For the first time since early September last year, there were no new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Price County in a seven-day period ranging between March 22-29. The county had zero active cases on Monday, and there had been no new hospitalizations or deaths resulting from the virus in the previous week.
The county stands at 1,174 confirmed cases of the virus, of which 1,167 have recovered.
Neighboring counties have not been so fortunate — all of the other eight counties surrounding Price confirmed new cases in the past seven days, and some had also recorded new hospitalizations and deaths associated with the virus.
Price County is currently rivaling the state for the percentage of individuals who have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Monday, 29.9% of Price County's residents had received their
first shot, compared to 29.3% of all Wisconsinites — while 17.9% of county residents and 17.2% of Wisconsinites had been fully immunized.
Price County Public Health announced on Monday that a limited supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been allocated to the county, and would be offered to eligible residents on April 8. People who wish to schedule an appointment should call 715-339-3054.
Hospitalization of patients suffering from severe cases of the virus have also slowed statewide, with 232 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across Wisconsin on Monday. Of those patients, 62 were requiring intensive care due to the severity of their symptoms. Another 16 patients were awaiting test results.
In the north central region of the state, there were 14 patients with COVID-19 on Monday, two of which were requiring intensive care.
Neighboring counties' case numbers continue to climb
Oneida County confirmed 3,414 cases as of Monday — up by 34 from the week previous — with 23 active cases. There have been 171 hospitalizations (up by one from the week previous) and 70 deaths (also up by one) associated with the virus. A total of 3,320 people have recovered, and 25,530 tests have returned negative.
Lincoln County confirmed 2,941 cases — up by 10 — with 21 active cases. There have been 120 hospitalizations (up by two) and 58 deaths. A total of 2,862 people have recovered and 12,233 tests have returned negative.
Vilas County confirmed 2,328 cases — up by 17 — with 42 active cases. There have been 133 hospitalizations (up by four) and 42 deaths (up by two). A total of 2,245 people have recovered and 9,389 tests have returned negative.
Taylor County confirmed 2,043 cases — up by 36 — with 17 active cases. There have been 65 hospitalizations (up by two) and 30 deaths. A total of 1,998 people have recovered and 5,911 tests have returned negative.
Sawyer County confirmed 1,565 cases — up by 15 — with 14 active cases. There have been 78 hospitalizations (up by two) and 23 deaths. A total of 1,526 people have recovered and 8,298 tests have returned negative.
Rusk County Public Health revised the number of cases confirmed in their county in the past week, removing six cases that had previously counted toward their case total. As of Monday, the county had confirmed 1,273 cases, 15 of which were active. There have been 87 hospitalizations and 16 deaths. A total of 1,242 people have recovered and 5,048 tests have returned negative.
Ashland County confirmed 1,198 cases, up by eight from the week previous. There have been 54 hospitalizations and 16 deaths. A total of 7,008 tests have returned negative.
Iron County confirmed 565 cases, up by seven from the week previous. There have been 42 hospitalizations (up by one) and 21 deaths. A total of 2,568 tests have returned negative.
Active case numbers and recoveries were not available for Iron and Ashland counties.
Statewide, 576,044 cases have been confirmed, 6,483 of which were active as of Monday. There have been 6,601 people who have died due to the virus, and 27,466 people have been hospitalized. A total of 562,746 people have recovered, and 2,712,235 tests have returned negative.
April Stone's fingers dance across the narrow, supple strips of black ash wood, softened in water to make it pliable.
Over, under, over, under. They're the hands of a strong woman, forged by thousands of hours of beating on ash logs to extract the precious layers of wood locked inside, and then turning those layers into baskets of all sorts and sizes.
Stone, 50, is Native American, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, and she's the only member known to practice what seems certain to be an ancient craft.
But the craft was lost in recent generations, with no oral history passed along on how to transform a tree into a flexible, sturdy and utilitarian tool used for everything from baking bread to toting around babies. So about 20 years ago, Stone set out on a journey to rediscover the art – from photos, from members of other tribes and from museum pieces.
She's still on that journey, still learning even as she teaches the art to an apprentice and frets over the threat that emerald ash borers pose.
And along the way, she discovered something just as important as an ancient craft.
She discovered herself.
Bad River roots
Stone was born in Chicago, one of five kids raised by her father, a carpenter, woodworker and Bad River member, and her mom, a Caucasian retail worker. When she was a baby, the family moved from Chicago back to Odanah where Stone went to school. She eventually finished classes in Ashland, but not without going through an identity crisis.
Stone's father was raised in the reprehensible days of Indian boarding schools, when Native American kids were sent away from their
homes, families and reservations and forbidden to do anything — speak their own language, sing their own songs, tell their own stories or even wear their hair in traditional ways — reminiscent of their own culture.
They instead were immersed in European-American culture, taught to be "civilized" Indians.
As a result of that painful time, her father never passed along any Native traditions or stories to April, leaving her in middle school "wondering who I was and what I was all about and where I fit it," she said — more than typical teenage angst.
"I really had no direction," she said. "I never thought I would go to college or anything. I thought I was just going to get married and have a bunch of babies."
She ended up cleaning hotel rooms and waitressing to put herself through a two-year program on natural resources management at Northland College, her goal to be a forest ranger and work with her tribe.
It didn't exactly work out.
She began using alcohol and other drugs, and ended up living out of her car, camping in an Ashland park.
Then she ran into an old boyfriend from school. They clicked again, bought an old school bus and turned it into a tiny home. She got pregnant with the first of their four kids and they started a new life, eventually building a small cabin on the southern edge of the Bad River Reservation — land she still lives on today.
A new path
She and her husband were casting about, trying to figure out life when the both enrolled in a class at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn. She learned how to work with felt, and he learned to make a basket.
"I was so empowered by these felt booties I made, and he was empowered by his basket," Stone said. "But I looked at his basket and was like, 'What's the big deal? It's a basket. You can buy them at Goodwill.' Then, six months later, the booties had holes in them and his basket was still going strong. So I learned something there."
Her husband continued to use his basket, turning it into a lunch pail and watching as it got used, got dirty, developed its own patina.
At the end of a year, it finally gave way — the lashing around the top of the basket failed.
And that changed Stone's life.
"I don't know exactly what happened in that moment, but I know something woke up inside me," she said. "I developed this deep respect for the material in just an instant. I said to myself, 'I have to fix that basket,' and I asked him to teach me how to make one."
Her husband taught her, but something was missing.
Just about every culture on earth has developed its own method of weaving — of turning plant material of some sort into baskets used for gathering clams on the coasts or storing grain in the Midwest.
But Stone could find no record of Ojibwe basketmaking. She studied pictures in books, watched videos, talked to elders, but got nowhere.
It was strange. All around Ojibwe country, in Minnesota, Michigan and southern Wisconsin, Native Americans still were making baskets.
"Was it even a part of our culture?" she wondered. "I hear everyone talking about birch bark, which is used in lots of things, but not black ash. What's up with that?"
As she was searching, she also was learning. She found that the perfect black ash tree to yield wood for a basket began with a tall, straight, branch-free trunk, and that it was best harvested in the middle of summer — just about the worst time to be tromping around in a Wisconsin swamp.
She adopted the traditional method of harvesting strips of wood, by cutting the trunk into five-or six-foot lengths, then peeling the bark off by hand and repeatedly pounding the rings of wood underneath until the log released them.
She experimented a lot, and built then tore apart and then rebuilt a lot of baskets.
"I learned how to make flat material go around a corner," Stone said. "I learned to scrape and to split. And I developed my own style, which I later learned is called "utilitarian."
At the same time, Stone also was learning about herself and the role her Native heritage would play in her life.
As she traveled across the Upper Midwest, into Canada and to the East Coast on her quest to rediscover the lost art, she discovered some of the basket-making traditions of other tribes.
She developed a theory about why the Ojibwe might have lost the art: All those other tribes, on the East Coast, around the Wisconsin Dells or Fox Valley, had frequent contact with visitors. They began making baskets and purses and other trinkets for sale to tourists.
But the Chequamegon Bay was pretty far off the beaten path. With no tourist trade, maybe locals had no reason to keep the craft alive.
Then, in a galvanizing discovery, she came upon an old family photo of her great-grandmother, Margaret Rabideaux, holding a baby that she believes to be her grandmother. In the background is a basket.
"That's my connection," Stone said. "But I was still searching for baskets from all over. I found one in the collection on Madeline Island that says, 'Ashland WI 1902.' It's an Indian-made basket that has qualities I've seen on the East Coast and qualities I've seen in southern Wisconsin. So I know I'm on the right track."
As she learned, Stone became more and more perplexed by her own lack of knowledge about her culture.
And she got angry with her father for not passing it along — anger that came to a head when she confronted him, and he explained how he was punished in school for any Native traditions.
Today, the two get along great and they celebrate their Native culture. So the basket-making not only has given her a livelihood, it also gave her a new relationship with her dad.
And she finally has discovered who she is. She's known around the reservation now as "the basket lady."
The looming threat
Today Stone teaches her craft at workshops all over the country and as far away as England. She's an instructor at Northland College, and her spare time is consumed almost entirely by madeto-order baskets.
They range from the size of soda can, which takes her about 30 minutes to weave and could be used to store pencils or other sundries, up to large pack baskets with leather harnesses that can carry 50 pounds, take days to make and sell for $450. She even makes baskets that are treated with bear fat or oil and used to bake bread.
She still makes them all by hand with no tacks or nails, no glue or chemicals, no synthetic dyes.
Every June or July she ventures into a Bad River swamp, puts some tobacco down and says a prayer to a tree, promising that though she is going to kill it by cutting it down, she will give it lasting life as a basket.
But now she worries about how much longer she'll be able to do that.
Everywhere the invasive emerald ash borer beetle has appeared, it has left nothing but dead ash trees in its wake. There is no treatment to save trees and the bugs have no natural predators.
They're inching closer to Bad River every year — a fact that Stone believes should serve as a lesson to all of us.
"A plastic bag has a useful life of about 10 or 15 seconds," she said. "Then it ends up in a landfill or in the ocean. What if we could only use baskets, which last forever, to get our groceries or whatever? And you could only take what fits in that basket? Wouldn't we all learn a lot more about consumerism and conservation?"
Stone said it is no coincidence that the Ojibwe word for "bug" translates as "little spirit." She believes the ash borers are spirits sent here to teach our consumer-driven culture to reflect.
"What is this little spirit trying to impart to us?" she said. "Maybe it's that we need to change. Haven't we made enough mistakes with the natural world?"
What won't change is Stone's commitment to continuing her craft, continuing to weave baskets that she intends to be used, not hung on a wall or put on a shelf as decoration.
"They're just exquisite and awesome," said Bad River member Fred Vande Venter, who owns some of Stone's weaving.
"She's just a very wonderful woman," he said. "I've had the opportunity to meet her briefly a few times, and her work just makes me feel more attached to my culture."
Stone isn't sure, given the threat to ash trees, that she'll forever be working with that material. But she said she'll never stop learning, never stop trying to trace her own culture and craft back to its origins.
"Maybe what this borer is doing is allowing something to come and take the ash's place," she said. "Maybe the willow wants to be woven with now. Maybe the grapevine wants to be woven with. Maybe they are asking for attention now. If that's what they want, I will give them my attention."
The deer herd in Price County may see a significant jump in numbers this coming year, with the county's deer advisory council's goal to increase the deer population over the next three years coming on the back of an inordinately mild winter.
The county's deer population — estimated at 25,900 after last year's hunt and predicted to grow to 31,000 before this year's hunt — may increase another 15.3% in a single year, based on the preliminary antlerless quota of 4,000 proposed by the Price County Deer Advisory Council on March 22.
The council is composed of citizens representing a variety of stakeholder groups, including tourism, agriculture, hunting, forestry, transportation, urban, tribal, and the Wisconsin Deer Management Assistance Program, and chaired by delegates from the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.
Currently, the deer population is managed through antlerless quotas recommended by the council each spring and approved by the DNR's policy setting Natural Resources Board.
The county currently stands in a precarious balance, where another mild winter may boost the population to numbers that can no longer be controlled via antlerless quotas, according to Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Derek Johnson.
At that point, the demands of that many deer on the landscape may result in starvation during a harsh winter.
"I think we're at an important time in Price County. We're at the point of wondering if we can sell enough tags to manage the population," Johnson told the deer advisory council on March 22. "We don't want to be at a point where winters [are what is keeping the population in check] and habitat gets destroyed. I think we're right on the tipping point where we may not be able to rein in the deer herd using antlerless harvest."
Johnson told the Review in an interview on March 25 that gradual population increases are considered more sustainable from a wildlife management perspective; increases under 10%, and likely closer to 6.5% in a year.
At the deer advisory council's first quota-setting meeting on March 22, members had the opportunity to hear from DNR liaisons Johnson and forester Rich Windmoeller, both of which serve an advisory nonvoting role on the council.
Nearly all metrics used to
measure the deer population and their impacts on the landscape have shown increases in recent years, with a recent DNR study finding that 57% of the recently harvested stands surveyed in Price County were failing to meet regeneration guidelines, increased numbers of deer being shot on agricultural damage permits, increased buck registration numbers during hunting season, and higher numbers of deer being reported by hunters.
According to Johnson, the county can expect to see the amount of agricultural damage increase in 2021 along with the deer numbers.
The number of deerversus-vehicle collisions have also increased slightly, although this data is difficult to quantify since not all crashes are reported.
The fawn-to-doe ratio, which indicates the number of does who are successfully able to reproduce — as well as the impacts of predation — has remained stable for several years.
With a mild winter currently ranking between 25-28 on the winter severity index (a tool used to measure the impacts of winter on deer), the number of does that successfully carry fawns to term will likely increase this year, according to Johnson.
Windmoeller told the council he was concerned about the current number of deer in the county, which are estimated at 22.2 deer per square mile (unevenly distributed throughout the county due to different habitat types).
Last year, there were 2,151 bucks and 1,461 antlerless deer harvested in Price County for a total of 3,612. There were 128 deer harvested by youth hunters, 1,703 deer harvested during the nineday gun season, 104 deer harvested by muzzleloader, 464 deer harvested by vertical bow, 1,057 by crossbow, and 54 harvested during the December antlerless hunt.
The majority of deer — 3,165 — were harvested on private land, while only 447 were harvested on public land.
Following the presentations made by Johnson and Windmoeller, the council discussed their goal to increase the herd, debating the rate at which they want to increase.
Council member Bill Ball said he would like to see a buck harvest increase to 3,000, and proposed an estimated increase of 15% this year.
His motion to set a preliminary quota of 4,000 antlerless deer to be harvested during the 2021 hunt would allow the deer population to increase by 15.3%. In order to reach this quota, 12,000 tags would need to be issued, and Ball recommended 10,000 tags be allowed for hunting on private land and 2,000 for public land.
The council divides the tags between public and private land in an attempt to control for the disparate habitat types throughout the county, with reportedly lower numbers of deer on forested county, state and federal lands and higher numbers in areas of the county with private agricultural property.
The motion was seconded by council member Franklin Emery, and passed in a three to two vote.
There was concern expressed by some council members that hunters would react negatively to the proposed quota, with the possibility of lowering the quota at their second meeting — thereby increasing the population still further.
In order to keep the population from increasing more than 10%, the antlerless quota would need to be set at 5,192, with 15,733 tags issued.
Over the coming weeks, public feedback will be accepted on this preliminary quota between April 12-25.
Johnson told the Review this is a critical time for citizens of Price County, whether they are hunters or not, to participate in the process. The feedback gathered from citizens will help shape the final quota recommendation sent to the Natural Resources Board for final approval on June 23.
People may share their thoughts with the local members of the deer advisory council and/or fill out a public comment form that will be posted on the DNR's website and social media platforms.
After accepting public feedback, the deer advisory council will reconvene virtually at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 3, to make a final recommendation that will then be sent to the Natural Resources Board for review and possible approval in late June.