Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Minn.

April 16, 2001

A lot can change in a week

Spring can happen fast. Just a few weeks ago, it seemed winter would never end, the ice would never melt and the May 12 Minnesota fishing opener could be in jeopardy.

We were trudging through a foot or more of snow in many places and the only place in Minnesota a baseball game could be played was the Metrodome.

Then just over a week ago, spring started to sneak up on us. The snow was melting, the ice on our area lakes was starting to turn gray, ducks were arriving, and the Crow River was rising. As I said in last weeks column, "Spring was finally getting here."

In the past week, spring completely arrived, and with a big, fast bang.

Rain and wind melted virtually all of the snow and rapidly advanced ice out on our area lakes and throughout much of central and southern Minnesota. Until the rain and wind hit, the ice on our local lakes was thick and only showing a few signs of giving way to spring and open water. Again, it seemed the hard water fishing season would be well extended past the average year and the ice would never go away.

In a matter of days, the ice turned a dingy gray, the shorelines opened up, and the ice was showing signs of leaving and giving way to spring very quick.

Adding to the fast arrival was high school baseball outdoors, a busting and overflowing Crow River, large numbers of waterfowl, and the emergence of a little green in the color of the landscape.

­ High school baseball. In mid-March, local high school baseball coaches were expecting a very late start to the season and were already planning on postponing games. April came, some games were rescheduled, and a good start to the season looked bleak. Then boom, the snow was gone, fields were in playable shape, and teams were playing games with little or no outdoor practice time under their belts.

­The Crow River. In a matter of days, or in some locations just a few hours, started pouring over its banks; a few roads had to be closed, and the river, both forks in our area, is probably higher than it was in the spring of 1997.

Personally, I can never remember seeing the Crow River's south fork higher than it was last week. My father, who lived near the river for most of his 80-plus years, can only remember the river being higher in the spring of 1965.

­Waterfowl. A few weeks ago, Canada geese were in the area in big numbers, snow geese could be heard flying overhead, and ducks were just starting to arrive. In the past few days, ducks, in many varieties have showed up on ponds and flooded areas in big numbers. Also, their plumage and color are full and beautiful at this time of year.

So far, I've seen - in full plumage - mallards, wood ducks, buffalo head, canvas back, teal, blue bills, golden eyes and mergansers. Typically in the spring, we don't get to see the numbers or variety of waterfowl in our area that are around this year. If it stays wet, they may stick around for a bit.

In closing, spring is definitely here and a lot can change in a week. Get outside, enjoy it. Please take some time to watch spring happen. If you don't, you'll be mowing lawn, swatting mosquitoes, and turning on the air conditioning and before you know it will be gone for another year.

Deadline near to purchase turkey hunting license

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds individuals who were selected to hunt in any one of the eight 2001 spring turkey hunting seasons that they need to purchase their licenses before midnight on Wednesday, April 18. No licences will be sold after this time.

As of Monday, April 9, only 11,378 of more than 19,000 hunters selected in the spring drawing, had purchased their turkey hunting license. The licenses can be purchased at any one of the more than 1,700 Electronic Licensing System point of sale agents in Minnesota, or at the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul.

The 2001 spring wild turkey hunt will consist of eight, five-day seasons between April 18 and May 27, in 48 wild turkey permit areas.

Application to hunt bear due

Applications for the 2001 Minnesota black bear hunting season will be accepted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through Friday, May 4. This year's season will offer 21,710 permits, available in 11 permit areas. The season will run from Aug. 22 through Oct. 14. For the first time, this year, each licensed bear hunter will be able to take two bears.

The two-bear limit is being implemented in an effort to curb the growth of Minnesota's burgeoning bear population, while at the same time responding to hunter's concerns regarding overcrowding, according to Steve Merchant, the DNR's Forest Wildlife Program leader.

"Nearly everyone interested in bear hunting agrees that hunter density has reached the upper limit," Merchant said. "Yet, our bear biologists and wildlife managers feel it is critical to harvest more bears."

Without additional harvest, DNR wildlife managers are concerned that bear-human conflicts will occur at unacceptable levels if a food shortage occurs. Minnesota's bear population, currently about 30,000, has been growing at a rate of 6 to 7 percent per year.

Applications can only be made through the DNR's Electronic Licensing System (ELS). Applications are available from ELS agents throughout Minnesota and at the DNR License Center at 500 Lafayette Road in St. Paul. Nonresident applicants can still mail in their applications. Licenses for the no-quota area, an area outside of the 11 permit areas where the number of licenses is not limited, can be purchased directly at any ELS agent after Aug. 1.

Each hunter who entered the 2000 lottery will be sent a bear season reminder for use when applying for this year's drawing. However, this will be the last year hunters will be notified prior to the application deadline. Instead, hunters can subscribe to a new DNR service where they will be notified via electronic mail of application deadlines, season openers, etc. Hunters may subscribe on the DNR Web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Bear licenses cost $39 for residents and $196 for nonresidents. Hunters are not required to pay for the license at the time of application.

In 2000, bear hunters harvested 3,898 bears. There were 29,275 applicants for 20,710 available permit area licenses.

Demand outweighs allocation

Reprinted from Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources news release.

The Minnesota River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is close to using its $20 million allocated last year by the Minnesota Legislature.

The Legislature is currently debating the final level of funding for CREP. Full funding of $51.4 million, would allow the state to fully match the $163 million in federal funding available to protect 100,000 acres of marginal cropland in the Minnesota River watershed.

At the end of February, the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) had nearly $4.4 million in its CREP fund. Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the Minnesota River watershed have identified 7,087 acres as completed applications, which BWSR is processing now. That comes at a cost of $4.6 million.

This is the second year in a row that the demand for CREP has outweighed the state allocation, according to Ron Harnack, executive director of BWSR, which administers the program on a state level. The SWCDs in the 37-county Minnesota River watershed administer the program on a local level.

"Once again, the numbers tell the story here," Harnack said. "We continue to have a strong demand for the program, and we expect that demand to continue."

As of March 29, there are 930 easements enrolled for a total of 34,228 acres. The five top counties include Redwood, for a total of 4,220 acres; Lac Qui Parle, at 3,958 acres; Renville, at 3,187 acres; Yellow Medicine, at 2,799 acres; and Chippewa, at 1,873 acres.

Although the final level of funding is yet to be determined, Harnack encourages landowners interested in the program to contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District off'lce because he expects that the Legislature will provide a significant allocation for CREP in the end.

The program has been popular for a number of reasons, according to Harnack. "Landowners recognize that some of their land along rivers and streams are not economically viable for them to farm," he said. "When they take poorly producing land out of their economic picture, it increases their net overall."

Additionally, a lot of landowners want to set aside property for their children and grandchildren, and "leave a legacy for their family."

Another reason, he said, is that landowners believe that they need to address erosion and water quality and do it while there's a voluntary program. "They recognize that someday it may be mandatory and that there won't be dollars to make it happen."

Finally, many landowners want to provide more wildlife habitat. "They are avid hunters as well as farmers. CREP can provide a great opportunity for them as well."

This legislative session is considered the pivotal year for funding the remainder of the project. The federal government's offer to provide matching funds expires in September 2002. Minnesota's agreement with the federal government provides $2.30 for easement acquisition for every state dollar invested.

Outdoors notes:

­ If you haven't read the outdoors section of the Star Tribune lately or the Outdoor News, please do so. Specifically, take a look at the article about Gov. Ventura and the Ventura-Dennis Anderson interview in the April 13, 2001 issue of the Outdoor News. In my opinion, the entire episode is bizarre. I'll give you my take on it next week.

­ The stream trout season in southeastern Minnesota opened on Saturday.

­ Remember that no ice, especially ice at this time of year, is safe. Ice conditions on our local lakes change rapidly at this time of year and our lakes could be ice-free very soon. Also, please be very cautious around streams, rivers, and other areas of open water. Right now, water levels are high, currents are very strong and the water is still very cold.

­ The Minnesota fishing opener is set for Sat., May 12. Make your plans now.

­ Schedule a heartworm check and general exam for your dog now.

­ Get your gear and boat ready for some early season spring crappie fishing.

­ Get outside, and take some time to watch spring happen.

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