September 2021 Habitat Program Updates & Wetland Restoration Assistance for Private Landowners

Project: Statewide

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – 262/470-4301

If you missed last month’s Waterfowl Hunter’s Expo you missed an informative forty-five minute presentation and discussion on the available programs, organizations and some of the ins and outs of obtaining funding for resorting wetlands on private land.  The good thing is I gave that presentation and I’m going to fill you in, in a broad sense, on what was talked about.

A couple organizations and agencies play a prominent role in Wisconsin on this front.  There is overlap and distinguishing aspects that set each organizations and program apart.  There is no “clearing house” for this in our state.  The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fields lots of calls and does help to relay those on to appropriate partners.  This is a big help in getting a landowner to the correct point of contact.   The bare bones basic is that if you are a producer and in agriculture a good place to start is  with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field staff or the association’s Farm Bill biologist for that county.  If you’re not a producer, then Wisconsin Waterfowl Association and US Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife program are good places to start.  The big thing is to remember that mostly all of the organizations work together and will pass potential projects between each other for the best outcome for restoring a wetland.

The vast majority of projects we encounter are 1-100 acres in size with the majority falling into that 5-30 acre range.  Size should not sway you to do a project or not, whether it is one acre or 500 acres, we will work with you to get something accomplished.  WWA provides technical assistance for most wetland projects with our program. We know sometimes the hardest part is getting the survey, design, permitting and regulatory process completed so that you can start digging.

The best program, from my point of view and from a financial standpoint, is the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WRE) through NRCS.  This is also the most competitive program and large acreage is needed to be competitive within it.  Smaller acreage projects are picked up by WWA, USFWS and County Conservation Departments, typically.

Any project with hydrologic alterations would meet most conservation program’s goals and many partners would probably work together to complete a good project with hydrologic alterations. Hydrologic alterations would include ditches, drain tile and berms, anything that changed the natural flow or storage of water within a landscape. Wildlife scrapes are another common project inquiry.  These are tough to cost share on in a large dollar amount due to the high cost per acre associated with them.  It’s important to have a professional take a look anyway because I have found scrape inquiries which contain hydrological alteration that can be reversed, which makes the project more attractive for cost share options.

Three examples of projects we have worked on that demonstrate how partners work together to accomplish what is best for a project are briefly discussed below.

  1. A 50 acres site with a berm and ditches. Landowner was referred to WRE but did not rank high enough for funding two years in a row.  The landowner came back to WWA and we completed the project in conjunction with the County Conservation Department and USFWS Partners program.  The area was low and wet and only produced hay cuttings.  Once the ditches were filled and the berm breached with a water control structure, the area immediately inundated and is an ideal mix of 50-50% emergent to open water habitat.
  2. A landowner approached WWA with a parcel that contained farmland and degraded drained wetland. This project was restored through three programs. The north half, which was farmland with drainage ditches, was completed through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) from NRCS and the county.  The south portion, where a large ditch was disabled along with drain tiles to rehydrate a low area dominated by Reed Canary Grass, was restored through WWA and USFWS Partners program, restoring it to an emergent wetland.
  3. A farmed wetland that was drained both by drain tiles and ditches worked cooperatively for funding and technical assistance. This is one where USFWS asked WWA for technical assistance.  WWA helped develop a plan for the project, assisted USFWS in writing a grant to secure enough funding for the project and the landowner provided labor and equipment to get the project completed, shown below during construction and afterwards.

These examples show how diverse and unique every project is.  Not all will have multiple partners, but it goes to show how these organizations partner together to accomplish wetland restorations across Wisconsin.

Black Tern Banding Project Updates

Project: Rome Pond Wildlife Area
County: Waukesha
Project Start Date: 07/10/2021
Project End Date: 07/10/2021

In an update to last month’s black tern banding project, we’re excited to share the story and images of this historic banding project being done on WWA’s Adopt A Wildlife Area (AWA) project on Rome Pond Wildlife Area.

Another Amazing Day!

By Mike Alaimo, Lead AWA volunteer.
All photos courtesy Mike Alaimo unless otherwise noted.

Dr, David Shealer bands a black tern chick

As the season was wrapping up for the black terns on Rome, one last effort was made to deploy more geolocating tags.  This task seemed impossible as the platforms were found to be bare and adults were heavily defending the areas where fledglings were present.

Our first leg band of the day resulted from a fledgling that had the necessary primaries, but still chose to cling to the lilies. Dr. David Shealer was able to capture the young tern.  It was allowed to dry off on the seat of my boat, while adults dove down upon us looking and listening for it. After performing measurements and banding the fledgling, it was released back to the capture location.

An exhaustive search was then conducted for natural nesting sites. Young terns were everywhere, in the air and hidden in the beds of lilies. Finally, by watching pair behavior, two natural nest sites were found.

Newly born black tern chicks on their nest. Photo courtesy Dr. David Shealer

A trap was set on one nest, when a molting male was found to have settled down on a small patch of floating peat near us. In awe, I watched a small chick squeeze out from under the breast of the male and stand next to the adult.

Adult male black tern

We pounced on the opportunity, and set a trap over the nest.  Both chicks were captured, and a decoy egg was swapped with the near-to-hatching egg.  The male was quickly trapped, measured, banded and tagged.  Both chicks were also measured and banded, with weights that aged them at one day and less than a day old, respectively.  The difference in weight already three grams between the two.

Dr. David Shealer bands the black tern chick.

With mom unhappily hovering above us, attempts to trap her were abandoned.  We tried finding more nests, but soon we headed to the launch.

What started out as a potential bust turned out to be extraordinary day.  These birds are amazing and I am proud to be part of their lives, while continuing to bolster our education of their species.


Thanks to Mike and Dr. Shealer for this amazing project to help study endangered black terns. An update to Mike’s report published last month can also be viewed here.


Valley Chapter’s CESA 6 Wood Duck Box Building Program

In partnership with Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 6, WWA’s Valley chapter visited three alternative education schools for wood duck box building, allowing for hands on interaction and participation for students. The volunteers visited:

  • Winchester, WI;  April 13th,
  • Brandon, WI;  April 20th and
  • Hartford, WI;  May 20th.

Special Thanks to Rick Reed of Neenah for the Volunteer Support!

Black Tern Banding

Project: Rome Pond Wildlife Area
County: Waukesha

In 2018, WWA’s Waukesha Chapter Chair, and Adopt A Wildlife Area Lead Volunteer, Mike Alaimo, set out to assist the endangered Black Terns at Rome Pond Wildlife Area as a part of his greater project to restore nesting habitat at Rome Pond. We are excited to announce that in the summer of 2021, Mike partnered with Dr. David Shealer from Loras College on a history-making endeavor to band and track the birds at Rome Pond.  Check out the full report:


May 2021 Habitat Program Updates & Tips for Landowners

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – 262/470-4301

I can’t remember a time when I did a habitat restoration project in May, but for those in the southern part of the state, you know it has been dry.  That has led to kicking off some early project construction.  That will be good for those trying to get some vegetation and water for the fall flight.  Although an anomaly (May wetland construction, that is), WWA is poised to impact a number of other projects in its goals to get as much habitat on the ground as possible.

Tile removal completed in the early days of June, 2021, part of the restoration process of turning this hay field back into wetland.

We have a handful of sites which have been surveyed and a few more to survey, and then it’s on to permitting.  Although seemly daunting to the average person, permitting for the likes of professionals such as WWA and its partners is just another step in the process of bringing a project to fruition.  The WDNR, through it restructuring, has specialized their water permitting, and that has been great from my perspective.  I now have four main contacts for the most common wetland conservation permitting WWA does.  That simplifies it from the 60 or so potentially under the previous structure, which has allowed us to develop good communication and streamline any questions or issues a certain project may have regulatory-wise ahead of permit submittal.

That still leaves the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and County oversite.  Both of these provide a layer of checks from different perspectives, which is ultimately there to protect the natural resources.  Floodplain issues usually fall to the county, and usually take another step to assure no negative impacts will occur.  But, don’t assume that’s all, we also have to follow and secure erosion permits from both the county and WDNR normally, with a few exceptions.

All of this may seem daunting, but going through the process multiple times a year, you start to understand the process and why timing for completion of any project is not the next month from when you first contact WWA with your project application.  Stay tuned as we dive a little deeper next month with some insight from US Army Corp of Engineers and WDNR, which may save you a call to one of these regulators, or under worst case scenario a visit or letter to cease further action in a regulated wetland.

Abrams Property Prescribed Burn

Project: Abrams Property
County: Oconto
Project Start Date: 05/06/2021
Project End Date: 05/06/2021

On May 6th a successful prescribed burn was completed at WWA’s Abrams Property project site. Prescribed fires are intentionally set under controlled conditions to achieve specific management objectives. The use of prescribed fire is widely accepted as a primary tool for habitat restoration and management.

Here are some images before the burn:

And some images during the burn:

And the post-burn shots:


Valley Chapter’s Nesting Project

Project: Chase/Baehnman Property
County: Waushara
Project Start Date: 03/20/2021
Project End Date: 03/20/2021

On Saturday, March 20th, WWA’s Appleton/Valley Chapter completed the install of thirteen new wood duck box houses on the Chase/Baehnman property, located northwest of Lake Poygan. Thanks to Brad Miller, Scott Stache, Keven O’Brien, Doug Flouro, Steve Beach, Corey Baehnman, Zander Baehnman and Lee Chase for providing critical nesting habitat. Special Thanks to Lee Chase and Corey Baehnman; property owners for supporting the WWA nesting project!

The box locations are marked on the property map.

The team in action, hauling supplies

Driving Pipe: Steve Beach, Corey Baehnman, Zander Baehnman Scott Stache and Doug

Due to the number of installs, the team decided to rent a gas-powered post powder for this project, below is video of their new found technology at work:

Corey Baehnman, Scott Stache, Doug Flouro and Kevin O’Brien working on installs

Zander Baehnman adding nesting shavings to an original house on the property

February Habitat Program Updates

Project: Multiple
County: Statewide

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – 262/470-4301

Using the cold to our advantage, and then sprinting because 30 degree temperature swings and the now longer sunny days shortens the construction window, a lot of our project work gets accomplished on frigid winter days like we had in February.  That’s been the race this winter, with our significant snow cover creating a nice insulating blanket, and with nearly zero frost in the ground, conditions have been challenging.  We had three projects lined up ready to go, and all were expecting to take off to start construction within a week of each other.  We were waiting for cold conditions and then helping Mother Nature along a little bit as you will see from the pictures below.

Removing snow and Reed Canary Grass during the deep freeze allowed frost to set in and created the solid ground conditions we needed to get these projects constructed this winter.  We were able to create haul roads for running 70,000 pound trucks across the wetland to move fill for some ditch plugs and scrape activities.

With our warmer temps and some sun, water began to accumulate on the work site, but enough frost is present we should be able to wrap this up before the entire area floods over.  It looks like this may be the end for winter work and it came really fast this year since we lacked any frost until early February, and now by the last week of this short month what we have is disappearing.

Once we get rid of a portion of this snow cover I will be back at it with surveying new projects for the coming year.  As always, keep the inquiries coming in, we never turn away a good restoration project and the only way to get good ones is to have you, our members and interested individuals, send them to us.  Give me a call or send in a project application (found here on our website) and I’ll be in touch.

2020 Project Year in Review

Project: Statewide
County: Statewide
Project Start Date: 01/01/2021
Project End Date: 12/31/2020

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director

Watch the full video on WWA’s 2020 Habitat Program accomplishments, presented at our annual State Meeting on January 23, 2021, here:



January 2021 Habitat Program Updates

County: Outagamie
Acres to Restore: 10

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director

The mild temperatures have been nice for some things in the habitat world and not so good for others.  We currently have a project under construction in Outagamie County and the mild temperatures made it possible to actually install erosion matting during winter construction without having to install it within minutes of when the machines finish.

Erosion matting installed on this Outagamie project

The downside is we have a number of projects which need good frost depth to be completed and that is not even close to happening yet.  To see what we have been up to, I’m sharing a few pictures of this Outagamie project site.

The water control structure will allow water management on approximately 10 acres of habitat, which was formerly a field dominated by invasive species.  The scrape will add some diversity of water depth in an area where open water will provided good brood and breeding habitat.