CWD in Wisconsin

As an avid deer hunter in Wisconsin, chronic wasting disease or CWD is something that always crosses the back of your mind when you field harvest your deer and when you eventually put a fork to it. If you do not know what CWD is, it is a prion disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose.  This prion disease is neurodegenerative, meaning that it can result in drastic weight loss (hence wasting), stumbling, fatigue, and other neurological problems. If you have ever seen videos of deer with CWD it is as if you are looking at a zombie but in animal form.  It is quite depressing because they no longer have control over their bodily functions.  In 2019, the Wisconsin DNR tested around 250,000 deer across Wisconsin.  They found that about 6500 of those deer were infected with CWD. Therefore, you could calculate that approximately 2% of the whitetail deer population in Wisconsin is infected with CWD.

Most of these cases are found in the Southwestern part of the state and 2% doesn’t sound like much but it is a problem no matter how small it might be.  This is a problem because we know that this disease can be spread to a variety of ungulates, but we do not know whether it can be spread from ungulate to human. Right now, the only thing we do know is that CWD poses a risk to non-human primates like monkeys that eat meat infected by CWD. This is somewhat concerning since we are very closely related to monkeys.  Though no human has contracted CWD from consuming meat from an infected ungulate it is still a very big concern among hunters. If a human ever contracted CWD we could only assume that it could be transferred from human to human and ultimately becoming the next pandemic.  

Clean Energy in Wisconsin

Wisconsin as a state underutilizes the amount of renewable energy it could produce.  Currently, in Wisconsin, only 10% of Wisconsin’s energy is produced by a renewable resource.  As a state, there are many different options that could be beneficial to the environment, but to the economy in Wisconsin as well.  For instance, wind and solar energy are both viable options when it comes to clean energy.  Solar power is continuing to gain traction because solar energy production has advanced in such a way that solar energy is like if not less then buying electricity from local utility plants. The only thing bad about Wisconsin is that the sun does not shine as much during the winter and at some points during the winter we only receive about 4 hours of sunlight per day. Which would not be ideal for solar energy.  

As far as Wind energy goes Wisconsin is highly lacking compared to its neighboring counterparts. Wisconsin currently produces about 648 Megawatts of wind energy installed capacity. Our neighbors such as Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota produce about 5,000 to 3,000 Megawatts of wind energy installed capacity. Wisconsin has enough land to produce the same amount of energy as its neighboring states, just decides not to

Another renewable energy source that Wisconsin relies upon is Hydroelectricity dams.  In Wisconsin there are currently over 100 dams used to produce electricity and that number is only going to go down. This is mostly due to the many ecological impacts that dams have on an ecosystem.  Overall,  Wisconsin has a very limited amount of renewable resources put into place,  even though you would think that would not be the case being that we are surrounded by various forms of nature.  This has to change in order to make our energy sources more sustainable.

Deforestation…Nah Not In Wisconsin

Wisconsin has a total land area of about 34.7 million acres, and about 46% of that area is covered by trees.  In the late 1800s or early 1900s, most of Wisconsin timber was cut down for agriculture or just for plain old timber itself.  I continue to believe that Wisconsin’s forest is being cut down at an alarming rate due to the need for agricultural land. I believe this because every time I go up north where I hunt, I continue to see the very forests I hunted in getting cut down and used for cranberry bogs or for potato, corn, or soybean fields. However, my eyes have only seen a specific part of Wisconsin get changed drastically by deforestation.

On the contrary, Wisconsin is gaining more forested land ever than before. This is due to multiple factors, but one that is most important is that about more than 50% of Wisconsin forested land is owned by individual landowners. The DNR has continued to educate landowners on the benefit of forest management and wildlife habitat and it seems to be working well. The DNR can help landowners figure out when certain areas are ready to be cut and help identify changes within the woodlot.  In addition to the DNR helping landowners, the landowners also receive property tax relief because they either manage their land for recreation, timber income, or wildlife habitat.  Therefore, my initial thought of Wisconsin forests being cut down at an alarming rate was wrong and the DNR has actually allowed for Wisconsin’s forests to flourish.

Link of the Week

Yet again this week we have an article relating to the coronavirus, but instead of the impacts it is having on the environment this article explores other avenues. Especially since we should be focused on staying home and staying healthy. The blog was posted by Wisconsin Environment and was written by Jennette Gayer. It is an actually pretty interesting article, so check it out.

How COVID-19 is affecting the Environment

When it comes to the coronavirus, we are all affected in different ways.  We are all hopefully practicing social distancing and in some cases quarantine.  Obviously, this is something that we are all adjusting to and something we do not enjoy, but it is a necessary evil.  Even though COVID-19 has taken many lives this necessary evil is not all bad for everyone, as a matter of fact, the environment is enjoying every second of it. Due to the lack of travel, social distancing, and in major cases quarantines that have been put into place we are seeing many positive benefits to the environment.

NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China.NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China.NASA

One of the main benefits we are starting to see is in air quality.  For example, while China was in quarantine for 2 weeks, they saw a significant decrease in pollution.  This obviously happened because of industrial plants and forms of transport being shut down. This was also seen to be the case in Italy where quarantine occurred. The main pollutant we are seeing a drop in is Nitrogen Dioxide, which corresponds with industrial activity and vehicular traffic.  In addition to that, industrial plants being shut down means less electricity or energy is used. This reduces the use of coal, which reduces the amount of carbon dioxide being given off in these areas.  One of the other effects we are starting to see due to humans being confined to their homes is the increase in wildlife.  With fewer people on the streets we are starting to see animals that have commonly gone unnoticed in urban areas pop up on street corners.

Sure, these environmental impacts are only temporary, but could it be the new norm.  We have seen that the reduction of emissions is possible, but can it be sustainable in the future?

Lead in the Water

When it comes to Wisconsin we tend to be surrounded by a lot of freshwater resources.  These freshwater resources are being used in many ways whether it be used for recreational or personal/public use.  When it comes to our drinking water, living in Wisconsin is something that we take advantage of.  We will most likely never have to worry about a shortage of water within the near future, compared to some of the states in the West when they go through droughts because of warmer temperatures due to climate change. Obviously, Wisconsin is a great place to live when it comes to our water supply.  The only problem is the way our water is being delivered to us.  As we have seen with Flint Michigan our water supply can be contaminated with lead through our delivery system.  Many pipes that were used 50 years ago used contained lead in them and nowadays those lead pipes are garnering more attention.

In a recent study statewide in Wisconsin it was found that 4.5% of children under the age of 6 tested positive for lead poisoning in Wisconsin.  This is mostly because Wisconsin’s pipes are highly outdated, and they tend to contain a fine amount of lead in their pipes in their public water systems.  Milwaukee is affected the most by lead in their pipes because it was found that 8.6% of children under the age of 6 tested positive for lead poisoning.  Now the City of Milwaukee knows this is a problem proposing a $750 million budget to fix this issue.  Even with this amount of money being proposed to help, it would not be able to fix the problem. There would still be a small amount of lead in the pipes even after they would perform such an undertaking.  This is where money and health tend to play a key role in deciding certain problems. The only question, would it be worth it to spend all this money even though we would still see lead in the water but to a smaller degree?

Bugles Continue to Spread in northern WI

For those who don’t know what a bugle is, it is something that must be heard in order to really understand the beauty of such a call.  A bugle is a sound produced by a bull elk used for asserting their dominance and locating other bulls to potentially steal their potential mates. Bugling only really occurs during their mating season, something that only occurs during the months of September and October. I myself have never heard such a coveted sound except for on YouTube, but recently according to the WI DNR the current elk herd in Wisconsin is around 400 elk.  When I first heard this my initial reactions were a reaction comprised of surprise and bewilderment, mostly because I had no idea we actually had a viable elk population in Wisconsin at all. This is mostly due to a relationship created in 1995 between the WI DNR and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that helped to reintroduce 25 elk at the time in the Clam Lake Region in Wisconsin.  Throughout recent years more elk have been introduced into other northern regions across Wisconsin and it has proven to be a success.  Currently, in the Clam Lake region, it’s population of elk is around 185 elk. 

These methods of reintroduction have proven to be so successful that in 2018 Wisconsin held it’s first-ever elk hunt, which allowed 10 lucky hunters to harvest a mature bull. The hunt turned out to be a success and was held in 2019 and are currently applications for the upcoming 2020 hunt.  If you are interested in applying the application fee is $10 and if you lucky enough to get picked out of the raffle the license fee is currently $49.  In addition to that if you get picked you must complete a mandatory elk hunter orientation.  If you ask me if this is worth it, I would 100% of the time say yes.  I always wanted to hear a bull elk bugle or see them in the wild and Wisconsin is becoming one of those places two do both of those things.

Lake Invaders: It came from the East

By: Luke Proell, Creator of Lanky Blog

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Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake located entirely within the United States borders, but especially with the entire East coast of Wisconsin. The lake is home to many different species from the animal kingdom like fish and birds but is also home to a variety of invasive species as well including the zebra mussel and the Asian carp. Zebra mussels, originating from the Caspian Sea, are causing a wide array of damage to the ecosystem both directly and indirectly. For starters, zebra mussels are known to coat pipes that lead to drinking water treatment plants and make their home within those pipes. This can lead to more money needing to be put into these plants in order to keep them functional and operational as Lake Michigan is a great source of drinking water for the entire community. The invasive species also have a habit of killing the native mussel population just due to their reproductive nature. Native mussels may take 3-5 years to fully mature and develop while zebra mussels only take a matter of one year which allows them to spread faster and deplete natural resources from the native species.

While originally not considered viable to survive in Lake Michigan, the Asian carp, arriving from Southeast China, has proved that it can be devastating for the long-term sustainability of the lake’s ecosystem. While the zebra mussel has many damaging implications towards human culture the carp can do monumental damage towards other fish within the waters such as walleye, yellow perch, and whitefish. Since the Asian carp has such a flexible diet consisting of anything from plankton to the feces of invasive mussels such as the zebra mussel. With few natural predictors, there’s no telling how out of control these invasive populations will get without spreading awareness and allocating resources towards saving one of Earth’s greatest ecosystems.

What’s the Buzz

If you haven’t figured it out by the title, we will be talking about native bees and how they are being affected by pollutants of all sorts. As many of you have already heard, bees are having a particularly hard time as of late when it comes to surviving and reproducing.  This is a problem that can be seen throughout the United States, but today we will be talking about native bee populations pertaining to Wisconsin.  Native bees play an essential role in Wisconsin’s agricultural community and without them could really hurt the crop output with certain crops that require fertilization by the transferring of pollen from one plant to another. As a matter of fact, 70% of angiosperm plants rely on insect pollination. The word angiosperm refers to plants that produce a flower; which includes, all fruit’s, rice, wheat, acorns, beans, and corn.  Some of those plants like corn, wheat, and soybeans can either be self-pollinated or be helped by the wind in fertilization.  When it comes to Wisconsin’s Orchardist’s and their crops of apples, cranberries, and cherries etc. many of them should be worried.  When it comes to ecosystems, many of them rely on the native bee populations because their larvae and the plants they pollinate provide food for a variety of wildlife.

Common Native Bees

Native bee populations have been plummeting for a multitude of reasons.  For instance, invasive species tend to battle with the native bee population for certain food sources and in most cases native bee population are not enough to fight off these invaders ultimately leading them to getting kicked out of an area. In addition to that, pesticides have always been a problem for native bee populations. Many bee populations tend to live near crops because they are a steady source of food which make them vulnerable to these very pesticides. Last of all, climate change has caused for a lot of habitat loss that many native bee populations tend to rely on for survival, for reproductive purposes, and in some cases food.  Without these specific habitats many native bee populations have vanished.  If we do not do something about our actions when it comes to climate change and our pesticide use, we will be forced to self-pollinate some of our crops and some of our current ecosystems may collapse.  We need to change our ways.

Bald Eagles Are Back

We have all had that moment in our lives when we see something like a large dark bird circling its prey in the distance and can’t help but think in our minds that maybe it could be a bald eagle.  Eventually, that bird comes closer and we realize that it nowhere near resembles anything like a bald eagle.  The bald eagle represents the national bird of the United States and when you get your eyes on one you can’t help but feel nostalgic.   As a child, I knew that the only time I could set my eyes on such a majestic creature was when I traveled up to my Grandparent’s house in Rhinelander WI. For many years that was the case, but that is starting to change.  This year I started seeing eagles as close as Madison flying around and supposedly this is something we can expect to see more of.

Bald Eagles in Wisconsin 45 years ago were primarily only active near Lake Superior and their total numbers only equaled 107 occupied nests.  Recently in 2019, bald eagles occupy over 1,600 nests throughout Wisconsin and in 71 out of 72 counties.   This is not by coincidence either according to the WI DNR, because there have been multiple efforts to have a healthy bald eagle population in WI since 1974.  This is due mostly because of the national ban put on a pesticide known as DDT, which would end up poisoning the birds ultimately killing them. In addition to that, they credit the comeback to added protection under the federal and state protection of endangered species.  Finally, river clean-ups under the clean water act and public support of nest monitoring and protection efforts.  All of these efforts have combined to create a flourishing bald eagle population and it will only continue to grow.