Wisconsin Wildlife Update: News About The Status Of Wolves And Other Wildlife In Wisconsin

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

Larry Meiller gets an update on wolves in Wisconsin in light of a recent ruling that puts them back on the endangered species list. Plus, wildlife trends in 2014, including the status of our deer poulation.

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  • Building A Brush Pile Can Attract, Protect Wildlife

    When the cold weather hits, it’s common to see people scurry from house to car or from bus stop to work in order to minimize exposure to the elements. While wildlife is better equipped in many ways to withstand a Wisconsin winter, they also need shelter — and there are ways that people can provide that.

    Scott Craven, an emeritus wildlife specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, said that a well-constructed brush pile will serve the wildlife that is already in the area, while also attracting more to the area.

    In fact, he said, there is no limit to the types of wildlife that will appreciate well-constructed shelter.

    “I would say it’s a shorter list to describe the sort of animals that would not use the brush pile than those that would,” Craven said.

    Small mammals like rabbits, squirrels, shrews, mice and voles that remain active through the winter would be happy to find that type of shelter, he said. Small birds that winter in Wisconsin, like chickadees and juncos, will also be drawn to a brush pile, especially because they are usually found close to the ground: “They would certainly go in there both for shelter and to look for insects,” said Craven.

    Small predators like raccoons, opossums, skunks, weasels and fox will visit a brush pile, Craven said, even if they aren’t using it for shelter.

    “Everything eats something,” he said. “And what you’ve essentially created is a food resource for them.”

    In the warmer months, Craven said that in addition to chipmunks, ground squirrels and other mammals, salamanders, skinks and snakes would take advantage of the shelter as well.

    How To Make A Brush Pile

    Making a brush pile is a fairly straightforward two-step process: Construct a base, and then prop up brush on top of it.

    For the base, Craven recommended using the largest stalk or trunk that is available. Logs, heavy brush or even pallets or construction debris work well.

    While space may dictate the size of the base, Craven said that laying several long logs parallel to each other on the ground with about 6-8 inches between them would be ideal. Then, a second similar layer can be added, perpendicular to the first. One or two additional layers in the same pattern can be added if supplies are available, he said.

    This creates a raised grid of sorts: “You’re creating a network close to the ground of spaces and cavities,” Craven said.

    The next step is to take loose brush or small trees or shrubs and pile them “tepee-fashion” on the base. Those tented materials “shed the weather and water a little better,” Craven said. But more importantly, they provide a nice, tight roof over all of those cavities and living spaces that you’ve provided by weaving in the network underneath.”

    Not everyone has acres to work with, and some people may not have a lot of room for a huge brush pile in their yard. Craven said that “anything’s better than nothing,” and that brush piles up to 25 feet in diameter “are just fine.”

    If possible, Craven added, place the brush pile near to a fence or a known path that wildlife uses. That way, he said, the wildlife using the shelter “doesn’t have to expose themselves by zooming across yards of open, bare fields, where they would be risking all sorts of predators and other hazards.”

    For those that do have large properties, Craven said that a series of brush piles 50 to 100 yards apart that lead to a brushy or wooded area would be ideal. “That would be a pretty nice set-up,” he said. “A wildlife paradise!”

    Craven said that if a brush pile is made correctly, it can last several seasons.

    Craven noted that an idea that circulates after the holidays is to recycle Christmas trees for wildlife shelter. He said that while in theory that could work, the reality is that most trees are very dry and brittle by the time they are discarded.

    Craven said that evergreens grown on Christmas tree farms are often bred to be very dense and thick. While that’s desirable as a holiday decoration, it means that there are fewer nooks and crannies within the tree structure that wildlife would use. For the wildlife, he said those trees “would not be particularly comfortable.”

    That doesn’t mean that they are completely without use, though. Craven said that his large discarded Christmas tree is leaning against his deck, not far from the bird feeders. That tree will provide a perch for birds until the spring where there usually is not one.

    The Humane Society of the United States has an article about building brush piles that includes general tips for a healthy and humane yard for wildlife. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also provides information about brush pile construction.

  • Cooking With Game Makes For Hearty Winter Meals

    With frigid temperatures across Wisconsin, some hunters are taking advantage of the game that’s in the freezer to cook up a hearty meal.

    “That’s really the payoff for most hunters,” said Scott Craven, an emeritus wildlife specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. “You sit down to a meal where the centerpiece is a pheasant breast or a venison chop or a stew … produced from the game that you’ve harvested.”

    Added Craven: “It’s a chance to share that, and enjoy it, and kind of relive the hunt and the memories associated with it. That’s really the culmination of the whole experience.”

    Craven said that bringing home meat and preparing it go hand in hand.

    “Most hunters, at least in the circles that I travel in, are surprisingly good cooks,” he said, “and really enjoy preparing what they’ve harvested.”

    Hunting and consuming game has also become appealing to the growing locavore and slow food movements, said Craven — an appeal that has become a strong tool for recruiting new hunters.

    Pre-Kitchen Precautions

    For Craven, good game cooking starts long before the meat is in the kitchen. In fact, he said that how the animal is handled and processed in the field is key.

    “Hopefully when the animals were harvested, the hunter took proper precautions in the field-dressing and to avoid contamination,” he said.

    That field care includes proper refrigeration, Craven said, “and getting them back home in the best possible shape and then processing in good, clean conditions.” He added that the goal is not just meat that is safe from a health and sanitation standpoint, but also “free of bullet or bone fragments, hair, or feathers.”

    Living and hunting in an area that has chronic wasting disease in the deer herd means that Craven now only freezes venison that has been de-boned — not a bad thing, he said, given that bones take up more space and are harder to wrap without the paper being punctured.

    The exception to Craven’s guideline about boning meat before freezing is pheasant legs. He said that he collects those until he has six to eight available and then cooks them using a slow, moist method. The meat that comes off of the bones can be used in a variety of preparations, and the broth can be used in soups and stews.

    Cooking The Game

    Craven and WPR host Larry Meiller taught a game cooking class for UW-Extension many years ago. Craven said that Meiller’s venison stroganoff recipe was always a favorite with the attendees. He added that when his own children were young, that was their “go-to recipe.”

    “It was so easy, and you could use just about any cut of venison in it, and the kids loved it,” he said.

    Another favorite recipe for both of them is a venison scaloppini.

    An important thing to remember when cooking game, said Craven, is that the meat is generally quite delicate, so avoiding overcooking is key. He added that choosing recipes where the game “is allowed to shine and display its flavor” is important, especially if someone not used to eating game will be at the table.

    For those who want to explore game cooking, it’s hard to find a better place to do so than Wisconsin, Craven said.

    “All in all, especially in a state like Wisconsin where we have lots and lots of hunters and abundant game,” he said, “people want to get the most out of what they harvested and put something on the table that’s a quality, enjoyable and tasty product.”

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Scott Craven Guest

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