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Oh, deer! Hoofed critters find a home, cause trouble in the city


Janesville, we may have a deer problem, and it’s our fault.

We created these strips of deer habitat we call greenbelts.

We plant shrubs and trees deer like to eat, such as cedars and arbor vitae.

“Arbor vitae, cedar trees, those are pretty yummy snacks for them and are easy to find,” said Jason Cotter, DNR wildlife biologist for this area.

We manage the deer population outside the city, but once they find their way in, they’re in a comfy, no-hunting zone.

For some, this is no problem. They like beautiful animals wandering through their backyards at dusk.

For others, deer are rats with hooves, nibbling at our landscaping this time of year, when deer food is scarce. Case in point: Janesville’s jewel, Rotary Botanical Gardens.

“This is sort of like a buffet for them,” said Richard Eddings, a gardens volunteer who helped plant some 15,000 bulbs last summer and fall. So when the tulips, hyacinths and other flowers bloom, the effect won’t be as spectacular as planned.

“That’s why I’m irritated,” Eddings said.

Eddings was showing visitors the deer damage Wednesday, pointing to where deer had pawed the just-emerging tips of the flowers and chewed them off.

Rows of arbor vitae are nothing but bare sticks from the ground to about 5 feet high—the range where deer easily feed.

Gardens Horticulture Director Michael Jesiolowski said the arbor vitae are still alive, but will look “terrible,” even with pruning, so plans are to replace them when funding is available.

Jesiolowski pointed to a weeping pine with bare branches. Deer normally leave pine needles alone, but not this year. Ornamental trees and yew bushes also have suffered from deer teeth.

Longtime gardens horticulturist Larry Holterman ties plastic netting over smaller shrubs and trees every year as he prepares for the annual holiday light show, but this year, that hasn’t always worked.

Deer stomp on the netting to gain access, something they had not done before, Holterman said.

Deer are coming in larger numbers and nibbling the results of years of careful plantings.

“It’s never been this bad,” Holterman said.

Workers spread blood meal and Milorganite, the smells of which sometimes repel deer, but rain washes the effects away, Jesiolowski said.

“We’d like to display a large variety of plants that our visitors can enjoy and not see anywhere else, but that is difficult to do with the deer problem,” Jesiolowski said.

Cotter said one likely reason for this year’s troubles was the heavier-than-usual snow cover, which means less deer food. Another reason is deer numbers.

Cotter from the DNR and a citizens committee known as the Rock County Deer Advisory Council have tried to get cities and park systems in the area to allow bow hunters in tree stands to reduce the city deer populations, as they do in Dane County parks and in some Waukesha County municipalities.

That idea has run into “adamant” opposition to allowing hunting in areas where people use the woods for other kinds of recreation, Cotter said.

City Parks Director Cullen Slapak said reports of deer in the city seemed higher in 2020 than in any previous year, and he noted several car-deer crashes in the city, so his best guess is there are more deer in the city than in the past.

Hunting in the city would require a review by police and ordinance changes, Slapak said.

City workers have also noted lots of deer and damage to new plantings at Oak Hill Cemetery, Slapak said.

The DNR would like to reduce the Rock County deer herd overall, Cotter said, but the agency is bound to consider input from local hunters, landowners and other residents, and that input is split with some saying there are too many deer and others saying not enough.

DNR estimates show the Rock County deer herd steadily increasing since 2016, from 6,000 to an estimated 10,800 at the end of the last hunting season.

The DNR even created a special “metro” deer-hunting unit that encompasses Janesville, Beloit and surrounding areas, but without permission from the cities, there’s little hunting land in the unit, Cotter said.

Jesiolowski said he hasn’t approached city officials about the problem, and he wasn’t sure about allowing bow hunting.

“All the stakeholders involved would have to be on the same page,” Jesiolowski said.

At least one city in Wisconsin, Brookfield, employs sharpshooters to keep deer numbers down, Cotter noted.

The Brookfield city website describes other efforts, including live trapping and public education about deer repellents, unpalatable landscape plants and the effects of feeding deer.

Cotter said if more people would comment on the deer numbers during annual comment periods, that could push the DNR to take action on the county herd. The comment period for this year closed Jan. 13, however. The advisory committee’s recommendation is to “maintain” the herd, which Cotter said allows a reduction of up to 10%.

Wisconsin agency 'woefully behind' on virus data cleanup


As part of a statewide effort to provide the public more accurate coronavirus data, Rock County reduced its total number of confirmed positive cases from 14,571 reported Tuesday to 14,565 reported Wednesday.

State health officials said Wisconsin is “woefully behind” in cleaning up its COVID-19 data and has placed a renewed emphasis on making sure its case counts are more accurate.

Cases that were initially listed as being positive based on a rapid antigen test but were later determined to be negative based on the more accurate PCR test are being corrected, deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services Julie Willems Van Dijk said.

Over the past several weeks, about 3,000 confirmed cases were updated or corrected to probable and about 800 nonconfirmed cases were confirmed, resulting in about 2,200 fewer confirmed cases, the health department said.

There’s a concern the public won’t understand why the numbers are changing, state officials told The Associated Press, even though they said it is part of a routine process that fell behind in the fall as COVID-19 cases were spiking.

“I think it’s fair to say we’re woefully behind in some of that cleanup work,” Willems Van Dijk said.

The verification work has ramped up the past two weeks, resulting in questions about why some numbers are changing, she said. The swings can be particularly noticeable now that case counts are lower, said Traci DeSalvo, director of the department’s Bureau of Communicable Diseases. Swings at the county level, such as that in Rock County, are more pronounced than in the statewide total, Willems Van Dijk said.

The department has also reduced the number of unknown deaths in group housing settings from 46% to 26% as it updates the data, DeSalvo said.

The data as of Wednesday showed that 45% of people who died were in long-term care housing, 25% were not in group housing and 4% were in some other type of group housing. To date, more than 570,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Wisconsin and 6,554 have died. The seven-day average of new cases, 411, is the lowest it has been since June.

Nearly 24% of people in Wisconsin have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The accuracy of COVID-19 data has been an issue in many states, particularly among critics of efforts earlier in the pandemic to close businesses and take other mitigation steps to slow the spread of the virus. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is under federal investigation after it underreported deaths in nursing homes after his decision to open those facilities to recovering COVID-19 patients.

Some Wisconsin Republicans in July questioned whether a backlog at the local level in reporting negative COVID-19 results caused numbers of confirmed cases to be inflated. State officials have long emphasized looking at trends over several days or weeks to determine trends as opposed to day-to-day numbers.

In the effort to get information out quickly because of the high interest in COVID-19, data quality is sometimes sacrificed, DeSalvo said. The verification work has ramped up recently as the state prepares to finalize numbers for 2020 that it submits to the CDC, Willems Van Dijk said.

The department has an existing section on its website called “Data 101” that will be updated soon with more details about the data cleanup, DeSalvo said.

“We want the public to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing,” DeSalvo said of the cleanup and verification process. “We really want to assure people that’s what we’re doing.”

Obituaries and death notices for March 18, 2021

David Bartz

Lisa A. (Martin) Bobzien

Yvonne Jean Henry

Kelly (Fulton) Kubly

Stephen John Norling

Onalee Marie Runaas

Renee C. Wolters

Grace F. Worlund

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Roman's opens new neighborhood grocery on Janesville's south side


Tony Boparai’s 1-year-old daughter, Reejh, was inspecting shiny, green Granny Smith apples perched on the fresh produce island of Boparai’s brand-new Roman’s Market grocery store on Janesville’s south side.

Boparai, 31, smiled as he watched his young daughter toddle off with a fresh apple, which she called a “yum-yum.”

The little girl’s sentiment, “yum,” is one that many Janesville south- siders might share when the new grocery store opens this weekend at 2006 Center Ave.

Though the new store is small—3,000 square feet of retrofitted space in a former gas station—it’s the first full-service fresh food grocery to come to the south side since Pick ‘n Save shuttered its Center Avenue supermarket in 2017.

The grocery, which Boparai is opening in leased space, will offer south-siders fresh staples including fruit, dairy, meats and a deli.

It’s a spinoff from Roman’s Fuels, a local, family-owned chain of gas and liquor stores Boparai’s family operates. It’s the family’s first foray into running a grocery market.

It’s a project that has been in the makings since last fall. The store is now ready to open, and Boparai hopes it will bring convenience and much-needed fresh food to residents who have had to make do without a nearby grocery store for nearly half a decade.

Boparai thinks it’s a good sign that the two large-scale beverage distributors sought him out for supply contracts before the shop was finished. Boparai, a south-side resident, said that is an indication he found the right niche and the right location for a small-scale, independent grocery.

“Lots of people who have stopped by here to ask ‘When do you open?’ have walked up. They’re on foot, and there’s a bus stop right outside the store. It’s a busy spot for lots of different types of customers,” Boparai said.

The nearest supermarket to south-side residents is more than 2 miles away along a stretch of West Court Street that is separated from the south side by the Rock River and the Five Points intersection—two urban divides that city economic development officials say have placed parts of the south side in a food desert after Pick ‘n Save closed.

Over the last two years, a few grocers have shown glimmers of interest in bringing a smaller-scale grocery store to the south side, but city and county officials last year said it would cost a midsize grocer upward of $5 million to launch a small-format grocery store.

Convenience mart and gas station giant Kwik Trip has keyed on a few areas in Janesville that have a dearth of fresh groceries, including a new store the chain is building on the site of a former Sentry store on East Milwaukee Street that for a year and a half housed a Maurer’s Market.

Jeff Maurer, the owner of Maurer’s Market, briefly considered renovating space at the Rock County Job Center on Center Avenue to build a small-scale grocery to serve the south side. But Mauerer pulled the plug on that idea when he shuttered the East Milwaukee Street location in late 2019.

National analysts have told The Gazette it’s unlikely that major grocery chains would build a supermarket on the south side despite the sizeable population. Analysts think that smaller-scale stores like the new Roman’s Market could make a go on the south side, but larger grocery chains now prefer to develop supermarkets within a larger cluster of similar retailers.

Boparai said he is not having trouble so far launching the store’s inventory. Most shelves are stocked, and he has fresh fruits and meats that will be on the way daily.

So far, Boparai said he has found that some items he would stock are still on short supply or on allocation, a holdover from a hoarding trend grocers have seen off and on since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he said a few key distributors who will supply his shelves have structured agreements especially for a small-format store.

The location wasn’t Boparai’s first choice; he looked at buying vacant land just south of his family’s Roman’s gas station near the Five Points intersection, but he said he couldn’t spur the owner to sell the property fast enough, and he got tired of waiting.

Boparai said others in the local convenience and grocery business encouraged him to move ahead with a small grocery on the south side.

“They told me they feel it is a gold mine if you could get supplied right. Because there’s really not competition down here,” he said.

It doesn’t take long to tour the small store. It has a deli that will serve fresh meats such as pork chops, hamburger and steaks, fresh sandwiches, and handmade deli sides.

A few local bakeries, including a cheesecake shop in downtown Janesville, plan to supply Roman’s Market with specialty items. That is something Boparai said he is proud to see happen.

“I think it’s important to support the others in the community, the other small businesses. They’ve been the ones hit the hardest by this pandemic,” he said.

Boparai figures he will have at least three dedicated staff running the shop—maybe more if it’s busier.

For now, the store has one checkout lane. Boparai said based on the number of people checking to see when the store opens, he wonders now if the one checkout counter will be enough.

“It’s the little things,” he said, hooking his finger at an array of taco shells, which reminded him of another taco-related item he had recently forgotten on his last trip to a supermarket: sour cream.

“When you’re doing tacos, you always forget the sour cream, you know?” Boparai said. “So we’ll remember to have that here for you.”