside of fire rings in campgrounds -- smoking outdoors or disposal of ash or charcoal. In addition, even campfires within fire rings have been banned at four state park and forest properties including Southern and Lapham Peak units of Kettle Moraine State Forest, Richard Bong State Recreation Area and Big Foot Beach State Park. Park officials caution that without rain soon, the fire prohibitions may be expanded to other properties.

Water concerns

DNR officials are receiving and reviewing applications for emergency permits to pump water for crop irrigation from lakes and rivers. DNR is approving permits for irrigation from lakes and rivers where the withdrawal will not have a negative impact on fisheries or other aquatic life or on other users of the waterway.

The agency has been receiving six to 10 applications a day for new high capacity wells for irrigating crops and is approving the applications where the new wells will not have a negative impact on other private wells. To date there have been numerous reports of private wells going dry, but as of yet no reports of municipal wells going dry.

State dam safety officials are notifying dam operators of their responsibility to maintain a minimal flow of water below dams, as some operators have reportedly begun to hold water back to maintain water levels on lakes, flowages and impoundments.

“Dam operators need to ensure they maintain minimal flow from their dams to ensure fish health and to ensure there is adequate flow for the dilution of wastewater from municipal treatment plants and other industries and operations downstream,” said Bill Sturtevant, state dam safety engineer.

Fish kills

State fisheries biologists have entered more than 31 verified fish kills since the beginning of June, with more being investigated.

“The earlier fish kills were primarily due to low water levels resulting in low dissolved oxygen levels,” says Paul Cunningham, DNR fisheries habitat coordinator, “but lately we’ve seen more thermal-related fish kills. The water has just gotten too hot for many of our cold-water species like northern pike.”

Fisheries biologists have started to deny some applications for chemical control of aquatic weeds, because of the additional stress the control may have on fish populations.

Beach and swimming concerns

The hot, dry weather is fueling excessive algae growth as the increased water temperature speeds up cell growth and division. Blue-green algae, which are found naturally in Wisconsin lakes and can produce toxins that pose a health threat to people, animal and pets, are becoming a problem in waters with a history of blooms, like Lake Winnebago and Tainter/Menomin lakes, but are in places where blooms are normally not a problem, DNR water leaders report.

DNR staff are fielding more calls on the algae Cladophora from property owners and beachgoers all along the Lake Michigan coast, says Steve Galarneau, who directs the DNR Office of the Great Lakes. The algae, naturally found in Lake Michigan, breaks off from the rocks on the lake bottom and washes ashore, where it smells and looks foul as the algae and aquatic life it carries decompose.

Zebra mussels and quagga mussels proliferating in Lake Michigan are helping create the conditions for more of the algae to grow, along with the warm water temperatures and sunny skies. “Cladophora has been a problem for decades. There are good blocks of time and bad blocks of time during a year, and this is a particularly bad period of time,” he says. “We empathize with people concerned about how it looks and smells. We encourage people to avoid swimming through cladophora or coming in contact with the algae that’s washed ashore because it may harbor harmful bacteria.”

Boating safety

With low water levels on lakes and rivers (USGS Wisconsint streamflow) (exit DNR), boaters need to be especially cautious of navigational hazards that may not have been apparent with higher water levels. Stumps and sand and rock bars may all be closer to the surface, especially on river systems. The Rock and Wisconsin rivers in particular are very low and navigation is difficult in some stretches.

Wildlife health concerns

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff have collected approximately 50 dead birds, primarily mallards, wood ducks and teal as well as pelicans, shore birds, and great blue herons on the northern end of Horicon Marsh. Specimens have been submitted to the National Wildlife Heath Center for confirmation, but officials highly suspect that botulism is the cause. They will be conducting daily monitoring of other state and federal wildlife areas where botulism has caused waterfowl deaths in the past.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Brancel Encourages Participation in Aquaculture Day

MADISON Fish are not just for the Friday night fish fry anymore. Wisconsin aquaculture is an important agriculture industry and offers a healthy product to enjoy year-round. Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Ben Brancel encourages consumers to join him in visiting their local fish farm on Aquaculture Day July 21 to learn more about this fishy business.

“Aquaculture Day offers a unique experience to learn more about the production of the farm-raised fish in Wisconsin by taking a tour, participating in fishing, seeing cooking demonstrations and hearing educational talks,” said Brancel. “By learning more first-hand, consumers will have a greater appreciation for the aquaculture industry, which continues to innovate and grow to meet the demand of the marketplace.”

Brancel will visit Nelson and Pade, Inc. in Montello to commemorate Aquaculture Day. Nelson and Pade, Inc. specializes in aquaponics and controlled environment agriculture. Six fish farms across the state will be open to the public on July 21. Details on the six host farm locations and their activities are available at, under “Events.”

Fish are high in protein and potassium and low in fat, calories and cholesterol. When buying locally-grown fish, consumers are supporting their local farms and local economy. Wisconsin aquaculture has a $21 million economic impact with more than 2,400 fish farms across the state. Fish farms in Wisconsin raise fish for food, stocking and bait. Our state ranks first in the Midwest for aquaculture production.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Record heat may be contributing to fish kills in Minnesota lakes

Record-setting heat may be contributing to fish kills in lakes across the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Natural summer fish kills are not unusual,” according to Brian Schultz, DNR assistant regional fisheries manager. “In the past several days, however, we’re getting increased reports of dead and dying fish in many lakes from around the state.”

Unusually warm weather has raised water temperatures of many shallow lakes. Schultz has received reports from DNR field staff of surface water temperatures in some lakes reaching 90 degrees, with temps at the bottom only a few degrees cooler where maximum depths are less than 10 feet. “Those are some high readings and northern pike are especially vulnerable when the water gets this warm,” Schultz said. “They are a cool water species and just can’t adjust to the high temperatures when sustained for more than a few days.” Warm water temps can also impact other species such as walleye, yellow perch and bluegills.

Should the high heat continue, there may be die-offs of both northern cisco (tulibee) and lake whitefish in central and northern Minnesota lakes.

Oxygen depletion can be another factor contributing to fish kills of a broader range of fish species. Heavy rains earlier in the summer caused unusually high runoff from fertilized lawns, athletic fields, golf courses and farm fields, starting a chain reaction of high nutrient loads in some lakes.  

The runoff carries nutrients into the lakes, which combined with hot weather, can accelerate the growth of algae. Hot, dry, sunny and calm weather can cause algae growths to suddenly explode, according to Craig Soupir, DNR fisheries habitat specialist.

“Aquatic plants remain relatively stable over time, but algae have the ability to rapidly increase or decrease under various conditions,” Soupir said. 

Algae produces oxygen during the daylight hours, but it uses oxygen at night. This can create drastic daily changes in lake oxygen levels. These daily changes can result in complete saturation of oxygen during peak sunlight and a near complete loss of oxygen during the night.   “All of this can add up to stressful conditions for fish,” Soupir said, “and even summer kill events.” Fish don’t seem to sense when oxygen depletion occurs and may suffocate in isolated bays, even when another area of the lake contains higher levels of oxygen.

Disease may also be a contributing factor to some fish kills. Schultz explained that when lake temperatures rapidly change, fish can become more susceptible to bacteria and viruses that naturally occur in the water. Columnaris is one of the most common diseases. 

The bacterium is always present in fish populations but seems to affect fish when water temperatures are warming rapidly and fish are undergoing some stress due to spawning. Fish may die or be seen weakly swimming along shores. Species affected are usually sunfish, crappies and bullheads and occasionally, largemouth bass and northern pike.

“It is difficult to pin a summer kill on just one cause,” Schultz said, “and although it is a natural occurrence, it can be disturbing.” 

Fish kills are usually not serious in the long run.  Most lakes contain thousands of fish per acre and the fish kills represents a very small percent of that total. 

Some positive effects from partial fish kills is that it creates an open niche in the fish population, allowing the remaining fish species to grow faster with less competition.  

Minnesota lakes are resilient. The DNR has documented these conditions many times over and lake conditions and fish populations do return to managed expectations, either naturally or with the help of stocking if necessary.

If people see strange behavior, they should contact the local DNR fisheries office immediately. “If we can sample fish before they die, we may be able to learn what’s going on in the lake,” Schultz said.  “Once the fish are dead it can be difficult to determine what happened.”

Get specific advice for specific waters online and with one search

New search feature debuts with updated 2012 fish consumption advice

MADISON – It’s now easier than ever for anglers fishing Wisconsin waters to make sure their catch is safe to eat: Wisconsin's updated fish consumption advice for 2012 is available online and features a new search tool that delivers anglers simplified consumption advice for fish from specific waters to limit exposure to environmental contaminants that may be in the fish.

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