Wild Wisconsin - Off the Record

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Summary

Wisconsin is home to an array of magnificent natural resources. Native plants, animals, picturesque forests and wetlands are part of what makes the Badger State so great. Sadly, more than 400 fish and wildlife species are in big trouble – with some populations so low that many are at risk of extinction.

We sat down with DNR Conservation Biologists Rori Paloski and Jesse Weinzinger to learn more about how they are bringing back the natural habitat for two at-risk species in Wisconsin.

Show Notes

Wisconsin is home to an array of magnificent natural resources. Native plants, animals, picturesque forests and wetlands are part of what makes the Badger State so great. Sadly, more than 400 fish and wildlife species are in big trouble – with some populations so low that many are at risk of extinction.

The Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is working hard to jumpstart wildlife comebacks on the ground, in the air and water for generations to come. We sat down with DNR Conservation Biologists Rori Paloski and Jesse Weinzinger to learn more about how they are bringing back the natural habitat for two at-risk species in Wisconsin.

For more on how we're saving at-risk species together, dive into the 2019 Field Notes report online or in the winter issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine hitting mailboxes soon!

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TRANSCRIPT

Intro Voice: [00:00:00] Welcome to Wisconsin DNR's Wild Wisconsin -- Off The Record podcast. Information straight from the source.

Katie : [00:00:13] Welcome back to another episode of Wild Wisconsin - Off the Record, I'm your host DNRs digital media coordinator, Katie Grant. More than 12,000 fish and wildlife species across America and 400 right here in Wisconsin are in trouble. In fact, their populations are declining so low that many are at risk of extinction.

Wisconsin's native plants, animals and landscapes are a big part of what makes the state so great. Preserving this natural heritage for current and future generations is the mission of DNR's  Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation. Every year, the Natural Heritage Conservation program celebrates the wins of department staff via an insert in the winter issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine.

There are plenty of conservation success stories happening right here in Wisconsin. In celebration of their work, we sat down with two of our biologists to learn a bit more about their projects. So sit back and listen in as I learned about the work, Rori Paloski is doing to help bring back habitat for some very important reptiles here in Wisconsin.

Rori: [00:01:23] So my official titleconservation biologist, and that could cover a lot of things. What I do specifically is work with amphibians and reptiles, and a lot of what I do focuses on conservation of rare species, but I also do some regulatory work as well. 

Katie : [00:01:38] Alright. So you mentioned reptiles, amphibians... The things that are stereotypically kind of slimy and gross. What got you interested in these? 

Rori: [00:01:50] So I think one of the first things I was interested in, I've always been interested in wildlife and things outdoors. Um, frogs were probably one of the first things I was interested in and that kinda got me interested in salamanders.

Um, turtles, snakes, lizards, they're kind of all a package deal. Um, luckily I like working with all of them. Uh, yes, though they are kind of slimy. I always kind of joke sometimes too. Um, uh, I've done a tiny bit of work with bats as well, so another kind of creepy crawly animal as well. 

Katie : [00:02:20] Yeah. I hear though, that's your favorite project is working with the Eastern Massassauga rattlesnakes. 

Rori: [00:02:28] Yes. Yes

Katie : [00:02:29] Why? Tell me about that. 

Rori: [00:02:30] So it's a unique species. I really do enjoy working with snakes. Um, a lot of people don't know, we have two species of rattlesnakes in Wisconsin. We have the Massassauga, or Eastern Massassauga rattlesnake and the Timber rattlesnake.

And the Timber rattlesnake is more commonly known and seen. It's found in the Bluffs of some of our bigger rivers. Um kind of bluff prairies, rocky bluffs, but the Massasauga is a smaller species and it maxes out at about two and a half feet, usually, it's pretty small, generally pretty docile.

You don't want to take any chances, but it's generally pretty docile snake, um, and they're really unique. One thing I like about them is, you know, when you picture rattlesnakes in the country, um, you know, you often think of rattlesnakes in the desert, you know, out west. And the Massassauga is unique in that it's a wetland rattlesnake.

Um, it's sometimes referred to as a swamp or marsh rattlesnake. It really likes wetland habitat. That's what it.... It's evolved with, um, it uses crayfish boroughs for overwintering. It goes down. It needs to reach the water table to overwinter. So it's a really unique snake. I like it partly just, you know, because it's so unique and it has really, um, different adaptations to the environment.

Um, but it's also really rare. It's been endangered in Wisconsin since the 1970s mid 1970s and has been listed as a federally threatened species for about three years now as well, which means it's really rare globally also. 

Katie : [00:04:00] Okay. Let's take a half a step back quick. Um, so you mentioned the two kinds of rattlesnakes in Wisconsin.

How many different kinds of snakes in total do we have in Wisconsin? 

Rori: [00:04:10] We have 21 species in Wisconsin 

Katie : [00:04:14] With regard to the two spec.. two species of rattlesnakes. Are there a lot of them, and I mean, you mentioned kind of the... um.. the land types that they exist in, but where throughout the state can you find them?

Rori: [00:04:29] Yeah, so we have, um, so yeah, 21 species in the state. Um, the Massassauga is one of our rarest species. Um, some of our species are really common, like the common garter snake. It's a black snake with yellow lines on it. People probably see that quite a bit when they're out and about. The Massassauga...

We're down to only eight populations in the state. And, that, that's not a lot. And some of those eight, um, we don't have very good information on them. Maybe only, have seen a few individuals in the last 20 years, so we're not sure if that population is genetically viable, what we call genetically viable, which means, um, there's enough individuals to keep reproducing and keep the genetics going without getting bottlenecked.

So the Massassauga, uh, probably historically was much more common in the west-central and southern portions of the state. 

Katie : [00:05:16] Okay. 

Rori: [00:05:16] And that's still it's general range, but then it's contracted just to those eight sites. And the primary reasons it's contracted it's range is because of wetland filling, wetland clearing.

Um, but also there was a bounty in Wisconsin on rattlesnakes until 1975. And that was on both species of rattlesnakes. So if citizens brought in a dead rattlesnake to usually the County office, um, they could get, you know, a dollar or $5 for, for turning the snake in. So people did that as a way to make money.

And that ended in 1975 and beginning in 1975, the Massassauga was listed as an endangered species in Wisconsin. So it was kind of right about the time that., you know, the, it was noted that that was causing a decline in snakes. They stopped it and put it on the list right away. So. Yeah. 

Katie : [00:06:07] Wow. I had no idea that that's such a thing had ever happened here.

Rori: [00:06:10] Yeah. 

Katie : [00:06:10] I shouldn't be surprised though. 

Rori: [00:06:12] No, it's, it's really interesting too, because they, you know, you look at some of the old data from some of the counties and they, some counties would report hundreds if not thousands of snakes turned in, in a year. Wow. Which is amazing. You can imagine what kind of a hit that could have on the population.

It's almost amazing that we still have both of our rattlesnakes in Wisconsin after that. 

Katie : [00:06:30] Right. Right. So the work that you and others have been doing throughout the state have made a positive impact on, especially the Massassauga population. Can you tell us a bit more about that? 

Rori: [00:06:43] Yeah, so we have been this past year in particular, in 2019 we've been doing focusing a lot on habitat work.

Um, we do surveys as well, but we've really been starting more habitat work for this species. So we have a couple sites where we've, we actually have been doing habitat work for quite a while. But at a couple of new sites this year, we've been going into areas that have been covered over with brush, um, and trying to open those areas up.

So the Massassauga is a coldblooded species, which means its body is the same temperature, is it surroundings. And if it's living in forested habitat, it's not gonna get exposed to the sun and it's not going to be able to warm up. So the Massassauga prefers semi-open areas where it can get into the sun if it wants to.

If it gets too hot, it can get back into trees or kind of edge habitat so that it can make that decision and go where it wants to. So one of the reasons we're having issues with this species from a habitat perspective throughout its range, is that a lot of the areas that used to inhabit that were open have now just through natural succession, you know, turned into a closed canopy, which everyone likes forest and they're good for birds, but there's a lot of species that really need the open habitat as well. So we have um in a couple of our properties this year, had our, um, our field crews go out and they've been doing an amazing job of creating some new openings, and the openings are especially beneficial for the females that are gravid or pregnant.

And so you may wonder why it matters if the snakes have sun because they're cold blooded, they need to be at a higher temperature. That means their metabolism is faster, so that helps them digest food that they have. It keeps them more active. And for the females, um, when they're gravid, which is the reptile term for being pregnant. When they're gravid, they have the young actually for the species develops inside the body of the female.

They don't lay eggs. So as the young are developing, the female would rather be at a higher temperature, have higher metabolism, because that means the young are going to grow more. She wants to get those eggs laid. So the young are born, um, you know, late July, early August. But the sooner you can do that, especially in these climates where you know further North where we don't have as long of growing seasons, she wants to get those born as quickly as possible so that they have more time to get big and adapt and adjust before the winter comes.

So we've really been focusing on keeping some of these areas open and then opening up new areas. And I think our biggest success story for habitat work this year was at a site that we worked with our forestry program, wildlife program, um, and then, um, our coworkers with within endangered resources.

And we opened up a few areas, um, one of my coworkers and I that do a lot of surveys, went out in early August to one of the newly cleared areas that had just been cleared this spring, um, and found four gravid pregnant females basking, which was amazing for us. Maybe not for everyone to see, but that's, you know, exactly what we were looking for.

We were only there for a couple of hours and were able to find four of them in this newly created managed habitat, so yeah, 

Katie : [00:09:45] Congratulations. I think that's, yeah, definitely, as you said, conservation success story right there. 

Rori: [00:09:49] Yes exactly. 

Katie : [00:09:50] Just thinking about it, obviously rattlesnakes we're kind of afraid of them. They're a little dangerous. How do you find and handle them? 

Rori: [00:09:58] Yeah, so one of the things that's been good, um, in the last few years is this federal listing I mentioned. Um, it does provide us with more opportunities for some research, um, and money for management. Um, but it also gives us, um, a little bit more direct contact with fish and wildlife.

Um, you know, we always can contact, contact them whenever we need to. Um, but each time a species is listed, there is one main person that's designated as the lead for that species for fish and wildlife. So the United States Fish and Wildlife is equivalent to the Wisconsin DNR just at the federal level.

So Wisconsin DNR manages the state listed species. US Fish and Wildlife manages the federally listed species. And so we have a really great working relationship, um, with someone named Mike Redmer. He's the lead for Massassaugas for the US Fish and Wildlife. And it's been really helpful to have, um, to have him to work with because he...works with all of the state, all of the States, so he can, you know, give us management protocols, monitoring protocols, and that's been really helpful, um, you know, he's a good source to kind of condense all that information. 

So we had previously been doing surveys, um, before the species was even listed, um, usually mid summer. Um, you could imagine, you know, wetlands in mid July is pretty hot and kind of nasty to walk through. Um, but that's how we typically found the snakes. Um, and working more with Fish and Wildlife now we've, um, realized from some research they've been involved with that the best time, actually, to survey for snakes is early spring.

And so there's a couple of reasons for that. The Massassaugas typically concentrate in the wetlands in the winter. That's where they over winter, whereas in the summer they're more dispersed and the vegetation is lower too, or you know, not even growing yet. So we usually try to do our surveys usually second or third week of May.

Um, ah, that's a really good time. The vegetation still down, it's not huge and high like it would be mid Janua--mid July, and it's a, it's a, the snakes are still concentrated and it's a good time to survey for them. So. When we do surveys, um, we typically do surveys for one week at one site, and we have one main site in Wisconsin that we do our surveys at for longterm monitoring, and we try to get as many people, um, within the DNR and Fish and Wildlife out as possible. So typically about 10 to 15 people. 

Katie : [00:12:15] Okay. 

Rori: [00:12:15] Um, we literally kind of walk in a line across the habitat, um, wet prairies are, what they typically would be found in at that point in the year.

Um, and we just keep looking for any sign of movement. They're very well camouflaged. So I'm sure we're stepping over some and never see them. Yeah. Um, but each one that we find, um, we have snake proof buckets that we put them in . They're five gallon buckets that have a locking cap on them. 

Katie : [00:12:41] Okay.

Rori: [00:12:41] So each snake goes in its own little bag. It's kind of like a pillowcase. They go in that, um, we pick them up with what are called snake tongs. So that, um, there are about three feet long, so we don't have to get anywhere near the snake's mouth or head, um, put those in a bucket. We kind of collect them as we go. Do a couple of hours of surveys.

And then the snakes are processed after that, after we do a couple hours of surveys. 

Katie : [00:13:04] Okay. Very cool. What, what have you learned from this ongoing monitoring?

Rori: [00:13:12] Yeah, we've learned a lot, you know, and I feel like we're still kind of in the pilot stages of this. We've only been doing this for a couple of years and we've been seeing some really interesting, you know, results with the habitat management, you know, the snakes finding areas really quickly that, you know, shows that the ... the work can be beneficial very quickly.

Um, we've been finding snakes in different habitats than we ever thought they were in. And some of that's just luck. We're out more often, so we're seeing them more often. Um, but we had a snake that was found. It was a somewhat wetland habitat, but completely closed canopy. Um, and what would most people would probably describe as a pine plantation, and we found a snake overwintering in there, which we've never. You know, even Fish and Wildlife has never seen them overwintering in pine plantations. So it was really interesting information for us to get, you know, they're really, um, you know, I see it as resourceful that they're able to find a variety of different habitats that they can use. And a lot of that information, we just don't know.

You know, the more we look for things, the more we'll find more information and more information on their movement patterns and habitats that they utilize. 

Katie : [00:14:17] Right. How, how can that information be used moving forward. I mean, we don't really per say, manage the species so much as, you know, do projects to helping cre-- increase their population, but how, how can we use that moving forward?

Rori: [00:14:35] Yeah, that's a good question. So the information we take, typically from a conservation perspective, it helps us guide management. Um, it helps us guide surveys. It helps us understand which areas they're concentrated in and which areas we really need to protect. So if we're able to find, you know, one type of habitat they'll use, but it's kind of marginal, you know, no matter what's around, they really just don't use that that much.

That really helps us focus on their prime habitat and for us to manage that. Um, it also helps with, from a regulatory perspective, since our program does a lot with regulation and we look at projects that could impact rare species, it helps us from that perspective too, because the more we can narrow down for applicants for projects where the species could be and what time of year. That can help us focus regulatory projects and actions for those projects on the areas where we really have concerns for the species. We all want to be focusing for both conservation and regulation on the areas where we really can make an impact.

Katie : [00:15:32] Right. Right.  So you are just one of many people here at the DNR who work for the Natural Heritage Conservation program and work on these kind of population increasing type projects. Um. Why is that so important to Wisconsin and why is it so cool that we have this here in Wisconsin? 

Rori: [00:15:53] Yeah, so there are, you know, I have a lot of counterparts that do similar work with, uh, different groups of species.

Uh, there's several of us that work with amphibians and reptiles. There's people that work with birds that specialize in piping plovers or shorebirds or leafhoppers, little terrestrial invertebrates that are found in prairies and butterflies. And so our program really focuses on conservation of rare and then also the non-game, non hunted species.

And it's a really unique opportunity, um, to work with a lot of interesting people, um, that have do a lot of interesting projects and it's important to the state because the biodiversity and conservation of our wildlife is, you know, we might not see it every day, but it's important to people.

It's important to keeping ecosystems healthy, which keeps us healthy. It keeps, you know, the, the deer populations, any of the game species, it keeps their habitat going as well. 

Katie : [00:16:50] It's really a snowball effect. 

Rori: [00:16:52] Yeah, it is. It's, you know, it's one, we each have like one little piece of the puzzle that we work on, but together with everyone working with their different species and habitat types, it really can help keep conservation and the ecosystem in Wisconsin as best as it can be.

Katie : [00:17:04] Right. I think that's one of the coolest parts about our state is there is so much biodiversity, there's so many different things, and they all... They all interconnect so much. 

Rori: [00:17:16] Yep. Yeah, exactly. And it's, you know, it's really interesting for me, and I'm from Wisconsin, born and raised here, and the variety of habitats in Wisconsin you don't always think about what an unique state we have in terms of habitat. We have from the southwest part of the state, the prairies and grasslands. Um, you know, up to the north, we have boreal forests. You know, mesic forest in between. Um, we get some of those northern species, southern species, eastern and western species, and then we have the Great Lakes, all our lakes and rivers.

It's just an amazing variety of habitat. And I think, you know, with working in my job, that's one thing I've seen even more so, getting out, getting out to see all of that. 

Katie : [00:17:53] Yeah. Is there anything else you want us to know either about the reptile... reptile and amphibian work you do, or even just about Natural Heritage Conservation in general.

Rori: [00:18:04] One of the things that I think is so interesting about amphibians and reptiles is just their unique adaptations to the environment. And I think that's one thing that drew me to those species. Um, specifically for our... our frogs, for example, have such different ways of adapting even to the winter.

We have some frogs that go to the bottom of a lake. They need, you know, they can't be frozen, but they go to the bottom of the water. They can kind of slowly move around in the winter when they're really cold and they can take in enough oxygen through their skin all winter long, and they just sit at the bottom of a lake and...

Probably seems like winter is pretty long for them. Um, and then we have other species that have adapted... Other frog species that have adapted to frozen conditions and they over winter in the leaf litter in the uplands and forests, and they can literally freeze solid in the winter. Their heart stops, their breathing stops, and then they thaw out in the spring and go back to go on their way.

So it's amazing to me the different ways that amphibians and reptiles have...have evolved and have adapted to the environment. 

Katie : [00:19:04] I, I wish that the listeners could have seen the face I just made because I had no idea. 

Rori is a great example of the passion and dedication felt by the biologists working on these projects.

Let's switch gears from the creepy crawly to a species that many people give very little thought to--freshwater mussels. Jesse Weinzinger didn't always have a passion for the aquatic animals, but we'll get to that as we learn more about the work he's doing and why it could have a major impact on our state.

Jesse: [00:19:36] I am a conservation biologist for the Natural Heritage Conservation Bureau within the DNR. I research and study freshwater mussels-- our native mussels throughout Wisconsin. So we do comprehensive surveys. We do, um, routine monitoring, and I also coordinate efforts associated with our volunteer mussel program.

Katie : [00:20:00] I hear that you actually started out studying deer and some other wildlife. Why, why the change to studying mussels?

Jesse: [00:20:08] As an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin--Green Bay. Um, I had my foot in several doors studying wildlife biology, um, wetland ecology and forest dynamics. However, you know, I was interested in those, but...

I went to a talk given by our senior mussel biologist, Lisie Kitchel in Door County, and um, my fascination grew on freshwater mussels and since there is a large data gap, in Northeast Wisconsin um, my passion for mussel conservation kind of grew from there. 

Katie : [00:20:44] Very cool. So I guess to kind of an outsider to the mussel freshwater mussel world, they seem like pretty simple creatures.

Why are they so important to the ecosystems here in Wisconsin and beyond? 

Jesse: [00:20:59] Yes. So, um, to the average person mussels can kind of be considered as glorified rocks. Um, you know, there's nothing really appealing to the naked eye, um, that may catch your interest, but once you kind of learn their life histories and their importance, um in, in aquatic communities, you can really, um, grasp the understanding of why they need to be conserved. So, um, one example is they are our nature's filter feeders. Um, they, their diet consists of um algae, um, different bacteria in diatoms. So, um, one individual mussel can filter over 10 gallons of water a day.

So if you extrapolate that to a mussel bed, which can consist of tens to hundreds of thousands of animals, you can actually improve water quality downstream. 

Katie : [00:21:59] That's pretty cool. How many different kinds of native mussels do we have here in Wisconsin? 

Jesse: [00:22:07] Sure. So, uh, Wisconsin has 50 species of our native mussels. Um, of those 24 of them are considered uh, SGCN or Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Um, most people will identify that as, uh, threatened, endangered or of special concern. So, uh, just in proportion, uh, our native mussels are among the most, um, threatened and endangered species wisconsin has. 

Katie : [00:22:40] Does every body of water in Wisconsin have these mussels, or are there certain places where we're more likely to find them or tell me a little bit more about where you might find them in Wisconsin. 

Jesse: [00:22:52] Sure. So mussels are really unique in that they actually require a host fish to complete their life cycle.

So, um, when a female is brooding, um, she actually has to attract a host fish. Um, some species require one host fish, some, some species have several. Um, so if you're reliant on a host fish, generally you're gonna find your highest diversity where there's a lot of fish species. So, um, our largest rivers, the Wisconsin, the Chippewa, um, and then over in the St.  Croix and the Mississippi, you'll find our highest um, um, diversity of freshwater mussels in those systems. 

Now, you can also find them in cool or headwater streams if there are minnows present. Um, once again, that really cold water with like trout habitat, um, the diversity drops significantly because you don't have that fish diversity there.

Katie : [00:23:57] Okay. All right. So kind of a lake that isn't part of a greater system likely wouldn't have mussels in it, but those streams and rivers and kind of lake systems are more likely. 

Jesse: [00:24:13] Sure. So, um, naturally you're going to have your highest diversity in those, um, large rivers with flowing water.

However, you can find mussels in farm ponds and small, small lakes in the middle of nowhere that aren't connected to, uh, outflows. Um. Uh, my wife actually had her parents have a farm pond over by Apple, Appleton, and there is a species of mussel there. Well, how did that occur? Um, they're, you know, the, there were probably, um, birds, um, ducks or maybe even a muskrat, which these young, tiny microscopic juveniles attached to which brought them in.

Um, um, that way. 

Katie : [00:25:02] Okay. Wow, that's really fascinating. I, I feel like I know so little about mussels, but I've just learned a ton. 

Jesse: [00:25:09] Absolutely. And, um, I, I go around the state giving mussel presentations, and I used to call it catching the mussel bug because they look like glorified rocks under, you know, to the naked eye.

Um, but once you, um get to learn that they actually have to attract a host fish and they rely on these host um surrogates to complete their life cycle. Um, it becomes fascinating because how do you attract a host fish when you look like a rock on the bottom of the, of the water column? Well, actually, they have evolved an appendage to mimic their host fish's prey.

So, um, some mussels well mimic a minnow or a darter, which is pretty fascinating. 

Katie : [00:26:00] Yeah. As many of our listeners may or may not know, um, Governor Tony Evers declared 2019 the "Year of Clean Drinking Water", and you've just wrapped up the first statewide survey in about 40 years looking at mussel populations. Tell me a bit about what you found. 

Jesse: [00:26:19] Okay. So I was hired at the DNR in 2016 right after the release of our second wildlife action plan, which is a comprehensive guide to identify, um, our species of greatest conservation need and management efforts that can help improve their status throughout the state.

And one of the things that they recognize was the, um the data gap associated with aquatic invertebrates. So we got a wildlife grant to conduct this comprehensive statewide survey, um, in regards to freshwater mussels. So we went to, um, 99 sites throughout the state and, um, identified places where historically there was a high diversity of mussels. 

After completing the data, we saw trends, um, in some systems that were good, and the trends that we've seen a negative decrease in species diversity. Um, so there's good and bad results from that. In the Wisconsin River, that, you know, that's, that's the largest river within the seat boundaries. Um, historically, uh, the mussel population has been decimated, uh, from, you know, logging practices to, uh, industrialization to the building of several dams.

And what...we have concluded in the past is that mussels were significantly impacted by those practices. So, in our database, we had a very large data gap from about the Wisconsin Dells, up, through, um, the Wausau/Merrill area. So we didn't have data to kind of compare historically. So we went to those lo-, we went to a couple of locations just to see what was occurring there.

And we found a pretty significant, um uh, richness and diversity in those areas. Um, another unique thing about freshwater mussels is you can estimate their age because they have growth rings, kind of like a tree or fish scales. So, you can externally measure and age these individuals, and what we are seeing is a lot of these, um, individuals were aged, um, from about 20 years to now.

Uh, so there has been recruitment and strong recruitment in the last 20 years of, of these animals. And, so because of a lot of water cleanup, water, a lot of water quality improvements, we're seeing a rebound in the Wisconsin River. We're also seeing stable populations in the lower Green Bay area, which has, uh, historically been impacted-- um, via heavy metal contaminants from industry to, uh, zebra mussel infestations. However, we're seeing a stable population in a couple areas, including near shore environments where invasive species can't really, um, take a, take a hold or a grasp on the community. 

Katie : [00:29:59] Very interesting. How...how will you use these results moving forward?

Jesse: [00:30:05] Like you said, the previous survey, comprehensive survey was conducted about 40 years ago. Um, so that was a large window. There was not routine monitoring between then and now. Some areas of the state based on certain projects, um, we, we've been able to extract data from, but, the survey that was just completed can serve as a baseline, um, for more routine monitoring.

So the, the expectation is that we will go back to a select number of these sites every five years and repeat the same survey using the same standardized protocol to kind of gauge the health, um, uh, of these animals...looking at their ages, looking at their growth, looking at their mortality, because once they pass away, their shell remains intact for several decades.

If we see a large decline in, uh, in the number of animals, we can, um, kind of, we will be able to, um, allocate more resources to that area to cause or to find the cause and effect of this decline. 

Katie : [00:31:25] Okay. Very interesting. So in these surveys, you are actually in the water looking around, and I'm sure you've seen some kind of interesting things.

Do you have any good, any, any good stories to share there? 

Jesse: [00:31:40] Sure. Um,  a good and bad example. We'll start off with the good. So when you're underwater, um, you know, your focus is always in the substrate, you're always looking down. And in Wisconsin, we don't really have the clearance to water. It's not like you're diving off the coast of Belize or in the ocean, so you can see about three feet in front of you, depending on what system you're in. And almost every water body, we see schools of...schools have small mouth bass. Um, and they're very curious animals. Um, so, just from doing our research here, uh, I can identify several areas where there's really good smallmouth bass fishing.

Um, you know, we find a lot of river treasures. Um, we--a lot of unique hand-blown bottles, you know, that are probably a hundred years old. Um, I found my first pearl last year, um, which are extremely rare to find. And the only, probably the only reason I found that is because it was at a site where we were seeing a mass mortality.

Um, of the animal. And then unfortunately, when you're under water, you see a lot of, uh, impacts from, from us, uh, humans. And so we see a lot of plastic, as mentioned. We see a lot of bottles, we see a lot of  tires and car parts. So it's, um, it's kinda interesting to see our effect in aquatic communities.

Katie : [00:33:24] Rori and Jesse are just two great examples of the work being done here in Wisconsin. Learn more about all of the projects by checking out the winter issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine in mailboxes soon. 

There are a couple of ways you can give back to the program. First participate in citizen science monitoring projects. There are projects throughout the state working with a wide variety of species of both plants and animals that you can get involved with. Learn more at  dnr.wi.gov. Secondly, tax season is almost here. Give back to the endangered resources fund when you complete your state tax return. The money goes directly to funding projects, just like Rori and Jesse's.

Lastly, if you have any questions about these or the other projects we want to hear from you. Send an email to DNRpodcast@wisconsin.gov and we'll work with our experts to get you an answer. We'll be taking a short break for the holidays. We'll see you back here with more inside voices on Wisconsin outdoors in January.

Thanks for listening.

What is Wild Wisconsin - Off the Record?

Wild Wisconsin: Off The Record is bringing you inside voices on Wisconsin's outdoors.

It doesn’t matter if you live to hunt and fish, watch birds, love camping, or you're someone who
likes to get outdoors for a walk every once in a while, there's something here for everyone.