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A flighted feather fest

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—The EagleHerald spent the early hours of Wednesday morning with Dale Leitzke amidst a soft cacophony of warbles, hoots, whistles and whales propagating through the trees and across the water.

The sounds filled the brain’s auditory regions with a cheery sensation amidst the mild spring morning. To the discerning ear, that avian orchestra carried a message full of data, splendor, color and leisure.

“What I’m doing right now is mostly listening,” Leitzke said at one point. “Early in the morning you can hear a bunch of different birds—I’ve got 25 already this morning and a couple of them I haven’t identified yet.”

Considering their family lineage consists of the long-extinct and large, two-legged theropods, which included the looming stature of the tyrannosaurus rex, the sounds produced Wednesday by the multitude of migrating bird species along the Bay of Green Bay instilled a calm enjoyment.

Moreover, in many ways, the message carried by those morning birdcalls resounded with the purpose behind the annual Pond Road Bird Fest taking place Saturday at the observation deck on Pond Road in the Town of Peshtigo. Birders of all experience are welcome to gather there around 8 a.m. to experience the world of birding. The deck rests along the shores of the Bay of Green Bay at the north end of a large delta formed where the Peshtigo River empties into the bay. The location serves as a prime stopover for migratory birds during their spring migration.

Leitzke represents one of many dedicated birders in the Peshtigo, Marinette and Menominee areas. He explained that the Chapee Rapids Audubon Society built the Pond Road observation deck about 10 years ago because the location provides a great spot for bird watching, especially during the spring migration.

“We’ve had some really good birding days out there,” he said. “When I think of all the excellent birding spots here in Marinette County, that’s spot has got to be just about number one.”

Sponsored by the City of Marinette, in conjunction with the Urban Habitat Committee of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI) and organized by a group of passionate birders through the Chappee Rapids Audubon Society, the 8th annual Bird Fest celebrates the joy and benefits that birds provide.

Bird Fest stems from Marinette’s accreditation as a Wisconsin Bird City, which places it among 111 Wisconsin cities dedicated to the protection, habitat monitoring, public education and the celebration of humanities feathered friends. Bird Fest invites area residents to spend the day observing and enjoying the various species of native and migrating bird species that pass through the region each year as the world turns spring green.

“One of the criteria (for accreditation) is that you have to have some sort of a bird festival to educate people about birds every year,” said Joan Campbell, another local bird enthusiast and member of the Chappee Rapids Audubon Society. “So we hold our bird fest in conjunction with World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD).”

Officially the second Saturday of May 2021, WMBD transpired on May 8 and it serves largely as a day to educate the public. Across the world, WMBD imbues the day with a hobby enjoyed by over 86 million Americans and it represents an opportunity to move outdoors to appreciate and gain a better understanding of the natural environment. Throughout the day and across the world at over 700 locations, experts teach beginners how to identify and connect with birds. They delve into bird biology and discuss, examine and illuminate differences between birdsong and call as well as the complexities of bird flight and migration.

Bird Fest, strives to achieve a similar purpose.

VITALITY OF BIRDS

In 2015 the National Audobon Society cited a report titled “The Messenger” that parsed through and compiled 92 scientific studies and reviews revealing how the impacts of climate change will affect bird species across the globe. In many ways, birds act as highly sensitive and precise instruments that channel the minutiae of the gradual changes that occur over time due to global warming, human encroachment or other environmental factors. It makes birds uniquely positions and critical messengers and/or harbingers when it comes to climate change—a trait that suggests the familiar adage, “the canary in the coal mine” and makes Birds gauge on environmental health.

The highly reactive nature that birds demonstrate when their habitats are altered represents a well-studied feature. In conjunction with an increasing body of evidence, many scientists and people feel that the impacts of global warming threaten the survival of those winged tenants of the sky.

“We’re concerned that the number of birds, especially small birds is declining nationally,” Leitzke said, noting the lack of sparrows on his bird walk Wednesday morning.

He explained that some speculation points to the possibility of pesticides or other human environmental impacts that affect the food chain. For example, a 2020 study published in the journal Nature Sustainability identifies an increased use of neonicotinoids as one of the culprits exposing bird species to various adverse exposures affecting their health. The chemicals migrate into the nectar and pollen of plants and subsequently enter the birds’ food chain.

Promoting environmental stewardship represents one of the primary missions of the Bird Fest and the Chappee Rapids Audubon Society and a governing principle of birders across the nation.

AFTER 55 YEARS STILL AN ENDLESS VARIETY

From various large birds such as cranes and eagles to smaller species like rose-breasted grosbeaks and downy woodpeckers, Bird Fest promises almost endless opportunities for spotting and/or hearing a collage of colors and sounds that can charm even long-time bird spotters like Campbell.

“There’s about three of us that go out to (the observation deck) at 4:40 a.m. and we hear a lot of birds,” Campbell said. “We count birds that we both hear, identifying the species we see ... and during the day we keep a list going.”

Under her belt, and at 84 years old, Campbell carries about 55 years of bird watching experience, a hobby she started with her mother. Along with Leitzke and others, she represents one of the driving forces behind Marinette’s naming as a Wisconsin Bird City as well as the construction of the Pond Road observation deck. Even more impressive, her bird list surpasses 700 different bird species which she personally spotted from various locations across North America from the Rio Grande up to the Arctic Circle.

“That’s a real accomplishment for me,” she said. “It took me a long time to get there.”

Keeping track of all those birds falls to the task of not just one list but several. Campbell keeps a yard list, a Marinette County list, a North American list and a world list.

From those lists, she finds it difficult to identify a favorite bird, but when coaxed, she offers a glimpse into some of the birds that draw her interest and curiosity.

“People ask me that all the time but it’s a really tough question ... I like the wood thrush for its song,” she said. “And I like the American avocet for its looks—to me, it is just a fascinating bird.”


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Festival set for safety and fun

EagleHerald staff writer

MARINETTE—Last week the prior to approving three additional performance contracts for the Annual Logging & Heritage Festival slated for July 10, the City of Marinette Common Council ventured into a discussion regarding the measures set in place to ensure the health and welfare of attendees as it relates to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

During that discussion, Logging Festival Committee Chairperson Lana Bero addressed the council, outlining precautions and various changes implemented to avoid virus transmission.

First, the promotion of this year’s event remains more localized than in typical years of the Festival, which began in 2011 and remained an annual and cherished summer event in Marinette each consecutive year with the exception of its cancelation in 2020 at the height of COVID. In a normal year, organizers would begin promotional activity for the festival via various mediums throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, drawing in thousands of attendees to Marinette’s Stephenson Island, the focal point of the festival. In some years, festival attendance exceeded 15,000 over the usual three-day event. This year, the crowds will be thinner.

“We are not putting out flyers all over the twin cities,” Bero said. “We are keeping it (localized), only putting the posters up locally and limiting vendors to non-profits. And keeping it special for our area.”

Furthermore, Bero explained to the EagleHerald that with the cancelation of last year’s festival due to the pandemic, many local non-profits took a financial hit. By focusing locally in the way of vendors, non-profits and promotion, the city hopes to help provide a boost to those organizations and individuals while also maintaining safety.

Additionally, this year, organizers also compressed the schedule, reducing the festival from three days to just one.

“We are not expecting a huge turnout with people from all over Brown County, Upper Michigan (and elsewhere) like we would hope in a normal annual Logging and Heritage Festival,” she said. “This (year’s festival) is downplayed quite a bit; it is just a one-day festival, (with) not as many events.”

Second, one of the festival’s main attractions, Mischief & Magic, will perform traveling magic shows for individual groups or families present at the festival.

“Instead of having everyone congregating in one area for (a single) magic show, (the performers) are going to travel to different areas,” Bero said, meaning smaller, more localized groups for each performance.

Several of the measures she described follow in accordance with a recent (May 7) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research brief concerning the mode of transmission for the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). One of the principal means by which the virus spreads occurs through exposure and subsequent inhalation to respiratory fluids carrying the infectious virus. The CDC goes on to state that the risk of transmission remains greatest within three to six feet of an infectious source where fine droplets and particles containing virus exist in higher concentrations.

To reduce the risk of transmission through inhalation the Center continues to stress physical (social) distancing, well-fitting masks or barrier face coverings, adequate ventilation, and avoidance of indoor crowded spaces, opting instead for outdoor events. Finally, good personal hygiene continues to remain a top priority.

Bero highlighted other precautions that fall in line with the CDCs recommendations, pointing out that event organizers will enhance social distancing by spreading out festival tents and ensuring adequate separation of various tables for eating and sitting. When it comes to musical performances, she also illustrated the spacious areas where those performances will take place.

The contracts up for approval included two bands, the Rosebrooks and the Dirty Martinis, which Bero described as leaning more towards jazz. The third contract secured the festival’s big fireworks finale by Green Bay-based Spielbauer Fireworks Co.

The Council approved all three contracts voting seven to one in favor.

PROMPTING THE DISCUSSION, ONE DISSENTING VOTE

Before the vote, however, Alderperson Doug Oitzinger prompted the discussion when he noted to the council his intention to cast a “no” vote regarding each of the three contracts.

Oitzinger clarified his motivation for the dissenting vote emerged from the recent decrease in vaccination rates in Marinette County after showing a strong rate in the first part of April.

In Marinette County, as of Wednesday, the most recent State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) data reveals that 33.3% of county residents have completed the full COVID-19 vaccination, representing about 13,434 individuals in a county with a 40,350 population. This falls below the statewide percentage of 44.6% (approximately 2,598,820) Wisconsin residents vaccinated.

Across the state, according to the DHS, daily administration of vaccine doses peaked at the beginning of April about 92,256 doses on April 1 and then tapered into May (see COVID stats: vaccination/infection rates)

“I’m just concerned that everyone thinks we are out of the woods,” Oitzinger told the council. “And then I look at the numbers and we are not out of the woods in Marinette County.”

Further emphasizing his reservations, Oitzinger questioned the city’s part in backing such events when COVID-19 still persists.

“The only way to express that is to say that I don’t think … that the city should be sponsoring events that thousands of people could come to, even if it is outdoors,” he said. “I have nothing against these contracts and I have nothing against the Logging Festival but it is the only way I can express my displeasure with the whole situation that we are all living in and try to be as responsible as I can. So I will be voting against (approving) these three (contracts) for that reason.”

Councilmember Jason Flatt acknowledged Oitzinger’s concerns but offered a slightly different take on the matter, explaining the city cannot override everyone’s freedoms based on a few individuals when it comes to personal safety.

“I think by July vaccine availability will be such that anyone that is going to get (vaccinated) should have the opportunity to,” Flatt said. “(The city) can not be in a position to mandate that everyone get (a vaccine) before we resume business as usual. Don’t get me wrong, my commitment to uphold public health and safety is paramount but at the end of the day if the public doesn’t want their own safety upheld as paramount and I can’t force them.”

Bero told the EagleHerald that the city plans to maintain the precautions currently in place for public events and spaces during the festival. However, she added that because the event is in July, those precautions could change as more people become vaccinated. As such, the festival will adjust accordingly.

Councilmember Liz Mikutowski pointed out that both Oitzinger and Flatt made valid points, and also that she agreed with Oitzinger that the COVID situation remains a fluid and serious issue. However, she explained to the EagleHerald that she also feels as communitties transition inot a post-COVID world, a new norm has been established.

“I believe that this is our new reality as a society and as a community,” she said. “We have to understand what each other’s boundaries are and respect those boundaries and enjoy each other’s company in a safe manner”

And while she respects Oitzinger’s comments and concerns, she feels that the city and the Logging Festival committee can take reasonable and effective measures to enjoy the festival while also protecting those who attend. She drew comparisons to other recent events to which a large number of people congregated.

“I think that we can, as a city, encourage people that do come to these outdoor events and to socially distance and congregate with their own family members or their own group,” Mikutowski said. “I have been to a couple of outdoor music concerts in the last month and when the organizers have strongly encouraged (social distancing and other measures) with signage and what not … people have cooperated. I think if the Logging Festival organizers follow through with that then … the festival can be safe.”


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Marinette County leaders look to relax mask order

Lefebvre

EagleHerald Editor

MARINETTE—Marinette County government soon may be getting closer to returning to the “old normal.”

County Administrator John Lefebvre told the Administrative Committee Thursday that he is going to propose lifting the face covering mandate that is in place for all county facilities on June 1 and he will propose requiring all County Board supervisors to attend meetings in person, also on June 1.

“That’s sort of the timetable I’m looking at,” Lefebvre said. “June 1 is just a date, no different than June 15, June 30, or whatever. At some point in time I do believe that we have to get back to some normalcy in our meetings.”

People can still wear face coverings if they desire.

“I do want to say that’s its still going to be highly recommended that if you’re in a room with a lot of people and a close proximity to each other that you use face coverings or try to social distance,” Lefebvre said.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison and Lefebvre both pointed out that face coverings will still be required in the Circuit Court courtrooms.

“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that,” Lefebvre said.

He added that sometime in June, the new County Board room should be ready in the Resource Center (the old jail building) and that will be big enough to conduct committee meetings with ample social distancing.

There was no opposition to Lefebvre’s face covering plans by the five committee members in attendance. There was some kickback on the in-person meeting suggestion.

“The virus (coronavirus) is still out there, there are variants,” Supervisor Connie Seefeldt said. “India is going through a devastating time right now. If people don’t feel good are you still encouraging them to come in person instead of calling in to the committee meeting?”

“We are encouraging them, like in the past, to stay home,” Lefebvre said. “They will be absent from the committee, that’s all.”

Lefebvre and County Board chairman John Guarisco attend most county meetings. They are the two who issued the emergency mask order in mid July and they are the two who discussed eliminating that order on June 1.

“I go to a lot of meetings,” Guarisco said. “Obviously COVID is in its own separate category, but if you have a head cold, you have the flu, you have some other affliction that can be transmitted to others, you stay home. Most of the time... to be very honest, if I’m sick and I don’t want to give it to everybody else in the room, if I think it’s very contagious, I stay home. I forego that meeting.

“It’s been that way since the dawn of time. COVID’s the same way as far as I’m concerned.”

Lefebvre said having people attend meetings remotely creates logistic problems. He said when something is on display at the meeting, it has to be sent by text or email to the people not there. He said people have issues hearing over the phone.

“It’s ridiculously hard to do business,” Lefebvre said. “I’m getting beat up over it. The fact that county board members are staying at home and going through intercom system and its not working good for them, so they are mad at us because they stayed home. I don’t think that’s right, I think we can all come back and have a meeting face-to-face and address people in person. I just think that’s the way we should go.”

Attorney Mattison said the county doesn’t have anything in its rules that allows for county board members to appear at meetings remotely. “You are to appear in person for everything,” she said. “There’s nothing out there, now, not that it couldn’t change. As everybody knows COVID has changed some of the rules.”

Seefeldt said this should be a county board decision.

“There is no state statute,” she said. “I think we should look at changing it. I’ve attending more Zoom meetings, three this week. I am still at the meeting.”

Guarisco said, “Unless something changes with technology, I’m not on board with the absentee meetings or meeting at a distance. I’m just not. I think we need to be able to conduct business face-to-face. “

Lefebvre said the county board can discuss the matter. “I’m going back to the status quo ... the county board can certainly change rules,” he said.

In another matter, Lefebvre said the vaccination clinic at the UW-Green Bay Marinette Campus fieldhouse will close soon. He said people can still get vaccinations throughout the community.


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