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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Thieves steal walnut trees in south-central Wisconsin

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BRODHEAD - A sheriff in southern Wisconsin says loggers have been illegally cutting down trees on other people's land, to take advantage of the high price of walnut wood.  

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Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden tells the Wisconsin State Journal that property owners confronted loggers near Brodhead earlier this month.  The loggers reportedly assumed they were on land owned by a neighbor who hired them.  Brian Knudson said logging thieves cut down up to 20 trees owned by him and a neighbor -- and when confronted, they offered a-thousand dollars a tree for him to stay quiet and not call 911.  Knudson then realized what he had, saying it had to be a quality tree for the loggers to offer that much money on the spot.  Actually, the offer could have been a low-ball.  The DNR said a 16-foot quality tree that's 26-inches in diameter can fetch up to three-thousand dollars for the walnut inside.

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A state board has said no to removing a wheelchair ramp at the governor's mansion just outside of Madison.  The ramp was put in about ten years ago in the foyer of the Executive Residence in Maple Bluff.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said a foundation headed by First Lady Tonette Walker wrote up plans to remove the ramp, to make the building more historically accurate.  It would have cost 5,600, and a temporary ramp would have been provided during public events at the mansion.  Yesterday, the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board rejected the proposal.  Board member Luther Olsen, a state Senate Republican from Ripon, agreed with the governor's wife that the ramp didn't fit -- but it would have been too much bother to take it out.  Another board member, state Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center, said the removal would have been too much work -- and the foyer's walls would have gotten nicked whenever a temporary ramp would be brought in.  Schultz also said it would looked terrible politically, as Walker stands for re-election in just over six months.  In Schultz's words, "It would be a first-class opportunity to kick the governor for being insensitive to people with disabilities."

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A Milwaukee man wants a murder conviction to be overturned, saying he might have been framed by an officer who was fired for misconduct in another case.  The Wisconsin Innocence Project at UW-Madison has filed a request for a new trial for 28-year-old Steven Hopgood.  He was convicted of providing the gun that was used to kill Vincent Cort in June of 2010.  The Innocence Project, made up of UW students, found out that a bullet in the victim's car was discovered by ex-Milwaukee officer Rodolfo Gomez.  Gomez was later fired, and he faces a misconduct charge in the videotaped beating of a suspect who was handcuffed.  The Innocence Project says the evidence could indicated that Gomez planted the bullet in the victim's car in order to convict Hopgood.

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Two seasons of wolf hunting have resulted in Wisconsin's first major decline in the grey-wolf population.  The DNR issued a preliminary report today, showing that Wisconsin had 658-to-687 wolves late this winter -- down from 809-to-834 at the same time a year ago. It's the first major decrease in the Wisconsin wolf numbers since the DNR started tracking the species' recovery about 35 years ago.  The state had 25 wolves back then.  The DNR's Dave MacFarland told a Wolf Advisory Committee meeting in Wausau today that last season's goal was to reduce "downward pressure" on the wolf population.  Two-hundred-57 wolves were killed last fall, down from 117 in the inaugural wolf season in late 2012.  In 1999, the DNR set a goal of 350 wolves.  The population skyrocketed beyond that, and officials said they wanted to reduce the wolf numbers to a "biologically and socially acceptable level."  The state was battling lawsuits to have the federal government keep Upper Midwest wolves as a protected, endangered species.  The Obama White House found a way to declassify them two-and-a-half years ago, thus giving the states the right to manage their herds and hold wolf hunts.  The Humane Society of the United States balked at that, and has filed suit to restore federal protections.  That suit is still pending. 

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Thousands of dead fish are washing up on the shores on Wisconsin lakes.  It's another in a long list of problems that are now cropping up after our brutally icy winter.  Residents near Lake Petenwell on the Adams-Juneau County border say they're seeing pelicans snap up the dead walleye, carp, and other fish.  Resident Jim Kiehl tells the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune they normally don't see pelicans.  DNR supervisor Justine Hasz says those birds would normally be on Lake Michigan, but their staging grounds are still frozen -- so they've gone west.  DNR officials say they expect the winter to result in more fish-kills in lakes throughout Wisconsin.  They expect the worst problems to be in shallow backwaters.  Hasz says the DNR is about to investigate the fish kill on Lake Petenwell.  She says nearby Castle Rock Lake may also have been hit.

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A man charged in a pair of hit-and-run traffic deaths near Janesville was turned in by his father.  Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said Saroeun Tigh of Park City, Illinois called deputies last Thursday -- five days after his son allegedly drove an SUV into a pair of oncoming motorcycles.  24-year-old Mitchell Vance and 18-year-old Devin Julius were killed.  They were among five bikers riding on Highway 14 on the night of Easter.  Officials said Pal crossed a center line and struck two of the riders, and then kept going.  Sheriff Spoden said Tigh noticed damage on his son's vehicle -- and he wanted to do the right thing by calling authorities.  Pal was arrested at his father's home.  He's in jail in Waukegan, Illinois, awaiting extradition to Rock County to face two felony counts of hit-and-run causing death.

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If a Minnesota congressman has his way, all future U.S. pipelines would use American-made steel -- and a federal agency would inspect the materials before they go underground.  House Democrat Rick Nolan says his bill would support the American steel industry, and promote a safer environment.  Nolan says the measure would protect his district in Minnesota's Iron Range and other areas from spills he says are caused by "inferior, accident-prone foreign steel dumped into U.S. markets, by multi-national corporations whose only interest is making money."  Wisconsin has hundreds of miles of fuel pipelines, and the state has had its share of spills in recent years -- including a 55-thousand-gallon gasoline spill near Jackson, and a 50,000 gallon crude oil spill in Adams County.

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The state government's main Web site has been given its first upgrade since it debuted about a dozen years ago.  Wisconsin.gov has been redesigned for the first time since Governor Scott McCallum's administration initially posted it.  Users will notice a host of changes. First of all, it's much more scenic.  The home page has a wish-you-were-here photo of a lake, with icon motifs inspired by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  It's also more user-friendly for everyday people who can't live-and-breathe state government. Instead of listing the names of state agencies, it lists common services most people look for -- like how to obtain a birth certificate, election information, even a practice driver's license test.  It has five general sections for residents, visitors, businesses, prospective workers, and government data. Like the old site, the governor's picture is on the new home page, along with Scott Walker's initiatives like growing the economy and education.  There are also fun facts like how much cheese is made here, along with a chat area and agency links to social media.  Many people use Wisconsin.gov as an entry portal to find the information they're looking for from all three branches of government.  It had over two-point-nine million unique visitors last year, with over six-million page views.

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Wausau's police chief is expected to announce this afternoon that six high school students who got into a playful battle with Nerf guns will have their disorderly conduct citations dropped.  West High School principal Jeb Steckbauer has said the youngsters will not face violations of the school's conduct code, either.  The six were given $240 tickets, after a neighborhood resident thought they were playing with real guns outside her house last week and called 911.  Actually, the youngsters were playing a Senior Shoot-out that's traditional at West High.  At first, Hardel defended the citations, saying they offered a real-life lesson for youngsters to think about the consequences of what they do, before they do it.  Some residents, though, believed the punishment exceeded the crime.  

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Federal officials have recommended $166,000 in penalties for a suburban Milwaukee plant where a chemical spill injured seven workers.  Cooper Power Systems of South Milwaukee was given six citations by the Occupational Safety-and-Health Administration. About 15 gallons of acid spilled from a pressurized hose last October.  OSHA said Cooper Power showed a "complete disregard" for the workers' health and safety, by making them clean up a dangerous chemical without required protective gear or training.  Cooper Power makes medium-and-high-voltage electrical equipment and supplies.  It's a subsidiary of the Eaton Corporation.  Cooper has 15 days to either pay the fines, challenge the citations, or meet with the government on a possible lower penalty.  The firm has not commented.

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A man convicted of a murder in Milwaukee could either get a new trial or a plea deal.  The First District Court of Appeals in Milwaukee has thrown out Brandon Burnside's original conviction from 2011.  The 30-year-old Burnside was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting death of Bryan Drake.  In appealing the conviction, Burnside said a jury should have never heard what he told police before he was arrested.  He said he consented to a voluntary interview -- but he claimed he was actually in custody, and he should have been read his rights but wasn't.  The appellate court agreed.  It found nothing to indicate that Burnside was free to leave during his interview.  The case now goes back to Milwaukee County Circuit Court.  The State Justice Department says it's considering a possible appeal of today's ruling to the Supreme Court.

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Kevin Costner and the rest of the "Field of Dreams" cast will reunite on Father's Day weekend at the beloved filming site 25 miles west of the Wisconsin border.  It's the 25th anniversary of the classic baseball movie, filmed on a farm near Dyersville, Iowa.  And despite a plan to develop the site, it's still very much like we saw it back in 1989 -- a simple diamond with tall corn as the outfield fence, and a farmhouse with a small set of bleachers nearby.  Thousands of baseball fans have toured the site, run around the bases, and played games there.  In 2010, Dan and Becky Lansing retired as farmers and sold the property to Mike and Denise Stillman, with the help of a real estate firm headed by former Milwaukee Brewers' pitcher Ken Sanders.  The Stillmans had to preserve the classic diamond -- but they planned to develop the rest of the site with 24 ball fields, a practice dome, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  It was a $74-million project, in which the Stillmans agreed to pay three-million to extend utilities from Dyersville while getting 10 years of Iowa sales tax rebates.  The Des Moines Register recently reported that area residents were so upset, they voted out Dyersville Mayor Jim Heavens and filed suit over a re-zoning of the site.  The first youth baseball games were to be played on the new fields this year -- but construction and financing delays have pushed the opening back to 2015.

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