Wisconsin DNR upland wildlife ecologist and Farm Bill specialist hired
Mark Witecha has been hired by the DNR to replace Scott Walter as the agency’s upland wildlife ecologist and Farm Bill specialist. Walter left the position last summer to work with the Ruffed Grouse Society.
Witecha will deal with pheasants, grouse, turkeys and a host of other wildlife species, but not furbearers, deer, and migratory birds.
Witecha began working with the DNR in 2013 and is leaving his post as a wildlife biologist in Jefferson County to take the position in Madison.
As the state’s upland wildlife ecologist, Witecha is responsible for planning and assisting implementing wildlife habitat projects on state land.
Before coming to Wisconsin, Witecha was employed by Pheasants Forever in Kansas as a PF Farm Bill wildlife biologist. He grew up in the Wisconsin Dells area, received a BS degree in wildlife ecology from UW-Stevens Point and a masters in range and wildlife management from Texas A & M University.
Witecha’s wife, Michele, is a forest specialist in Madison with the DNR. They have a 10-month-old daughter. The family will continue to live in the Lake Mills area, with Michele and Mark working out of their respective Madison offices.
Krista Pham (McGinley) will continue as Witecha’s assistant upland game ecologist.
“My working with the Farm Bill will be more on the policy level than making visits to farms, but I’ll be working with the state’s Natural Resources Conservation Service State Technical Committee. This committee is tasked in helping set priorities for funding for their programs,” Witecha said.
Witecha’s previous involvement with upland game and Farm Bill issues sparked his interest in the position. “When you can make a policy change and it impacts thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, that’s a good thing for wildlife and the public.”
He will not be dealing directly with farmers, but the policies could impact private lands by making it possible for farmers to better understand and take advantage of conservation programs.
“One of my goals is to continue the work Scott (Walter) did with the partner-driven initiatives for conservation for the state,” Witecha said. “While I’m not a supervisor for the field staff (local wildlife biologists), it’s my job to keep them in the loop, and certainly help the field biologists showcase, with others around the state, the really good work individuals are doing.”
While there are fewer concerns with upland wildlife than with the state’s deer or trout programs, Witecha plans to makes sure that continues.
“One of the things I’d like to do is look closely at the results of the WDNR hunter surveys. It seems the public is very supportive of our turkey season structure and management, for example. We’ve avoided conflict in part because the program and turkey hunting has been so successful,” he said.
Witecka could have some direct input as a hunter, too. “I’m an avid upland game bird hunter and have experience training bird dogs. I currently have an English setter, Molly, which I trained myself.”