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Dairy leaders decry bovine abuse caught on video; Fire damages stores downtown Ripon; more state news

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Wisconsin dairy leaders are condemning the animal abuse videotaped at a large farm in Brown County.

An investigator from Mercy for Animals taped incidents at the Wiese Brothers Farm near Greenleaf in which cows were kicked, whipped and suspended in the air.

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State veterinarian Paul McGraw saw the video and called the abuse "terrible." He said the state would not be involved in an investigation because that's up to local authorities.

Wiese Brothers condemned the incidents and said it would cooperate with a Brown County sheriff's probe.

The farm supplies milk for some of the cheese used in DiGiorno's frozen pizza. That company's owner, Nestle, has stopped using milk from the Wiese farm.

Wiese Brothers said it fired two employees, reassigned another and assigned three employees to take care of any injured animals.

Mercy for Animals says that's not good enough. It wants Nestle to demand animal welfare reforms on all the farms where the giant food company gets its milk. There's been no response to that.

Dairy leaders were also surprised that the abuse occurred at what they called a "showcase operation" for modern farming practices and cleanliness. Shelly Mayer of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin said she had heard nothing but good things about Wiese, which had about 8,100 animals as of earlier this year.

The video can be viewed here: http://www.sliceofcruelty.com/

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Cold weather, struggling northern herd blamed for 'disappointing' hunt

MADISON -- State wildlife officials say a disappointing deer hunt is blamed on cold weather, and a struggling deer herd in northern Wisconsin.

DNR game managers gave the Natural Resources Board an overview Tuesday of the recent nine-day gun season.

The statewide deer harvest was down 7 percent to around 226,000. Fifteen percent fewer bucks were killed, and the popular northern region had a 15 percent drop in its total harvest -- the most of any place in the state.

Wildlife Management Director Tom Hauge said frigid temperatures hampered the season's opening weekend when almost half the total deer are shot. Also, the long winter from a year ago took a toll on the herd in the north with fewer fawns and a weaker development of antlers on the bucks.

The DNR had warned hunters that does were trying to recover in the north, and the state sold 37,000 fewer permits for that area.

Officials said they were happy with their efforts to retain hunters. The DNR had predicted fewer hunters between 2010 and 2015,  but the total numbers have held steady over the past two years at around 630,000.

The numbers of female hunters grew five percent this year, and 25 percent since 2007. Tuesday's board meeting had to be moved to another building in Madison after a pipe burst in the DNR headquarters. That caused flooding on seven floors.

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Survey: State residents' health declines by 7 clicks

MADISON -- People in seven other states became healthier than Wisconsinites over the last year, according to the annual America's Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation.

The foundation ranks Wisconsin the 20th healthiest state, down from 13th a year ago. A big problem is obesity, and it's on the rise.

The new report says almost three of every 10 Wisconsin adults are obese -- 2 percent more than in 2012 in a year when national obesity failed to go up for the first time since 1998.

Obesity is a major cause of diabetes -- which continues to be relatively low in Wisconsin with 8.3% of adults diagnosed with it. That's about the same as last year with 370,000 adult diabetics. Also, the numbers of Badger State residents without health insurance rose from 8.5%  of the population to 10%.

However, the United Health report says that's still relatively low. Child immunization is up, but teen immunization rates dropped. We also have poor mental health more often, with an average of 3.7 days for every 30 -- up 14% from a year ago.

Fifty-five percent of Wisconsin adults 25 and older with at least a high school education said their health is good or excellent.

Only 31% said the same if they had less than a high school diploma.

Also, the report says Wisconsin still has high rates of infectious diseases and binge drinking, and low public health funding to tackle those problems.

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Fire damages four downtown stores, apartments in Ripon

Four downtown buildings and several upstairs apartments were damaged by fire overnight in downtown Ripon.

Firefighters were called out at 2:53 a.m. A police officer told WLUK-TV of Green Bay that the blaze started in an apartment above one of the businesses on Watson Street.

Photo courtesy of Tim Lyke, Ripon Commonwealth Press. All occupants are accounted for and no injuries have been reported but the local Red Cross is on the scene to help some 20 people displaced by the fire, which was still burning as of about 6 a.m.

A number of fire departments responded, and much of downtown Ripon is expected to blocked off most of the day, according to the Ripon Commonwealth Press newspaper.

Ripon, a city of 7,700 in Fond du Lac County, is located about 30 miles southwest of Oshkosh.

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Cloud cover brings cold relief in the south

It's colder than Tuesday in northern Wisconsin and a little warmer in the south. Superior was reporting 16-below at 6 a.m. with Hayward registering -15. Wind chills dropped below minus-30 in parts of the north.

Much of southern Wisconsin had light snow at 6 a.m. plus cloud cover that kept warmer air from escaping. Temperatures were generally in the teens with light winds.

Kenosha was the warm spot with 15. Lancaster in Grant County had 1.5 inches of snow overnight -- and by 6 a.m. officials in southwest Wisconsin said the storm system had already headed east.

Much of the northwest was under a wind chill warning until 10 a.m., Wednesday while the rest of the Badger state is under wind chill advisories.

The National Weather Service says the cold advisories will continue into early tomorrow in virtually all of Wisconsin. Highs are expected to remain below zero today in the northwest, and in the teens in the southeast. A slight warm-up was expected Thursday.

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Wisconsin ranks 9th in Peace Corps recruiting

The Peace Corps gets some of its largest numbers of volunteers from Wisconsin.

According to new figures released Tuesday, 3.7 of every 100,000 Badger State residents are joining the Peace Corps. That's the ninth-highest rate in the country.

Neighboring Minnesota is one spot higher, in eighth place. Vermont has the highest rate of Peace Corps volunteers, with almost eight per 100,000 residents.

Among local areas, Whitewater has the nation's 10th highest rate of involvement.

Peace Corps volunteers spend two years working in developing nations. Duties including teaching English, creating gardens, and digging water wells.

Former President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps 52 years ago to promote a better understanding between the American people and those in foreign countries. Over 215,000 volunteers have served in 139 nations.

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Scrooge visiting Shorewood residents after tax bill error

Officials got a little too generous in Shorewood where folks got a mistaken tax break that the village Scrooges will now have to take away.

Chris Swartz, the village manager in the Milwaukee suburb, said a county sales tax credit was accidentally entered twice on the property tax bills sent out last week. Swartz said the mistake was discovered right after 4,500 tax bills were taken to the post office to be mailed. Officials managed to recover a few hundred.

They then put out an e-mail to residents saying they should not pay the tax bills due to a data-entry error -- and they'll get new ones in the mail this week.

On average, it will mean that homeowners will pay about $400 more than before -- but that's still about 1 percent less than a year ago.

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Service commemorates KC-135 explosion that killed six

MILWAUKEE -- A memorial service was held Tuesday to observe the 20th anniversary of a military airplane explosion that killed six Air National Guard members.

Retired Brigadier General Gene Schmitz of Milwaukee's 128th Air Refueling Wing said those at the Mitchell Airport station at the time will never forget what they were doing when the blast occurred.

Two specialists were checking a problem with the amount of fuel in the airplane's tank. Three technicians were solving minor problems with the cockpit controls. The plane's crew chief was also on board when the KC-135 Strato-tanker exploded.

All six were killed, in a blast that was later blamed on a poorly-assembled booster pump and problems with small copper attachments to the fuel tank.

Schmitz, the unit's commander for a decade, called it a "one-in-a-million shot of two wires coming together." Sergeants Roy Starszak, James Schlicht, James Russell, Michael Heath, Russell Shurr, and Patrick Foran were all killed. Schmitz said they gave their lives for their country.

The anniversary service was attended by airmen, retirees, and family members. A wreath was laid in the victims' honor.

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Marathon man gets 18 years for attack on elderly couple

WAUSAU -- A central Wisconsin man will spend 18 years in prison for robbing and attacking an elderly couple near Wausau in 2009.

Sean Stankowski, 23, of Marathon must also spend 7.5 years under extended supervision once he's released.

He was sentenced Tuesday after he pleaded guilty in October to amended charges in Marathon County. Stankowski was convicted on eight counts including armed robbery, burglary, battery, reckless endangerment, and bail jumping.

Prosecutors said he asked a Weston couple to use their phone, and them robbed them at knife-point. One of the victims fought back, and was struck.

Stankowski and a getaway driver, Kaitlyn Lang, then fled. He went into a nearby house where he was arrested after an hour-long manhunt.

Lang got six months in jail and three years' probation.

-- Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

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Last defendant sentenced in the botched ATF sting

MILWAUKEE -- The final chapter was written Tuesday in a botched federal sting operation in Milwaukee.

The last of 34 defendants received probation for buying guns with his cousin, a convicted felon, and later selling them to federal U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agents for up to three times the original purchase price.

The Journal Sentinel said the high prices was among the tactics the government used to jack up the numbers of arrests from last year's sting operation. Neither side recommended prison Tuesday for 33-year-old Courvoisie Bryant.

His lawyer said the government did nothing more than manufacture a crime and create a criminal. The sting operation, called Operation Fearless, was intended to get illegal guns off the streets by setting up a fake storefront in Milwaukee. However, the store was burglarized -- $40,000 in merchandise was lifted -- and an ATF agent had his machine gun stolen from a vehicle. It was still missing at last word.

Thirty-four people were charged in state and federal courts as a result of the sting. Eight people had their cases dropped because they were either wrongly arrested, or the lead ATF agent failed to testify.

Eight other defendants escaped jail or prison time. Of the other 18, the median prison sentence was two years.

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