Mississippi River flooding could hamper boat access

The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge Winona District is urging boaters to take precautions in the coming days regarding flooding on the Mississippi River.
Boaters should be vigilant as flood waters will have significantly changed conditions at traditional access, camping and day-use sites. Excessive current, turbid water and submerged and floating hazards should be expected in the river over the coming days.
Boaters should also be prepared to locate alternative boat ramps to access the Mississippi River between Wabasha, MN, and Trempealeau, WI, as ramps may be closed due to flooding. Landings are closed when water levels submerse the ramp and/or dock, cover any portion that is asphalt, or obscure the concrete curbing from view. Refuge personnel are constantly evaluating river conditions to determine when refuge boat ramps can be opened.
Based on predicted water levels for Memorial Day weekend, the following boat landings are expected to be closed to vehicular access: Indian Slough, Beef Slough, and Pontoon Slough located on Hwy 25 between Wabasha, MN and Nelson, WI; Peterson Lake and Halfmoon located near Kellogg, MN; Weaver at Weaver, MN; Verchota and McNally on the Prairie Island Dike near Minnesota City, MN; and Mertes’ Slough on Hwy 54/43 near Winona, MN.
Questions regarding the availability of boat ramps can be addressed by calling the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge at 507-454-7351.

SOURCE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wisconsin's Free Fun Weekend set June 1-2

MADISON - Free Fun Weekend is June 1-2 in Wisconsin, so save the date and get ready to get outdoors.
On June 1-2, Wisconsin residents and visitors can fish for free, hike or bike state trails for free, enjoy free admission to state parks and forests and ride public ATV trails for free.
"Wisconsin is a beautiful playground, especially in summer," said DNR Secretary-Designee Preston Cole. "Not many states can boast the array of natural recreation opportunities we have here. Fun Free Weekend is the perfect time to enjoy our state parks, forests and trails. I urge you to get out and explore, you might just like it."

On Free Fun Weekend, June 1-2:
No fishing license is needed to fish any waters. This includes inland trout and Great Lakes trout and salmon fishing, which normally would require a trout stamp in addition to a license. However, fishing rules such as limits on the size and species of fish that can be kept do apply.
All state trail pass fees on all DNR-owned state trails are waived and cooperatively-run state trails also may waive fees.
All state park vehicle admission sticker fees on all DNR-owned properties are waived.
ATV registration and trail pass fees are waived.
Free fishing equipment is available for loan at more than 50 state parks, DNR offices and partner organizations, and free fishing clinics are scheduled at many state parks and popular waters, including Harrington Beach and High Cliff state parks and the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
In addition, on Saturday, the Friends of the Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest are holding Discovery Day with geo-caching, archery, t-shirt painting, a wildlife show, kayak demos, telescope viewing, fishing and hiking. This event concludes with a grand opening ceremony and dedication of the new outdoor amphitheater featuring live music and guest speakers. The Red Cedar State Trail will host a Trail Day in honor of National Trails Day at the Menomonie Depot Visitor Center located at the trailhead adjacent to Riverside Park with bike safety checks, helmet safety demonstrations, arts and crafts and more.
Free Fun Weekend is also a terrific opportunity to participate in Wisconsin State Parks' OutWiGo initiative, promoting good health through the great outdoors. Be sure to tag your Free Fun Weekend photos with #OutWiGo.
More information about free fun weekend in Wisconsin's outdoors is available on the DNR website. Go to dnr.wi.gov and search "free fun." More events can be found by searching for "Get Outdoors" and then entering "Free Fun" in the search window.
And, people can follow DNR on social for media for more updates between newsletters. DNR has social media platforms on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Endangered piping plovers returning to Wisconsin

SUPERIOR, WI - The first endangered piping plovers are returning to Wisconsin this month as partners work to protect the birds' habitat in hopes of boosting nesting success.
Typically, piping plovers need large isolated beach and dune habitats. Flooding in 2018, washed away nests and along with suspected predation contributed to a low total of chicks fledging from Wisconsin's longtime nesting site on Chequamegon Point in the Apostle Islands. Predation may have also taken a toll on a more recent plover nesting site in lower Green Bay.
"Last year was a tough year for piping plovers in Wisconsin, but Wisconsin plays an important role in the overall recovery effort, and partners are energized for the upcoming season and are working together to protect important habitat and monitor nesting pairs," said Reena Bowman, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist.
As a result of concerted protection efforts by the National Park Service, Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, DNR, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy, nearly 100 piping plover chicks have been produced at Chequamegon Point. This year, partners at the Chequamegon Point site will be stepping up efforts to protect piping plover nests from unleashed dogs, which pose a threat to piping plover nesting success and chick survival. Chequamegon Point is part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where dogs are required to be on a 6-foot or shorter leash at all times.
In 2016, piping plovers nested in lower Green Bay for the first time in 75 years on the Cat Island Chain restoration project. The project is ongoing and is being completed in partnership with local, state, and federal partners. Twelve piping plover chicks have fledged from the site to date. For the upcoming seasons, partners will work together to maintain suitable piping plover habitat, protect nests and monitor for predators.

Endangered Piping Plover Gets a Boost in Wisconsin
Other efforts in 2019 to benefit piping plover include adding potential nesting habitat to another site near Superior. The site, the Wisconsin Point Bird Sanctuary, is owned by DNR and the project will improve habitat for the birds along 1,700 feet of the St. Louis River shoreline and eight acres of foraging and nesting habitat. The project is funded by the EPA and designed and constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in conjunction with DNR.
Piping plovers once nested along the shores of all the Great Lakes, but habitat loss, recreational pressure and predation likely contributed to serious declines. By 1948, only one pair of plovers was known to nest in Wisconsin and the piping plover was added to the state endangered species list in 1979. Across the Great Lakes region, the loss of habitat caused numbers to drop below 20 nesting pairs region-wide before the small shorebird was listed as federally endangered in 1985.

Report sightings of banded piping plovers
The public can help piping plover recovery efforts by reporting their sightings of piping plovers with metal and color bands on their legs.
The color codes vary according to the location where they were banded. By getting reports of the birds' whereabouts, the recovery partners can better understand the birds' migratory routes, the habitats they use and their survivorship.
For more information on piping plovers and how to report your sightings of banded piping plovers, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, for "piping plover."
SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

DNR seeking citizen reports of turtle road crossing hot spots

MADISON - As female turtles start leaving the water in search of sand or gravel uplands to lay their eggs, Wisconsin conservation biologists are asking people to report where the turtles cross the road and to help protect nests that turtles may build on residential lawns, gardens or gravel driveways.
"Turtles will soon be moving around to lay their eggs in upland areas, and we need your help to make sure as many of them survive as possible and that their eggs do, too," said Andrew Badje, who coordinates the Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program for the DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program.
"Turtles killed crossing roads and predators eating their eggs are big problems that can endanger turtle populations in Wisconsin. So the DNR is once again asking people to report turtle crossing hot spots, and asking people to consider protecting nests on their land with a homemade nest cage," he said.
People can report turtle crossings by searching online for DNR's Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program website.
Since the DNR started asking for citizens to report deadly road crossings for turtles in 2012, conservation biologists have documented 1,959 turtle crossing locations. Of those, 42 crossings are particularly deadly for turtles, resulting in high levels of mortality that could eventually lead to population collapse if left unchecked. Some species of turtles, like the wood turtle, take 12 to 20 years to reach reproductive maturity, so the death of even a few turtles in a population can take a big toll, Badje said.
"We very much appreciate receiving these citizen reports because they give conservation biologists a great statewide picture of problem crossings," he said. "People live in every corner of Wisconsin and are particularly aware of the turtle crossings in their neighborhoods."
Such data are critical for DNR staff to have when working with local and state highway departments in Wisconsin, Badje said. Citizen reports, for example, allowed DNR to work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to build a wildlife underpass when State Highway 66 just northeast of Stevens Point was reconstructed, a project detailed in the article "Tunnel Vision" in the Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.
The citizen reports also help DNR document previously unknown turtle populations, update the status of known populations for which there is little data and can help DNR property managers use the information to manage for turtles in their areas.

Take time for turtles
Badje asks that people consider helping turtles by protecting their nests when females lay eggs in residential lawns, gardens, or gravel driveways. Nests in these areas are highly susceptible to predation from raccoon, skunks, coyotes, opossums and even chipmunks, and once turtles lay their eggs they do not return, leaving the eggs and later hatchlings vulnerable.
Badje suggests creating a 16-inch wide, by 16-inch long, by 8-inch high nest cage using 1-inch high by 2- to 3-inch wide wire fencing material so predators cannot access the eggs concealed underground. More information including pictures are found in this Protecting Turtle Nests factsheet.
It's important to bury the cage about 3 inches below the substrate level and stake down all four corners of the cage. Such a design allows turtles to hatch and exit on their own, without the need for constant human supervision, he said.
"We understand that taking these steps to protect nests from predators takes a fair amount of time and effort. We are grateful for the help. It is particularly important in urban areas where turtle populations are already threatened by high mortality along busy roads," Badje said.
Find videos and more information about Wisconsin's 11 native turtle species and other ways to help them, on DNR's Wisconsin Turtle Conservation Program website.

SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Motorists and ATV/UTV riders urged to share road safely

MADISON - Spring and summer in Wisconsin are great times to take the family on a road trip or hop on an all-terrain or utility-terrain vehicle (ATV/UTV) for some outdoor fun.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources are asking everyone - no matter what they're operating - stay attentive, patient and safe.
ATV/UTV registration grew 19 percent over the past five years, totaling 396,611 at the end of 2018. Motorists and riders could be sharing the road more frequently in some areas. State law now allows municipalities to authorize ATV/UTV use on roadways with a speed limit of 35 mph or less.
"ATVs, UTVs, cars and trucks offer different driving experiences, but one factor holds consistently true - no matter what you drive, even a momentary distraction can create a tragedy," said WisDOT Secretary-Designee Craig Thompson. "It's important that we all look out for one another."
WisDOT published a website for riders and local officials who are interested in learning more about the 2019 law changes and requirements to establish ATV routes within their jurisdiction. The website also contains a downloadable flier for anyone who'd like to encourage motorists and riders to share the road. The DNR publishes additional resources to assist ATV and UTV riders with safety courses, vehicle registration and knowledge of the law.
"Whether you're behind the wheel or behind a set of handlebars - think safety," said DNR Recreation Safety and Outdoor Skills Captain April Dombrowski. "ATV/UTV riding is among our state's favorite recreational activities in the summer months. Whether you are riding for work or for fun, stay safe and be responsible."

Safety tips for motorists:
* Watch for riders. Always eliminate distractions. Be patient and stay focused.
* When you approach an ATV/UTV on the road, slow down and be patient for a safe opportunity to pass.
* As ATV/UTVs are much wider than bicycle or motorcycle, motorists are likely to require space from the opposing travel lane while passing.
* Keep an eye out for ATV route signs and remember the law allows postings at territorial boundaries so motorists may not see additional signage along individual roads.

Safety tips for ATV/UTV riders:
* Stick to authorized areas. Most highways and roads statewide remain off limits. Check for ATV/UTV route signs or with local authorities to see if certain highways and roads are legally open.
* Travel at an appropriate speed and remain aware of your surroundings.
* Consider wearing high-visibility gear. As some drivers might not expect to be sharing the road with an ATV/UTV, it can help to be seen from afar.
* Riders are required to operate headlight(s) when on or around roadways.
* Helmets and protective gear save lives and are highly encouraged for everyone, but also are a legal obligation for riders and passengers under 18 with limited exceptions.
* All UTV riders and passengers must have seatbelts fastened at all times.
* It is illegal for passengers to sit anywhere not specifically designed or intended for passenger use.
* Never consume alcohol or drugs before or during ATV/UTV operation.
SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Public input sought on Great Lakes beach listings

MADISON - People who enjoy Wisconsin's Great Lakes beaches have an opportunity to submit comments to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regarding the current listing of coastal beaches and boat launches.
The agency would like to hear whether people feel any beaches are missing or not properly identified on the Wisconsin beach list, whether there are some boat launches that are no longer active and should be omitted, and whether there are any concerns with additions, removals or consolidated listings.
"Public comments ensure the Wisconsin beach list reflects locally used names along with the status of beaches and boat launches due to changing natural conditions and public access," said Madeline Magee, Wisconsin beach program manager.
To maintain eligibility for funding under the federal BEACH Act, state programs must provide an opportunity for public comment when changes to the list or monitoring program occur. The current list includes some new beaches and changes or repairs to existing beaches.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires all Wisconsin beaches along the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior shorelines to be identified and prioritized for water quality monitoring. A "beach" is defined as any place that the public has recreational access to the water, regardless of whether the location is used for swimming. Boat launches, some natural areas and private beaches available to the public are included.
Public comments on the listings and potential program changes should be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information, visit dnr.wi.gov and search "beaches."
SOURCE: Wisconsin DNR

Dock regulations balance public water use, protection

Docks and dock platforms provide access to Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, and are regulated to help protect public safety as well as aquatic habitat.
As summer approaches, the Department of Natural Resources encourages property owners and lake service provider businesses to review the regulations, to ensure the equipment they own, sell or install is in compliance.
Extensive dock systems may shade out important aquatic plants and eliminate critical habitat where fish spawn, feed, grow and find shelter from predators. They can also obstruct navigation or even create a safety hazard if they are too large or improperly placed.
“The current regulations have been in existence for many years, but not everyone is familiar with them,” said Jack Gleason, DNR public waters hydrologist. “The DNR worked with property owners, public water users, and business and industry representatives to develop these regulations. They’re designed to balance the need for reasonable access to public waters with habitat protection and safety.”
To ensure this balance, a dock may not be more than 8 feet wide and may not be combined with other similar structures to create a wider dock.
A modest platform at the water end of a dock is allowed under certain conditions. A single, temporary platform up to 120 square feet measured separately from the access dock, or 170 square feet including the area of the adjacent access dock, is allowed if the following conditions exist:
* The access dock must be 5 feet wide or less.
* The dock must be on a lake or river with a shoreland classification of General Development or Recreational Development.
* Docks must not be a hazard to navigation, health or safety and must allow the free flow of water.
* A dock should not close off part of the lake or river to other users. * Docks must also comply with any local ordinances.
A document about state dock requirements is available on the DNR website.
The DNR website also contains links to other helpful information for property owners about shoreline erosion control and restoration projects to help improve water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.

SOURCE: Minnesota DNR