Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Kettle Moraine plan under review

Madison — The DNR is reviewing public comments on a draft master plan for what’s known as the Northern Kettle Moraine Region that covers nine state wildlife and fishery areas.

The plan includes expanded hunting areas, building dog-training areas, and expansion of project boundaries.    

The only controversial aspect of the plan is a proposed boardwalk on the Cedarburg Bog that would link an upland trail to Mud Lake. Duck hunters who now access the lake without a boardwalk fear easier access could result in conflicts between hunters and kayakers or sightseers.

The nine state wildlife and fishery areas in the Northern Kettle Moraine Region cover 15,833 acres. Those areas covered in this draft plan are not within the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit that has a separate plan. The master plan for the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit is scheduled to be updated next year or in 2016.

These nine wildlife and fishery areas are managed separately from the state forest.

When the new plan is approved by the Natural Resources Board, it will guide the DNR in managing the properties for the next 15 to 20 years. Wildlife areas include:

Theresa Marsh, Jackson Marsh, Mullet Creek, Allenton, Kiel Marsh, and Nichols Creek. The Cedarburg Bog Natural Area and Onion River and La Budde Creek fishery areas also are included in the region.

The Cedarburg Bog Natural Area in Ozaukee County covers 1,663 acres owned by the DNR. UW-Milwaukee also owns a small portion in the bog.

For decades, hunters have traversed lowland off the southern boundary along Cedar Sauk Road to reach Mud Lake. Mud Lake is 148 acres with a muck bottom and a maximum depth of 4 feet. It is ideal habitat for waterfowl.

The plan includes building a narrow boardwalk to Mud Lake to minimize damage to natural vegetation, provide safe access, and enable more public use of the lake.      

Sharon Fandel, a DNR district ecologist, said by the end of duck season, several paths to Mud Lake are formed as the original path gets mucky and is difficult to travel on. A boardwalk would create one route so there would be no need for other paths through the natural area.

“The idea of a boardwalk accessing Mud Lake is not a new idea,” Fandel said. “It was a part of the old master plan for Cedarburg Bog in 1982.”

The group, Friends of Cedarburg Bog, would provide most of the funding for the boardwalk. Maintenance costs would be shared by the DNR and the group.

Duck hunters are concerned a boardwalk would result in overuse of the lake, because the difficulty in accessing Mud Lake now self-limits the number of people willing to put in the effort to get there. There also was concern that opening the lake to more watercraft could introduce aquatic invasive species.           

At this time, hunters are allowed to leave boats on the lake during the season. Fandel said state administrative code does not generally allow this practice on properties designated as natural areas, but exceptions can be made if the property manager requests a waiver. There is a possibility the new master plan would require boats to be removed from the property at the end of each day.

Hunters say dragging boats in and out each day would actually cause more damage to vegetation even if a boardwalk is constructed. There would not be enough room on a boardwalk for people to pass by a boat being dragged. That would lead to the boats being dragged alongside the boardwalk.

Fandel said the ultimate decision on the boardwalk and boat-removal issue may fall to the NRB.

The most dramatic change to the wildlife areas will be at Theresa Marsh, where more than 800 acres of waterfowl refuge where hunting was prohibited most of the year would be opened to all hunting. The Theresa refuge would be reduced from 2,497 acres to 1,620 acres. The area that would be opened is west of Hwy. 41, north of Hwy. 28, and south of Mohawk Road.

The Theresa refuge was established decades ago when the DNR was trying to build up satellite goose areas to spread the geese out from Horicon Marsh. DNR wildlife biologist Tom Isaac said the refuge reduction is possible now due to changes in land use.

“Now we manage most of the fields as nest cover. Allowing people to hunt would not effect the refuges anymore. Waterfowl are pretty much confined to the wetland area,” Isaac said.

Expanding the area open to hunting would create opportunity for pheasant hunters and archery deer hunters. Parking lots would be expanded or created to provide better access to the opened areas.

Another change at Theresa is modification to the no-entry time period for the refuge. Currently, no entry is allowed in the refuge from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30, except for deer hunting during the gun deer season. That restriction does not allow deer hunters any time to scout the area before opening day of the gun deer season.

The new no-entry time would be Sept. 1 through Nov. 15. That would give hunters a small window to scout before the gun deer season. It also would allow a few days of archery deer hunting that is not permissible now. Waterfowl hunting would not be allowed at any time in the refuge.

“It’s something we have been talking about for years,” Isaac said. “If you are going to open it up for gun deer hunting, you might as well open it up to other activities. When the masses of deer hunters come in, it’s really not a refuge anymore for waterfowl, so why not allow trapping and other types of hunting?”

The plan also includes adding two Class II dog-training areas, one at Jackson and one at Theresa. Class II training areas are not large enough to hold competitions, but hunters may work their dogs and train with live, tagged birds if they obtain that permit.

Isaac said the DNR hopes to have dog-training areas in every county eventually. There was no appropriate place for a dog-training area in Ozaukee County, so the one in Jackson, close to the Ozaukee County line, will serve that county.

The boundaries for many of the properties are expanding. Project boundaries define the areas where the DNR will attempt to buy land from willing owners. The boundaries usually coincide with roads, rivers, lakes, or other natural land features.

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