2022 Habitat Program in Review

County: Statewide
Project Start Date: 01/01/2022
Project End Date: 12/31/2022

More and better.  WWA continued to rebound from a COVID slowdown with strong results in our habitat restoration work.  221 acres important to duck breeding were restored last year in 15 separate projects.  This was done “very efficiently” as our grant donors would say, leveraging every dollar at least 2:1 against partner dollars (landowner, federal, local).

And we had more/better project opportunities to choose from, given a strong Habitat Committee effort to publicize our private lands program—applications were up a whopping 50% – allowing us to invest grant dollars in the most productive wetland opportunities.

Wild Rice.  Additionally, we stepped into our role as “agent” for the DNR’s wild rice range expansion in the state (WWA is partnering with the state and native resource managers to significantly expand the state’s wild rice efforts.)   While 2022 was a good year for wild rice – we collected and distributed 1100 pounds, more than in recent memory — there was still insufficient supply, leaving us with grant money in our pocket that we couldn’t completely use to purchase and spread wild rice seed.  That said, with our new public lands ecologists, we will be building a plan to better leverage volunteer effort in this exciting opportunity to build habitats attractive to both waterfowl and human harvestings.  You could play a role!

Partnerships.  Finally, our partnership with the USFWS for supporting their wetland and upland restoration efforts yielded good results.  In the last 5 years, we’ve contributed $120,000 that has been leveraged 12:1 to put over 1,700 acres of improved wetlands and uplands on the ground!

The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades (apologies to Timbuk3).  Success frequently builds on success, and that’s the case with WWA’s restoration programs.  Our experience over decades in this field was recognized when the DNR contracted with us to restore neglected wetlands on state-managed properties in January.  The additional capacity we’ve grown with the two new ecologists we just hired (see separate story) makes us super competitive for the grant dollars to conduct the restorations (like from Duck Stamp dollars, or North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) funding, or others.  We have tentatively been awarded $200K in state duck stamp dollars (for our public and private lands work), which can be doubled by matching it to federal (i.e., NAWCA) and other sources of dollars.  Think about how much more we’re going to be able to do!

Winnebago County Project Highlighted by Fox Wolf Watershed Alliance

Project: Kalbus Project
County: Winnebago
Project Start Date: 12/01/2022

WWA played a critical role in the success of this project, recently highlighted by the Fox Wolf Watershed Alliance (FWWA) here.

Kalbus wetland project site map

The Kalbus Wetland project was a multi partnership project brought to WWA via the FWWA. WWA took the lead on the design of the wetland restoration, with input from the landowners and support from Winnebago County Land & Water Conservation Department.

Ground breaking on site in December 2022

Ground breaking on site in December 2022

WWA led the landowners through the process, beginning with what would be possible on the regulatory side and then creating a design that would best benefit the watershed and restore the maximum amount of wetlands within the site.

Kalbus project December 2022

Before things turned bitter cold in December ,the major earth moving was completed under WWA oversite.

Water control structure installed by WWA

Check out the article by FWWA showing some aspects of the project here.

Kalbus project

Help WWA Expand Wild Rice Restoration

Project: Wild Rice

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – habitat@wisducks.org

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s October, 2022 Newsletter edition.

Wild Rice plays a critical role for migratory birds in Wisconsin.  Anyone who hunts wild rice knows the draw it is for ducks.  Let me tell you from personnel experience, a rice bed is a good place to hunt ducks.  WWA has been doing wild rice restoration for over a decade in Wisconsin.  With high demand, and being at the mercy of Mother Nature’s bounty, some years it gets tough to find enough rice for all the potential restoration projects.  This year, and into the future, WWA, WDNR and Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) are coordinating their efforts to prioritize high quality sites.  This will get available rice were it is most beneficial among the leading organizations doing wild rice restoration.

The need is there, but the availability of rice is not always.  Sometimes it’s a down year for production due to weather conditions affecting the water bodies where rice grows.  The other main issue is availability to secure rice due to lack of vendors.  There are very few individuals outside the native tribes that collect rice.  WWA is looking to see how we can bolster this side of the equation, and that is where you, as our members, can become involved.  If there is any interest in learning how to collect rice for WWA’s wild rice restoration projects, let me know.  We are looking at getting additional boats in the water to see if we can increase the availability of green wild rice for restoration needs in the state.

Last week WWA sourced ~1,100 pounds of rice, which was then distributed to three sites.  Powell Marsh in Vilas County, Crex Meadows in Burnett County and Collins Marsh in Manitowoc County all received wild rice that was locally collected in northern Wisconsin.  All three of these sites were in their second or third year of seeding, which is important timing for establishing a healthy stand, and we did not want to miss a year.  A host of other sites were planted under the guidance of GLIFWC and its member tribes, which were also deemed priority waters for restoration.

A past, successful seeding in Oneida County, where the rice is in transition from its floating leaf to emergent life stage. This stand filled in really nice and thick the following year.

Abrams Blind Brushing 2022 Season

Project: Abrams Property
County: Oconto

By Bruce Urben, WWA President

Friday, September 16th was the annual blind brushing for the disabled accessible duck blinds on WWA’s Abrams  property located in southern Oconto County.

Green Bay Chapter members from left to right: Cody Ferris, Mike Keeler, Logan Sincoular and Jeremy VanSistine, along with our future waterfowlers. Photo credit Doug Steiner.

WWA’s Green Bay Chapter maintains the three waterfowl blinds and five deer blinds on the property. A crew of Green Bay Chapter volunteers came out in force on the Friday before the youth opener to brush the blinds in for the season.

Cattails cleared and used for brushing the blinds. Photo credit Doug Steiner.

The blinds are available for public use on a first-come, first-served basis and include almost a mile of solid surface trails on the property which allow wheel chair access. The blinds are available for anyone to use, with a priority for disabled hunters. Please pack out everything you pack in!

Waterfowl blinds are spacious and allow wheel chair access. Photo credit Doug Steiner.

The blinds are located in the southern waterfowl hunting zone.

Wood Duck Box Build with Girl Scout Troop #2275

Project Start Date: 05/05/2022

On May 5, 2022 Jason Spitzmacher, Doug Florio and Brad Miller, volunteers with WWA’s Valley Chapter, spent the day at Woodland School in the Kimberly School District with Girl Scout Troop #2275 building wood duck box kits.

Valley Wood Duck Placement New London

County: Outagamie
Project Start Date: 04/02/2022

On April 2, 2022, Steve Beach, Jason Spitzmacher, Pete Strenn, Kevin O’Brien, Dan Gill and Doug Florio, volunteers from WWA’s Valley Chapter, spent a nice early spring day placing wood duck boxes off the Big Cut on the Rick Novak property in New London.


Lake Poygan Cleanout

County: Winnebago
Project Start Date: 03/07/2022

On March 7th, Steve Beach, Jason Spitzmacher and Brad Miller, volunteers from WWA’s Valley Chapter spent a cold day on Lake Poygan cleaning out wood duck boxes.


Volunteers Tackle Bark River and Rome Pond on a Cold March Weekend

Project: Paradise Valley Wildlife Area, Bark River Unit and Rome Pond Wildlife Area
County: Waukesha
Project Start Date: 03/26/2022
Project End Date: 03/27/2022

By Mike Alaimo, Lead Adopt a Wildlife Area (AWA) Volunteer

There is always a brief time period where AWA work has to get done in March.  Unfortunately, nature provides two cold fronts, and Spring goes into reverse.  Despite the less than ideal weather, we braved the elements and tackled two big projects this weekend.

Out at the Bark River Unit of Paradise Valley Wildlife Area, a small group from Waukesha brush cut and cleared an area near the main parking lot.  At first, the 20 mph winds were daunting, but after an hour they were almost a relief.  There is still more work to finish up, but we got approximately a quarter of an acre cleared.

Ron Churchill, Chris Scheder and Nick Smart volunteered on a blustery March day with brush clearing at the Bark River unit.

On Sunday, the old mud motor purred along happily as it chewed through the newly formed 1/2” of ice on the water.  Clouds of ducks took to the air over Rome Pond.  Divers, tons or mallards, and even coot filled the ranks.  As we pushed up into the Bark River, flocks of wood ducks were kicked up at nearly every bend.  This is a special time of year at Rome, as the amount of life is always awe inspiring.

What was more impressive was the tally of over 25 boxes.  All had hatches in 2021.  There were over-achievers with a pile of shell fragments and evidence of multiple broods.  Seeing the white gold along the bottom of the Bark River punctuates a job well done.

Shell fragments from the freshly cleaned wood duck box sink to the bottom of Rome Pond.

Abrams Property Wood Duck Box Cleaning

Project: Abrams Property
County: Oconto
Project Start Date: 03/05/2022
Project End Date: 03/05/2022

By Bruce Urben, WWA President

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s April, 2022 Newsletter edition.

Thunderstorms and heavy rain didn’t deter members of the WWA’s Green Bay Chapter from completing their wood duck nest box cleaning this spring on Saturday, March 5th on WWA’s Abrams Property project.

The wood ducks should be showing up in several weeks to start their yearly process of nest site selection. It is important to make sure that their nesting boxes are cleared of old nesting debris, songbird nests, broken egg shells and even the rogue mouse nest. Fresh wood chips were exchanged for the old debris and any needed maintenance on the boxes or replacement was completed.

A huge thank you to Green Bay Chapter members; Logan Sincoular, Jake Koebernik, Jeremy VanSistine, Doug Steiner and Bruce Urben for weathering the storm and completing the cleaning effort.

Twenty-four wood duck boxes are located on WWA’s 150+ acre Abrams Project site. Most are located over water or completed scrapes on the property. The boxes on Abrams property have been maintained for over ten years!

Nesting success is measured by the remnants of broken duck eggs and down lined nests. Eight of twenty-four (33%) boxes yielded successful wood duck or merganser hatches. Down slightly from 2021!

In addition, numerous songbirds, raptors and other wild birds were seen to have nested in the boxes this year. A sign that the wetland is healthy and sustainable.

Check out our  store to see how you can obtain wood duck nesting boxes for the wetland on your property. Maybe you can see the “great jump” of new hatchlings in your own back yard.

Have a happy spring and enjoy watching as our migration returns in the coming weeks.

February 2022 Habitat Program Updates

By Peter Ziegler, Project Director – habitat@wisducks.org

This article originally appeared in Wisconsin Waterfowl Association’s March, 2022 Newsletter edition.

You may have seen on our facebook page the completion of a couple of projects in the last two weeks.  Conditions were ideal for access to these sites, allowing us to knock out a few projects this year. One had been waiting two years for Mother Nature to create enough frost for access.  In contrast to last winter, when we had almost no frost, it was welcomed.  Contractors also staged some stone for project work in St Croix County, which will be completed soon.

As we wrapped up our annual meeting this past month I summarized a few points of our habitat program (check out my full year in review here).  WWA installed seven water control structures, most of these providing the ability to manage water levels, which ultimately allows for the management of vegetation.  Vegetation management is a key to keeping your wetland healthy and attractive for wildlife.

In addition, we plugged/filled six ditches, which provide true hydrological restoration through the removal of surface water drains.  These types of projects help raise the water in the system and support desired wetland plants, which provide many of the critical needs of wildlife.  Many of these systems with functioning ditches are dominated with undesirable plants, which have reduced wildlife benefits. So by reversing the drainage, we are keeping shallow ground water levels more stable and mimicking the natural conditions of how the wetlands historically developed.

It was a terrible year for wild rice across the upper Midwest, from the drought conditions in northern Minnesota to poor rice production in Wisconsin.  WWA did manage to secure 150lbs of rice, which was planted at Collins Marsh as part of trial program.  A few sites, in cooperation with WDNR, were selected both in and out of the refuge area with anticipation to establish a wild rice bed for enhanced wildlife benefits.

Over the next month we should see lots of returning waterfowl and full breeding plumage, so get out and take a look.