by Kevin Naze, [email protected]
COVID-19 has sacked the annual Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) fish and wildlife hearings and county Conservation Congress (CC) spring meetings for the third straight year.
Normally conducted in person, voting will again be done online. Members of the public will soon be able to submit citizen resolutions to be considered. Though nonbinding and advisory only, voting results sometimes influence rule changes.
Conservation Congress liaison Kari Lee-Zimmerman said the state’s Natural Resources Board (NRB) will be discussing this year’s questionnaire during the Feb. 23 board meeting in Madison, and any DNR proposals or CC or NRB advisory questions will be approved at that time.
In 2020, a record-setting 64,943 online responses to the hearing questionnaire were received. Last year, the number dropped to 12,642. Online input for 2022 will begin April 11 at 7 pm and remain open for 72 hours. Read more about the process at dnr.wisconsin.gov/about/wcc/springhearing.
Whitefish Rule Changes
Commercial fishers gained and lost at the same time as a result of a final rule approved during the Jan. 26 NRB meeting.
It was frustrating for netters such as Charlie Henriksen, who had felt the science was easily behind the proposed increase, but a partial victory as well for sport anglers.
The quota for Zone 1 in southern Green Bay was set at 569,788 pounds annually: up from 362,185, but a far cry from the 800,000 proposed. The DNR also removed a restricted zone and will allow one trap net set per license.
A public hearing last month resulted in 132 written comments regarding the 800,000 figure, nearly equally split between support and opposition.
Lake Michigan fisheries manager Brad Eggold said the rule approved would provide additional protection for fish species of concern to sport anglers and allow more time to gather additional data, including latent mortality of released fish. It would also allow for quota increases in two years if supported by data.
Research suggests the Green Bay whitefish population nearly tripled between 2008 and 2018, supporting both a commercial fishery and a thriving winter sportfishery.
Safety on Ice and Snow
DNR safety specialists are encouraging anglers, snowmobilers and all other winter recreationists to be safe when traveling on ice or snow.
Even with the extreme cold air in late January, ice anglers were still finding some thinner spots over the weekend that definitely would not support a truck. Most fishers are using snowmobiles and UTVs, or walking out on foot.
The DNR reminds everyone to dress for the conditions and carry some basic safety gear. Avoid pressure ridges, ice heaves, inlets, outlets and narrows with currents that can mean thin ice.
DNR Warden Chris Kratcha also encourages snowmobilers to not interfere with other winter-sports enthusiasts, avoid alcohol until finished for the day, slow down, stay on marked trails and follow all other safety rules.
Record Buck Harvest?
The National Deer Association (NDA) said hunters in the United States harvested an estimated 6.3 million white-tailed deer during the 2020-21 season, the most since 2011.
The estimated buck harvest of 3,041,544 was the most in 21 years. Additionally, NDA Chief Conservation Officer Kip Adams said a record percentage of those bucks were at least three and a half years old. That’s due to declining pressure nationwide on yearling (age one and a half) bucks. Only about one in four bucks taken in 2020-21 were yearlings. About 40% were estimated to be three and a half or older.
Adams said hunters killed slightly more bucks in total during the record 1999-2000 season, but about half were estimated to be yearlings.
Students in grades 4-6 may enter the DNR’s Keep Wildlife Wild poster contest to participate in the “If you care, leave them there!” initiative. It reminds people to observe wildlife at a respectful distance and be mindful of young animals, which may be incorrectly perceived as being orphaned. In most cases, the mother is somewhere nearby, waiting to tend to her young.
Poster entries are due by Feb. 18 at 5 pm. See the entry criteria and learn more via a link at dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/orphan.
Weekly Water Levels
As of Jan. 28, Lake Superior was the only Great Lake with water levels below the long-term average. Superior was six inches below the 100-year average and has dropped 13 inches during the past year. That’s significant because the Lake Superior watershed also feeds all the other Great Lakes.
Superior has dropped 20 inches since its record high two years ago, but Lake Michigan has fallen even more: a whopping 27 inches since late January 2020. Lake Michigan was still 39 inches above the all-time monthly low, set in 2013, and 10 inches above the long-term average.