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Science of Wisconsin's Environment

Dane County Plans Solar Project at Former Landfill in Verona

by Owen Ayite-Atayi, age 16

Dane County is looking for help developing a solar energy project located near a former landfill in Verona. The site is on land owned by the county.

Dane County plans to install a solar array in the landfill near a site that includes a nursing home, food pantry, and a food service facility.

During the 1990s, natural gas methane from the landfill was used to generate large amounts of electricity. But today, the methane is declining prompting officials to find a better way to repurpose the area. [Read More]

The Fox River Cleanup, A Battle Against Decades of Pollution

by Sofia Zapata, age 14

The Fox River flows across central and east-central Wisconsin to Green Bay and was contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals during the mid-20th century It took almost 17 years to clean the entire river.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, the Fox River began to be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, created by seven Fox River Valley paper companies. This chemical compound causes various harmful effects such as cancer and other health conditions. In addition, this substance can cause liver damage, acne-like skin, and neurobehavioral and immunological abnormalities in children.

There were many debates around the cleanup of the Fox River. One of them was about who would pay for the cleanup. Environmental activists said that the seven companies should pay to clean the river because they were the ones who contaminated it. However, the seven companies argued that taxpayers should also have to pay some of the cost. At the end of this argument, everyone decided that the seven paper companies responsible had to pay all the costs with a total estimated $1.3 billion. [Read More]

Learn How to Help Wisconsin Pollinator Populations for a Blooming Ecosystem

by Camila Cruz, age 15

Many people undervalue our pollinators, but about 87% of flowering plants worldwide depend on them. And there are many ways we can help support them, from letting lawns grow to avoiding pesticides.

Pollinators are creatures that go from plant to plant to consume nectar and pollen. In doing this, they spread the pollen, helping plants reproduce. Pollen is necessary to fertilize plants. Some of the most popular pollinators in North America are hummingbirds, moths, flower flies, beetles, bees, butterflies, and, in the southwestern parts of the U.S. and Mexico, nectar-feeding bats.

Pollinators are very important to the environment and ecosystem. In the U.S., around 150 food crops depend on pollinators. Unfortunately, the population of pollinators is decreasing because of habitat loss, pests, nutritional deficiency, insecticides, and extreme weather events. [Read More]

Endangered Bird Species Makes a Comeback in Wisconsin

by Sofia Zapata, age 13

The Kirtland’s Warbler was one of the first birds that were on the endangered species list, created in 1973. This type of bird is a gray and yellow songbird, they are a beautiful and unique species.

The habitat of the Kirtland’s Warbler is in forests and grassy areas located in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada. During winter, these birds migrate to sunny places like the Bahamas. When they fly back to the U.S., they stop to rest in forests and marshes.

The primary conservation concerns are habitat loss or degradation and parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds. Partners in Flight, a conservation organization for birds, estimates the global breeding population at 4,800 individuals and rates the species a 16 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which is a rating given to endangered species. The group lists Kirtland's Warbler on the Yellow Watch List for species with restricted ranges. [Read More]

Children of Color in Wisconsin More Likely to Test Positive for Lead Poisoning

by Hanna Eyobed, age 18

Low-income communities and children of color in Milwaukee are disproportionately harmed by lead poisoning. Affecting one of eight children across most regions of Milwaukee, lead poisoning is a prevalent problem with serious health effects that raise concerns.

Black children are four times more likely to be victims of lead poisoning than white children, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. With lead poisoning rates of 6.5%, Black children lead in the city of Milwaukee, followed by: Native American (3.2%), Asian American & Pacific Islander (3%), Hispanic (2.6%), and white (1.6%) children. The city has the highest lead poisoning rate for children under the age of six in Wisconsin. Lead poisoning can cause damage to the brain and nervous system along with halting development and growth in children. Fortunately, the percentage of children found with hazardous amounts of lead in their blood (5mgc/dl) has gradually decreased since 2001.

“Lead poisoning is an issue where there are disparities by both socioeconomic status and race and ethnicity,” DHS epidemiologist Maeve Pell stated. [Read More]

Invasive Carp Enter the Wisconsin River

by Sofia Zapata, age 13

An invasive carp species that originates from Europe and Asia has been affecting many rivers in the United States, including our own Wisconsin River. If scientists don't resolve this issue or find ways to control the populations, this could be very dangerous for the existing 98 different species that reside in the Wisconsin River.

For over 100 years, the Asian carp has invaded the United States. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says that the carp are traveling from Asia to the Mississippi River and followed by the Wisconsin River. This carp can be very dangerous for our rivers because they are really aggressive hunters, which initiates competition for other species.

Asian carp may live up to 20 years and as they grow, they mature between four to eight years in their life. They are an interesting species because of their jumping ability, however this can be dangerous to boaters. Specifically, adult Asian carp weighing 40-60 pounds can jump up to 10 feet above the water’s surface, unlike any other common species. [Read More]

Gray Wolf Walks from Minnesota to Wisconsin

by Aissata Bah, age 13

R2L, a gray wolf, started his long journey from a forest in northern Minnesota to Wisconsin, ultimately walking 264 miles at the age of one and a half.

His journey is worth acknowledging because it highlights the steps it takes for the gray wolf to reach Wisconsin. R2L’s adventure started in 2021, walking for miles to reach his destination. His journey was not uncommon as many male wolves tend to leave their habitat.

His journey was actually more challenging than expected, going through Minnesota for seven weeks to finally reach southeast Wisconsin. Some researchers have been tracking R2L, other wolves, and even other animals with the common goal of checking dens for reproduction and other activities. [Read More]

Scientists Say Invasive Species of Crayfish Might Leave Wisconsin on its Own

by Lah’Nylah Bivens, age 15

The rusty crayfish appeared in Wisconsin 50 years ago. Since this crayfish is not native to Wisconsin it is considered an invasive species. The rusty crayfish pushed native crayfish out of their dens and ate the native aquatic plants, causing harm to the lakes. This harmed the local spawning grounds, leaving fish unprotected.

Rusty crayfish may have found their way to Wisconsin by traveling in buckets to be used as bait. These crayfish are native to Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and the streams of the Ohio River Basin states. They also can be found in New Mexico, Northeastern states, areas in Ontario, Canada, and states surrounding Wisconsin.

Crayfish reproduce at alarming rates due to the female rusty crayfish laying around 80 to 575 eggs at a time. It takes about three to six weeks, depending on the temperature of the water, for the eggs to hatch. Scientists have studied these crayfish over the years and have found that the population can die off naturally. Due to destroying their own habitats and fungal diseases, recent studies have shown that the rusty crayfish population has dropped to zero. [Read More]

The Story Behind These Mysterious Murals Popping Up in Wisconsin Neighborhoods

by Josepha Da Costa

It's Stormwater Week in Wisconsin. Did you know that when rainwater runs off the land and enters a storm drain, it often empties into a nearby body of water and remains untreated?

This poses a problem because increased urbanization in Dane County is creating more runoff. Many surfaces in urban areas are either impervious or absorb very little water, like roads and traditional lawns. Stormwater Week is dedicated to raising awareness about stormwater, and these dangers.

Before heavy development, natural land absorbed 80-100% of rainwater. Currently, in urbanized areas, anywhere from 40-100% of water does not get absorbed. All of the leftover water flows over the land to the nearest drain, picking up pollutants and sediment along the way. Since the stormwater drains to local lakes and streams, so do the contaminants. Nutrients in the runoff, like phosphorus, can cause massive algae blooms that wreak havoc on our natural bodies of water. [Read More]

Bald Eagle Shot Near Milwaukee Dies During Surgery

by Sol Saray, age 11

A bald eagle, America's symbol of pride, was shot on December 7, 2022, in southwest Milwaukee County. The Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center tried to save the eagle, however, it died during surgery.

The bald eagle had a broken beak, fractured humerus, and a wound in the muscle as well as other sensitive parts of its wing. The Humane Society tried CPR but failed. The center in Milwaukee called the surgery “a complex and specialized surgery to stabilize his fracture and further treat his injuries.”

Authorities are searching for who shot the eagle. That person could be fined $100,000 and serve up to one year in prison: the punishment for a first offense. On the second offense, killing a bald eagle is considered a felony and comes with heavier punishments. Eagles are protected by law under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as well as The Migratory Bird Treaty Act. [Read More]

Wisconsin DNR Drafts New Plan for Wolf Hunt

by Zayn Khalid, age 12

Hunters and animal rights advocates are frustrated with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) because they did not set a standard for wolf hunting. Animal rights advocates want wolf hunting to be illegal, but hunters want to hunt. What will the DNR do?

In the past, it was legal to hunt wolves in Wisconsin. In 2012, former Governor Scott Walker established an annual fall wolf hunt in the state. This hunt has become the biggest argument between animal rights advocates and hunters. Animal rights advocates say that “wolves are too majestic to slaughter,” but hunters say wolves kill farmers' livestock. The DNR paid out more than $3 million from 1985 to 2021 to provide for the loss of farmers’ livestock.

A group called Hunter Nation won a court case forcing the DNR to hold the month of February 2021 for hunting. The outcomes were chaotic as hunters killed 218 wolves in four days, going way past their 119-animal quota. Animal advocates worried that the February hunt decimated the population of wolves, which convinced a Dane County judge to hold off on the annual fall hunt. [Read More]

Should Farmers Switch to Solar?

by Camila Cruz, age 15

Solar panels are going to require millions of acres of land to be a viable solution against climate change. In particular, these acres are owned by farmers. Scientists are on a mission to make it work for both parties by putting solar panels in the same location as crops.

Crop land is an ideal place for different types of solar development. It’s large, flat land that recieves plentiful amounts of sunlight and contains good drainage. Crops on the land are not a problem because it’s easy to build the solar panels above the crops.

The Department of Energy report in 2021 said that by 2050, a maximum of 0.5% of land in the United States would be required for solar growth. This would help us get closer to climate change goals. 0.5% doesn’t seem like much, but when translated into surface area, this would be around 9.5 million acres. [Read More]

Dane County Students Gather to Discuss Climate Change at Second Annual Conference

by Desteny Alvarez, age 17

For the second year in row, students from around Dane County will gather to address climate change issues. The second annual Dane County high school climate action conference will take place at the Alliant Energy Center on Saturday, November 12.

The title for this year’s event is Gen Z: Meeting the challenge of Our Changing Environment. Local student members of the Dane County Youth Environmental Committee are helping plan the conference. A range of speakers and climate experts will make presentations and address topics of particular interest to young people.

“I learned a lot at last year’s conference” said Devika Pal, a student at Madison’s Memorial High School. “Now, I want to know more. I’m interested in learning what actions we can take to make a difference.” [Read More]

Wisconsin Rolls-Out PFAS Testing

by Sandy Flores Ruíz, age 16

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are a family of synthetic chemicals. They are used in everyday household products, such clothes, carpets, nonstick cookware, packaging, and firefighting foam due to their ability to repel water and stains. The PFAS family of approximately 5,000 chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they last for a long period of time in the environment and human body. Research suggests that these chemicals can cause various types of cancers, decrease birth weights, damage the immune and reproductive systems, impact hormone regulation, and alter thyroid hormones.

Since 2019, the DNR has been working to develop standards for two of the better known PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, to determine safe levels of these two chemicals in public water systems. Beginning this fall, Wisconsin communities will be required to test their water to ensure that the PFOA and PFOS do not exceed limits set by the State of Wisconsin.[Read More]

Scientists Look for Ways to Protect Wisconsin Walleyes

by Julian Medina Ruiz, age 14

Wisconsin lakes are facing a sharp decline in the walleye populations. This trend is most apparent in the northern part of the state.

As lake temperatures continue to rise, Wisconsin has been working to bolster fish populations, especially for walleye. With higher temperatures, warm-water species such as bass and bluegill are now overpopulated and dominate cool-water species, including walleyes, trout, and whitefish. [Read More]

How Dane County Young People Can Protect Pollinator Species

by Siwoo Park, age 13 and Camila Cruz, age 16

Spring and early summer is a good time to think about helping pollinator species. And you can do this right in your own backyard.

The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department is encouraging people to act to support our local pollinators. There are several steps you can take that can help. These steps include planting native plants and providing the types of habitats that pollinators need to survive and thrive.

Student reporters from Simpson Street Free Press have been studying and writing about pollinators for several years. These species are essential to our environment because about 87% of flowering plants on Planet Earth depend on pollinators. [Read More]

Learn About the Mississippi, One of the Longest U.S. Rivers

by Dani Garduño, age 12

When people imagine rivers, they typically think of famous ones like the Nile or Amazon Rivers. However, one of the world's largest river systems runs right along Wisconsin: the Mississippi River. It significantly impacts the United States and its population and continues to show its benefits to humanity every day.

Flowing 2,350 miles from Lake Itasca, the Mississippi River is one of the two longest rivers in North America. Some even consider it the third-longest river system in the world. The reported length of the river may increase or decrease depending on changes in the landscape, time of year, and precipitation. The Mississippi River can reach a pretty surprising width of 11 miles. The surface speed average is 1.2 miles per hour, half as fast as an average walking speed. The river's water speed may vary depending on where you are in the United States. For example, the surface speed in New Orleans increases to three miles per hour. Even though the water speed changes in certain places, all the water leads to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi River is used for transportation and to supply water to about 50 cities, serving 10 million people. It provides 92% of the U.S. agricultural exports. 60% of American exported grain goes through the Port of South Louisiana and the Port of New Orleans; around 500 million tons of goods are shipped from the South Port of Louisiana. Other goods transported on the river include petroleum, iron, steel, rubber, wood, and coal. [Read More]

Learn About Wisconsin's Only Endangered Mammal

by Siwoo Park, age 12

Pine martens are recovering in Wisconsin after nearing extinction because of over-trapping and habitat loss. These furry, agile weasels are seeing a population upturn as environmental officials take steps to secure the pine forests they call home.

Pine martens, also known as American martens, are nocturnal weasels that are excellent climbers. Agile, fast, and small, females are 18-22 inches and stand almost six inches high, about three-fourths the size of the male. Females weigh about two pounds, and males can weigh up to three pounds.

Pine martens have soft, thick, and dense fur, perfect for the cold Wisconsin winters. They are yellow to reddish-brown and have bushy tails that extend the length of one-third of their bodies. [Read More]

Study Reveals PFAS Contamination in Wisconsin Bald Eagles

by Samuel Garduño, age 16

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemical compounds, more commonly known as PFAS or forever chemicals, are odorless and tasteless compounds known to be produced in the US since the 1940s. What many people don’t realize, however, is that they are significantly more common than speculated. They are found in our air and water; stain-resistant materials, clothing, carpets, nonstick cookware, food packaging, firefighting foam; and so many other everyday essentials. Although PFAS are extremely common, scientists are still learning all of their effects.

Wildlife isn’t exempt from the threat of PFAS. Although testing has prioritized bald eagles, Wisconsin has also examined other wildlife, including fish, deer, waterfowl, and small mammals. Bald eagles are a prime candidate, as they are an apex predator of the food chain and a prized, almost sacred, animal amongst the American public. Since bald eagles are at the top of the food chain, their blood will show a presence of PFAS, metals, pesticides, and contaminants that amass through indirect and direct exposure. What happens in the environment parallels what affects humans.

Wisconsin’s private and public water systems have been tainted with traces of PFAS, although scientists don’t know the source. Biologists at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery started researching the effects of PFAS on mussels in the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. The hatchery has been partnering with an outside lab that already has experience with chemical testing, but lab testing PFAS is time-consuming. Eight to ten samples have been shipped a month, but mussels take ten months to grow and three years to show conclusions. Megan Bradley, a biologist at the hatchery, hopes the lab testing will aid in establishing water standards as well as identifying PFAS contamination sources. For instance, the Wisconsin River was the most contaminated body of water identified by the eagle testing, but the source remains unknown. [Read More]

The Unique American (Pine) Marten Calls Wisconsin Home

by Kimberly Rodriguez, age 11

The Pine Marten can be found in multiple places including Wisconsin. They are creatures with beautiful fur and are talented climbers and fishers.

Wisconsin Pine Martens typically consume mice and animals like squirrels, rabbits, and small birds. They are also considered omnivores that eat wild fruits, berries, and nuts. Although Pine Martens can climb very well, the majority of their hunting stays on the ground.

Piners can be found in Canada, Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan, and the Rocky Mountains. With their thick coat to keep them warm, they can easily hunt in the winter and prefer to live in cold and snowy places. Their warm fur also makes them resemble a bushed-tailed cat. [Read More]

Public Health Officials Issue PFAS Updates for Dane County Fisheries

by Amelia Pearson, age 13

In 2023, there was an updated per-and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) warning enforced by the Dane County Public Health due to concerns about the 2023 fishing season. PFAS are harmful human-made chemicals that are used in a vast variety of products from firefighting foams to something as simple as fast-food wrapping.

One major concern centers around PFAS found in fish. Due to this, the Department of Natural Resource (DNR) and Department of Health Services (DHS) suggest a limit on the number of certain fish people should consume, such as Crappie, Largemouth Bass, Northern Pike, Walleye, and White Bass, which was recently added to the list. The DNR and DHS recommend only one meal including any of these four types of fish a month.

Due to the outcome of the fish sampling in 2020, the DNR heavily recommended new PFAS-based fish consumption advisories for Yahara Chain waters in Dane and Rock county. There was also a raised level of perfluoro octane sulfonic acid (PFOS), a type of PFAS found in various species of fish collected in lakes Monona, Kegonsa and Waubesa. [Read More]

Toxic TCE Chemical Found in Two Milwaukee Residential Buildings

by Alan Cruz, age 19

Trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic carcinogen, recently gained attention in Milwaukee, when 250 Milwaukee residents first heard about this hazardous chemical from health officials knocking on their doors. They were evacuated from two apartment complexes in the area due to elevated levels of toxins remaining from the sites’ industrial history. Surprisingly, none of the tenants, despite experiencing short-term symptoms, were familiar with this harmful chemical.

This colorless liquid is found in certain factories for metal cleaning and can also be found in paint removers, adhesives, carpet cleaners, dry cleaning, and shoe polishes. Short-term exposure to TCE can result in dizziness, headaches, nausea, sleepiness, and confusion. Higher toxicity levels corresponding to prolonged exposure are associated with various health issues, including cancers, liver damage, and fetal defects, with effects that can manifest decades after exposure.

In Milwaukee County alone, there are 832 sites with a history of TCE pollution, and 261 of these sites are undergoing cleanup efforts. The remaining locations have been shuttered, suggesting that cleanup activities are complete, however, TCE may still be present. [Read More]

Rare Roseate Spoonbill Sighted in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Astonishing Birding Community

by Mariama Bah, age 16

A mysterious bird, described as a pink football on short stilts, was recently spotted alive in Green Bay for the first time. Its unexpected appearance generated excitement within the Wisconsin birding community, marking the return of a bird that had long been absent from the region.

On the morning of July 26th, Logan Lasee, a Bay Area Bird Club member, was monitoring endangered piping plovers in the Cat Island restoration area when he noticed something pink that immediately caught his attention.

The roseate spoonbill, typically a shoreline bird, is usually found in Texas, Florida, and South America. However, its historical range in the United States suffered a severe decline in the 1860s due to the overhunting of wading bird colonies, driven by the demand for their pink plumage for women's hats. Roseate spoonbills primarily inhabit coastal marshes and lagoons and sustain themselves on crustaceans like prawns and shrimp, contributing to their distinctive pink coloration. They can reach heights of up to 32 inches and boast an impressive wingspan spanning 50 inches. [Read More]

Wisconsin comienza las pruebas de PFAS este otoño

por Sandy Flores, edad 16

Las sustancias perfluoroalquiladas y polifluoroalquiladas también conocidas como PFAS, son una familia de productos químicos sintéticos. Se utilizan en productos domésticos cotidianos, como ropa, alfombras, utensilios de cocina antiadherentes, embalajes y espumas contra incendios debido a su capacidad para repeler el agua y las manchas. La familia de PFAS de aproximadamente 5,000 productos químicos se conoce como "químicos eternos" porque duran un largo período de tiempo en el medio ambiente y el cuerpo humano. La investigación sugiere que estos químicos pueden causar varios tipos de cáncer, disminuir el peso al nacer, dañar los sistemas inmunológico y reproductivo, afectar la regulación hormonal y alterar las hormonas tiroideas.

Desde 2019, el DNR ha estado trabajando para desarrollar estándares para dos de los productos químicos PFAS más conocidos, PFOA y PFOS, para determinar los niveles seguros de estos dos productos químicos en los sistemas públicos de agua. A partir de este otoño, las comunidades de Wisconsin deberán analizar su agua para asegurarse de que el PFOA y el PFOS no excedan los límites establecidos por el Estado de Wisconsin.

Las pruebas se realizarán gradualmente para las ciudades según su tamaño. Las ciudades con una población superior a 50,000 deben comenzar a realizar pruebas el 1 de noviembre de 2022. Las comunidades con poblaciones inferiores a 49,999 comenzarán a realizar pruebas en febrero de 2023, y las ciudades con poblaciones inferiores a 10,000 deberán comenzar a realizar pruebas a principios de mayo de ese mismo año. [Read More]

Wisconsin Rejects $1 Billion Dupont Settlement, Seeks Higher Compensation Over PFAS Contamination

By Will DeFour, age 13

The average person consumes approximately half a gallon of water daily, but this water isn't pure, as filtration systems sometimes allow pollutants to pass through. One particularly infamous group of pollutants, known as "forever chemicals," poses significant threats to both the environment and human health.

These persistent pollutants are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), an issue Simpson Street Free Press has been diligently covering for the past several years. They earned the name "forever chemicals" due to their indestructible resistance to biodegradation. PFAS are byproducts created during the manufacture of various products, including sticky notes, nonstick pans, packaging materials, carpets, and firefighting foam. These chemicals find their way into water sources such as the Mississippi River and local areas like Starkweather Creek, here in Madison. Even at extremely low concentrations, as low as 0.004 parts per trillion, PFAS can cause severe health problems, including low birth weight, kidney failure, and cancer.

Addressing these critical issues requires a reduction in PFAS contamination. Although the US Environmental Protection Agency and State Department of Natural Resources have attempted to establish regulations for these chemicals across the Midwest, their efforts have proven insufficient to halt the contamination. Consequently, over 20 states have denounced a proposed $10.5 billion settlement from a major PFAS producer, 3M. [Read More]

Wisconsin Among the States Rejecting $10.5 Billion PFAS Settlement with 3M Company

by Alan Cruz, age 19

Attorneys General from 22 states, including Wisconsin, are denouncing a proposed lawsuit settlement that they argue would absolve manufacturing giant 3M from responsibility for the widespread contamination of water supplies with hazardous 'forever chemicals.'

The landmark $10.5 billion agreement aims to fund chemical testing and the installation of water filtration systems over three years. However, 3M doesn’t admit liability. Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, have been found in aqueous firefighting foam and are by-products of numerous manufacturing processes. These persistent chemicals have been linked to various health issues, including cancer and reduced birth rates.

The settlement reached in June was initially perceived as a victory for public well-being. However, under an indemnification clause, the agreement could shift blame to water utilities, and require them to pay some of the $10.5 billion. [Read More]

Follow a Simpson Street Road Trip to Wisconsin’s Driftless Area

by Samuel Garduño and Camila Cruz

A large group of student reporters from Simpson Street recently took a summer road trip to Wisconsin’s famous Driftless Area. This is an area of western Wisconsin that was never flattened or even touched by the glaciers. The region is hilly with lots of cold-water streams and beautiful scenery. For us, it was a one-day adventure meant to enhance our understanding of topics we already cover, such as pollinator species and birds of Wisconsin.

We started from our newsroom at South Towne Mall in Madison. In our caravan there were 12 students and four editors.

As we drove west through Mt. Horeb, our eyes were quickly drawn to the many trolls and troll-like sculptures that line the main street of this charming Wisconsin community. Always curious about such things, we decided to stop on the way back to take a closer look at Mt. Horeb and its trolls. [Read More]

The Short-eared Owl Is a Year-long Resident of Wisconsin

by Edwin Torres, age 12

The Short-eared Owl is an owl species that is native to Wisconsin, Canada, and other northern parts of the U.S. Fortunately for those looking to spot them, the Short-eared Owl lives all year round in those areas. This owl can travel long distances. People have reported sightings that are hundreds of miles away from land.

A Pueo is a subspecies of a Short-eared Owl only native to Hawaii and resides on several Hawaiian islands. It is believed that the Pueo might have descended from Native Alaskan ancestors.

A Short-eared Owl has very short ears, which are difficult to see. Despite this, they have really good hearing. Their sharp hearing can be useful when hunting animals, especially smaller ones. A very visible physical attribute of the Short-eared Owl is its black-rimmed yellow eyes. This owl also has a pale face and rounded wings. [Read More]

Dane County Land Purchase Protects 14 Acres Along Black Earth Creek

by Kaleab Afeworki, age 11

Dane County recently purchased 14.6 acres of land along Black Earth Creek to preserve its “beloved natural resources,” according to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

Black Earth Creek, which runs through the village of Black Earth, Wisconsin, is a trout fishery that provides residents with a place for outdoor exploration. The property not only features a wide variety of green valleys but also serves as a trail connector for the Black Earth Creek Trail.

Parisi announced the proposal in March 2023, the Dane County Board approved a purchase price of $11,000 per acre the next month. This new purchase will work to preserve cropland and trout streams, along with expanding “outdoor recreation opportunities for Dane County residents and visitors,” Parisi added. [Read More]

Free Native Plants Available for Schools and Community Projects

by Camila Cruz, age 15

Is your school or community organization looking to install or expand a native plant garden? Many people these days look for ways to help the local environment, and planting native plants is a good way to start.

Well, you’re in luck. The Dane County Land & Water Resources Department is offering free native plants. The department is currently accepting applications from schools and community groups in Dane County. For more information about this program or to download the application, visit the Land & Water Resources Department website.

Native plants can help improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Plants that are native to Wisconsin tend to do better in our local growing conditions. Native plants have deep root systems, and this provides many benefits. For example, they reduce stormwater runoff and help protect nearby bodies of water. These plants are also more resistant to drought and disease. [Read More]

Wisconsin Launches Online Map to Track PFAS Pollution Across the State

by Alan Cruz, age 19

Wisconsin environmental regulators have taken a significant step in addressing the issue of toxic “forever chemicals” by unveiling an innovative online tool. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) introduced an interactive map in October designed to track the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination.

The newly launched online map combines data from various sources, including drinking and surface water monitoring programs, health consumption advisories, and a comprehensive database of contaminated sites. By consolidating this information into a single accessible platform, the DNR hopes to help people find out about how pollution is affecting them and their community.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already identified these compounds as harmful at levels currently undetectable by existing technology. These synthetic chemicals, known for their resistance to environmental degradation, have been connected to severe health concerns such as low birth weight, cancer, and liver disease. [Read More]

How You Can Help Save Our Songbirds

by Mariama Bah, age 16

Since 1970, the North American bird population has declined by 30%. Bobolinks and Canada jays—among others— are rapidly disappearing from Wisconsin’s spring soundscape. But this trend is reversible, with a little help from the public.

Recently, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation and the Natural Resources Foundation partnered to start the campaign Save Our Songbirds (SOS) to combat the decrease of many bird populations.

The campaign asks Wisconsinites to do three things: fix problem windows, buy coffee grown in bird-friendly locations, and grow native plants that are good for birds. [Read More]

Wisconsin Using Lab-Bred Trees to Absorb Landfill Pollution

by Leilani McNeal, age 17

The U.S. Forest Service is trying a “first-of-its-kind” experiment that involves specialized trees that may keep contaminants from leaching out of landfills.

A part of a larger project to see if plants can solve the issues of pollutants in the environment, this process involves lab-grown variations of poplar, willow, and conifer trees, which all have the unique ability to absorb pharmaceuticals and harmful toxins alike.

So far, the Forest Service has planted more than 15 sites in Wisconsin and Michigan with 22,000 trees total. For example, the Boundary Road Landfill that skirts lakes Michigan and Superior will demonstrate how many contaminants can be captured, in a process called phytoremediation. [Read More]

Wisconsin DNR Proposes New Rules for Endangered Species

by Lah’Nylah Bivens, age 15

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning to change the rules for handling endangered species.

The department is preparing to offer a blanket permit for “incidental takings” of endangered species, such as when surveys are being taken or when breeding is needed to regulate the population.

The blanket permit would allow people to handle endangered species, by removing or relocating animals and plants. These species would only be removed when they are in danger or when something is built that is disturbing the environment. [Read More]

Dane County Continues to “Suck the Muck” from Yahara River

by Leilani McNeal, age 17

Dane County is continuing its sediment removal efforts in and around the Yahara River. County Executive Joe Parisi and staff from the County’s Land & Water Resources Department recently highlighted this year’s projects during an announcement at Babcock County Park.

It’s all part of a five-phase plan called the Yahara Chain of Lakes Sediment Removal Project. The Yahara river is located in Southern Wisconsin, mostly in Dane County. It flows through and connects Lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, and Kegnosa. These lakes are central to life in Madison and Dane County, both for wildlife species and for people.

The Yahara River drains an area of about 536 square miles before entering the Rock River and flowing toward the Mississippi. The Yahara has a lot to do with the health of Madison’s lakes. [Read More]

Invasive Noxious Weed Spotted in Wisconsin

by Daniel Li, age 14

Last July, a new population of the invasive plant called the European frog-bit was found in Oconto, near Lake Michigan. Although this species is common in the coastal areas of Lakes Erie and Huron, its origins are in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. The first spotting of the European frogbit in Wisconsin was at a nursery in 2018, and it was seen again in 2021 in Oconto. It’s assumed that the plant was transferred by long-distance boats, or from aquariums, where it is used decoratively.

The species grows in slow and shallow waters, often along lakes, swamps, rivers, and almost all other freshwater sources. It is “stoloniferous.” According to Ken Dolata of the Oconto County Land Conservation Department, this means the plant has “a horizontal stem that is located above the ground and usually produces adventitious [random] roots and vertical stems at the nodes.”

The leaves of the frogbit are leather-like and can grow up to two and a half inches long. This plant produces flowers that are heart-shaped and white, and can easily be mistaken for native species like the waterlily or water shield. [Read More]

Scientists Study Effects of Climate Change in Lake Superior

by Moises A. Hernandez, age 17

About ten years ago, a bloom of cyanobacteria appeared in Lake Superior. Since that time, scientists have searched for answers as to why this problem occurs in this specific lake.

Lake Superior—bordered by Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan—holds one-tenth of our planet’s surface freshwater. The largest of the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Superior is also the world's largest freshwater lake by surface area and third largest by volume.

Cyanobacteria, also known as Cyanophyta, are blue-green algae that can use up oxygen and block light, harming organisms trapped underwater. Due to their short life, however, the few blooms that do occur in Lake Superior are typically small. Samples and good data are limited. [Read More]

Higher Price for Water will Help Madison Replace Pipes

by Mariama Bah, age 16

Keep an eye on your water bill—it might increase soon. Recently, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission voted unanimously to increase Madison’s water utility rate by 18 percent, ultimately raising the monthly cost by $4.

The proposal came from Madison Water Utility, whose debt has risen to $245 million due to recent maintenance costs. They hope the price hike will cover the cost of replacing about 400 miles of old pipes without taking on any more debt.

With the new increase, the average monthly water bill will rise from $29.92 to $33.90. However, the rate for some members of the community will be subsidized. For 5,500 households and 2,600 renters who make less than half the median income, there is eligibility for an experimental program. For example, the utility would offset by $8 monthly bill for a family of three that makes up to $46,400 a year. [Read More]

State DNR will Help Fire Departments Dispose of PFAS Foam

by Makya Rodriguez, age 18

Wisconsin is trying to eliminate foams containing PFAS used by firefighters, a move that would benefit the environment by removing hazardous chemicals. PFAS, also known as poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are man-made chemicals. They are used on clothing, carpets, non-stick pans, cookware, and in firefighting foam. It’s a “forever chemical.”It’s family contains 5,000 compounds which are known to last forever in the environment and human bodies.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to help firefighters clean PFAS chemicals free of charge. The DNR’s foam collection program is doing this with a state fund of $1 million. Of 72 Wisconsin counties, 60 want to cooperate on eliminating PFAS foam through the program. 25,000 gallons of the foam will be eliminated through North Shore Environmental construction.

Once the foam gets removed from certain locations, the program stated that it will send the waste to a hazardous landfill in Alabama. Lining the waterways of the landfill will ensure that PFAS won’t escape into the environment. Once in Alabama, it is said that the PFAS will be stored in cement, where it is better off than in local lakes, rivers, sewers, and drinking water. [Read More]

State of Wisconsin Issues PFAS Warnings for Dane County Fisheries

by Makaya Rodriguez, age 17

PFAS, also known as (poly-fluoroalkyl substances), are man-made chemicals. They were used on clothing, carpets, non-stick pans, cookware, and as firefighting foam. PFAS are made to be stain and water-resistant. These PFAS chemicals are being found in many Wisconsin bodies of water, specifically in Dane County.

Anglers are being advised to watch out for certain fish in lakes and rivers around Madison waters, such as Starkweather Creek, Lake Monona, Wingra Creek, Lake Waubesa, and Rock River. In these particular areas, officials have found levels of PFAS, and recommend not consuming walleye, largemouth bass, crappie, and northern pike more than once a month. Additionally, the consumption of fish such as yellow perch, pumpkinseeds, and bluegills is not advised more than once a week. Taking these precautions into consideration will help avoid the accumulation of PFAS in the human body. Black Earth Creek has seen especially high numbers of PFAS in brown trout. This raises concerns as the creek flows northwesterly, from Middleton into the Wisconsin River.

The accumulation of PFAS in fish tissue is not uncommon and human consumption of these fish subsequently leads to future health issues. Some health concerns include but are not limited to low birth weights, harm to the reproductive system, altered hormone, and thyroid regulations, and kidney and testicular cancer. The state Department of Natural Resources admonishes fishermen and consumers to be careful of eating fish from these contaminated bodies of water. [Read More]

It’s an “Interruption Year” in Wisconsin: Snowy Owls Are Moving South

by Mariama Bah, age 15

Keep your eye to the ground and be careful when you’re walking in the Arctic Tundra, because you may find a snowy owl nesting site. Treeless, wide, hilly spaces are where snowy owls prefer to nest and hunt. These owls mainly eat small mammals, but their diet can range from rodents and rabbits to ducks and geese.

North of the Arctic Circle is home for snowy owls during most of the year. During a typical winter, small groups of owls migrate into southern Canada and northern Wisconsin. Every handful of years, however, an “interruption” occurs. During those years, large numbers of snowy owls move south as far as the southern United States. Reasons for this odd behavior are unknown.

Wisconsin is seeing its first interruption year since 2018 right now. More than 150 snowy owls have been spotted with reports coming from counties all around the state. [read more]

Watch Out for Poison Hemlock in Wisconsin

by Anissa Attidekou, age 12

There are a wide variety of poisonous plants that are toxic to humans and animals. Some can lead to extreme pain and others can even be deadly. One of these deadly plants is named the poison hemlock.

Poison hemlock flourish in damp environments. It can be found next to fences, roads, near creeks, irrigation streams, and fields. This plant grows in almost every state, including Wisconsin; however, it does not grow in Alaska, Hawaii, or Florida according to the USDA (United States department of Agriculture). As a biennial species, poison hemlock does not reproduce or grow flowers in its first growing season. This is called vegetative state. Poison hemlock is most dangerous during summer and fall time.

The plant first has small clusters of white flowers that eventually develop into “green, deeply ridged fruit that contains several seeds.“ USDA explains as the plant matures, the green turns grayish brown. According to the U.S. Park Service, poison hemlock does not have a very pleasant odor. The plant can be about two to 10 feet tall, according to the National Park Service. Do not mistake the poison hemlock for wild parsnips. Confusing these two plants is the most common reason why people are poisoned. [Read More]

These Wisconsin Rattlesnakes May Lurk in Your Backyard!

by Dyami Rodriguez, age 15

The eastern massasauga snake is native to Wisconsin and is named after the Native American term for “great river mouth.” The scientific name of the massasauga is Sistrurus catenatus Some of its characteristics, which set it apart from other snakes, are a blunt tail instead of a pointed one and a narrow head. The snake looks grayish-brown with dark brown or black spots. They can grow up to 15-32 inches long and live in floodplains and wetlands along medium-to-large rivers. Since they are small and similarly colored, they are sometimes confused with the fox snake or the pine snake.

The massasauga snake was thought to have gone extinct in Wisconsin. Though the snake could still be found in other states, no one had seen a single massasauga rattlesnake in Wisconsin for nearly 30 years. Now, it has been spotted five times in the last three years. One of the sightings was in Portage, Wisconsin.

The timber rattlesnake is another snake that also lives in Wisconsin. It is larger and much more common than the massasauga rattlesnake. The official name of the timber rattlesnake is Crotalus horridus. It is a venomous snake in Wisconsin that tends to be shy and a loner. Its coloring varies. It can be pinkish, grayish, yellowish, orangish brown with dark brown or black shaped crossbands all over. It grows up to 36-60 inches long and lives in steep hills, bluffs and valleys of the southwest and western regions near the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. [Read More]

100-Year-Old Mussels Found in Wisconsin's St. Croix River

by Kelly Vazquez, age 17

In August 2021, spectaclecase mussels estimated to be over 100 years old were found by biologists working for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the University of Minnesota, and the National Park Service near the St. Croix Falls dam located in the St. Croix River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has stated that in the past, these mussels—which can grow up to nine inches—were found in more than 44 streams across 14 states. Currently, this kind of mussels can be found in fewer than half the number of those streams in 11 states located primarily in the midwest and southeast.

Usually, the age of a mussel can be found by counting the number of growth rings on the shell. Due to the shells’ poor condition, the biologists assumed that the cluster had been there since 1907 when the river was dammed. DNR biologist Lisie Kitchel explained that the dam interrupted the spectaclecase mussels' reproductive process by preventing a fish necessary for their reproduction from traveling upstream beyond the dam.

The reproductive process begins when a fully developed female mussel releases glochidia, a larva that becomes attached to the gills or fins of a specific host fish to continue developing. The host is the key for the larvae to reach an ideal environment upstream in which they will continue their development into adult mussels. [Read More]

When Exploring Dane County’s Sugar River, Keep and Eye Out for Invasive Species

by Dayanara Flores Gonzalez, age 14

The Sugar River, also known as The Upper Sugar River Watershed, is located in Dane County and flows all the way down to the Rock River.

The Upper Sugar River Watershed Association works to protect the river from invasive species that can harm or push out native species and damage the ecosystem. Many rare and endangered native plants found in the river and its nearby wetlands are threatened. Most wetland animals depend on these native plants for food and shelter.

Some native species can disappear if a watershed loses its healthy wetlands. Recreational uses of wetlands include trapping, fishing, bird watching, and nature study. Healthy wetlands can help with keeping the water clean and safe for wildlife. Healthy wetlands also help control and prevent floods. [Read More]

Cherokee Marsh Regulates Water Flow to Yahara Lakes and Provides Habitat for Native Wildlife

by Mariama Bah, age 13

Cherokee Marsh is home to a variety of flora and fauna that thrive in this unique and significant ecosystem. The marsh is also a very important part of Dane County’s natural environment.

Trees are especially scarce in marshes. Instead, these wetlands boast an abundance of herbaceous plants. Common plants at Cherokee Marsh include cattails, sago pondweed, and hard stem bulrush. This site also supports several rare plant species such as glade mallow, white ladyslipper, and tufted bulrush. Many mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians live in the marsh.

The animals and plants that thrive in Cherokee Marsh are a part of a precise and very special ecosystem. There are some invasive species, however, that threaten the native species at the Cherokee Marsh site. The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department (LWRD) has taken efforts to remove carp, which cause destruction by uprooting the aquatic plants and sediment. [Read More]

Barn Owl Sightings Increase in Wisconsin, but the Future Remains in Doubt

by Juanes Palma, age 9

In 2018, a unique species of barn owls were reported for the first time in over two decades in Wisconsin by The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The owls were spotted in September of 2018 as a pair of these birds were found in the cavity of a dead tree. Recently, there has been an increase in barn owl sightings in Wisconsin and other near states.

These creatures usually live in the dark and are known for their white heart-shaped faces. There are about 46 different known species of barn owls around the world. Scientists have studied these barn owls through the small pellets that are coughed up after they eat their prey. These pellets contain indigestible parts of the owl’s foods such as skulls, bones, and fur. Using owl pellets, researchers have learned a lot about their diets and the ecosystems they belong to.

The chests of male and female barn owls are a distinguishing feature. Female owls have a faint red patch on their chest. The patches might reflect the female's quality of health. Females with darker red patches tend to catch fewer catch parasitic flies and have a more resistant immune system. [read more]

Tracking the Full Moons of Autumn in Wisconsin — by Ayelen Flores, age 12

In the fall season, Wisconsin has one of the best skies to view at night. During this season, the skies are clear and the weather is cool and it is the best time to go stargazing. When the autumn moons light up the dark night for farmers and hunters, many people use the moon to keep track of fall events. [Read More]

Wisconsin's Year-Round Birds — by Ruben Becerril Gonzalez, age 10

Have you heard of some of Wisconsin’s year-round birds? Today, I’m going to talk about the American Robin, Mourning Dove, and Song Sparrow. [Read More]

Manufacturing Giant Reaches Landmark $10.3 Billion Settlement to Address PFAS Contaminated Water — by Alan Cruz, age 19

Manufacturing giant 3M, known for producing household staples like Scotch Tape, Command Strips, and Post-it notes, has settled with numerous cities and towns across the nation for $10.3 billion. This agreement aims to tackle the persistent problem of water supply contamination caused by the presence of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) also referred to as "forever chemicals," which have been identified as posing threats to human health. Under the agreement, 3M will pay the landmark sum over 13 years to support communities. [Read More]

Cardinals in Wisconsin: These Beautiful Birds are Moving North — by Allison Torres, age 13

Northern cardinals are highly valued and favored songbirds in North America. These birds typically nest in Northern Wisconsin, along with parts of Minnesota and even Canada. [Read More]

Wisconsin's Year-Round Birds — by Ruben Becerril Gonzalez, age 10

Have you heard of some of Wisconsin’s year-round birds? Today, I’m going to talk about the American Robin, Mourning Dove, and Song Sparrow. [Read More]

Explore Science at Sheboygan Spaceport and Maritime Sanctuary — by Desteny Alvarez, age 17

It is a science tourism attraction, and it’s right here in Wisconsin! Among its many tourism destinations, eastern Wisconsin is home to a National Maritime Sanctuary along Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shoreline. This area includes the cities of Manitowoc, Port Washington, and Sheboygan. [Read More]

How Wisconsin Manages its Black Bear Population — by Dayanara Flores Gonzalez, age 14

It is getting easier to see black bears in Wisconsin. It’s becoming more common to see black bears because their numbers in Wisconsin are growing. So, if you decide to go camping in our state, it's possible you could see a black bear roaming around. [Read More]

Unique Features of Wisconsin’s Native Owls — by Ayelen Flores Ruiz, age 12

Not only are owls pretty to look at but they are important to the environment. Wisconsin is lucky to have just the right climate and pool of available prey to attract these fascinating creatures. [Read More]

Robins Are the Messenger of Spring in Wisconsin — by Amare Smith, age 18

The State Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored studies on birds in public schools throughout late-1926 to mid-1927. The students chose to study robins and selected the bird to be Wisconsin’s state bird that year. [Read More]

Citizen Scientists Track Hummingbirds in Wisconsin — by Camila Cruz, age 14

You should consider yourself lucky if you see a hummingbird, and especially lucky if they are close enough for you to hear them. The noise of a hummingbird comes from its wings, which move very fast. A hummingbird’s wings move about 75 times per second. [Read More]

Groundswell Conservancy Land Purchase Will Help Dell Creek Conservation Efforts — by Dyami Rodriguez, age 17

Buying land is a major factor in protecting the environment. To that end, the Groundswell Conservancy, along with other conservation groups, recently made a major purchase with the intent of protecting Wisconsin's environment. [Read More]

Wolves in Wisconsin: A Conservation Success Story with an Uncertain Future

by Dyami Rodriguez, age 16

The Federal Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 in order to protect wildlife and plants throughout the country in danger of extinction. In Wisconsin, the gray wolf benefited from the act since it kept these animals from becoming extinct.

In the 1980s, the Wisconsin gray wolf population was estimated to be below 80 individuals. In 1999, the plan was for the wolf population to be higher than 250 outside Indian reservations in order for the species to be delisted from the endangered list. Management goals were to overall maintain a population greater than 350 outside reservations. As of April 2020, the wolf population was estimated by the DNR at more than 1,100 individuals living in multiple packs throughout the state. Recent estimates suggest it is now growing by 15-16% a year. This success primarily comes from this act and has removed gray wolves from the endangered list in 2004.

The increase in the wolf population is not without controversy however. Some communities view the rise in population as a threat to personal safety and would prefer less wolves on their lands. On the other hand, conservationists believe that the increase has benefited the natural landscape by keeping the deer population under control. [read more]

Wisconsin’s First State Park: Interstate Park at the St. Croix Dalles — by Leilani McNeal, age 16

1.1 billion years ago, a mysterious rift, ranging from the depths of Lake Superior to present-day Iowa appeared. From the cracks of this rift, came oozing lava, hardening into a substance known as basalt. Over the next 500 million years, these natural occurrences worked in tandem with one another to support a sea of water which floored the entirety of this dark, gray material. The deposition of sand and silt from the sea led to the creation of sandstone and shale. Increased global temperatures promoted the shift of myriad glaciers across the state of Wisconsin, carving out the area’s famous potholes that are widely recognized today as the St. Croix Dalles. [Read More]

Dane County Pursues Sustainability with New Solar Projects — by Yani Thoronka, age 16

In November of 2020, County Executive Joe Parisi announced new efforts regarding conservation and sustainability. The goal is for Dane County-owned facilities to run solely on renewable energy. In his proposal, Parisi spoke of converting about 90 acres of county land near Femrite Road, in Cottage Grove into a solar farm. This new solar farm is almost double the size of a solar field at the Dane County Regional Airport that opened two years ago. [Read More]