Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Feb. 3, 2003

Bear harvest limited by over abundance of food

From the DNR

This year's abundance of natural foods like hazelnuts and acorns led to one of the lowest bear harvests in the past decade, according to officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Minnesota bear hunters took 1,852 bears during the 2002 bear season, which ran from Sept. 1 through Oct. 13. This year's harvest is less than half of the number harvested in 2001, according to DNR wildlife officials.

Bear harvests in Minnesota over the past 10 years have ranged from this year's low up to nearly 5,000, said to Dave Garshelis, DNR bear research biologist in Grand Rapids.

"Hazelnuts and acorns, the main fall foods for bears, were exceedingly abundant last fall, which meant bears were less attracted to hunters' baits," Garshelis said. "In 2001, natural foods were scarce and hunters had higher success because bears were more easily attracted to bait."

Of those who hunted bears in 2002, 13 percent were successful, compared with 29 percent in 2001.

"The 2001 and 2002 harvests were remarkably similar to the pattern of harvest in 1995 and 1996 when a very poor year for hard mast was followed by abundant hazelnuts and acorns the next fall," Garshelis said. "While natural food availability appears to be the driving force in determining bear harvest, other factors that may have contributed to the decline included fewer active hunters, a later opener, and a lower season bag limit than in 2001."

By stabilizing the state's bear population through hunting, the DNR hopes to avoid large numbers of bear-human conflicts that tend to occur when natural foods are scarce, said Lou Cornicelli, big game specialist in the DNR Division of Wildlife. Because of this year's low harvest, collection of samples from hunters for the range-wide survey of bear populations in Minnesota will be repeated in 2003. The survey is used to refine and calibrate annual bear population estimates.

In the survey, baits containing tetracycline, a common antibiotic that can be detected in bone samples, were hung in the woods for bears to eat during the summer. Hunters who killed a bear submitted bone samples to the DNR. The proportion of bones showing a tetracycline mark in the fall is used to estimate the bear population. Previous estimates indicate that the current bear population is between 20,000 and 30,000.

"Unfortunately, this year's low harvest will reduce the precision of our new population estimate," Garshelis said. "We will, however, do another sample collection in 2003. Barring another difficult year for hunters, we should get a more precise estimate."

Analysis for the 2002 bear population estimate will be complete in February.

Additional details and application instructions for 2003 bear hunting quota area licenses will be available by April 1. The application deadline will be Friday, May 3. The season will open Monday, Sept. 1.

Minnesota snowmobile maps now available

From the DNR

Snowmobile maps for Minnesota's 2002-03 season are now available from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The four different maps show trails in the northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest sections of the state.

Minnesota has a system of about 20,000 miles of public and private snowmobile trails throughout the state, most funded through snowmobile registration fees and gas taxes. The maps are available at no cost.

To order trail maps, or for other snowmobile information including rules, regulations, and snow reports, call the DNR at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-MINN-DNR (646-6367), or write to DNR Information Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4040.

Snowmobile information is also available online at the DNR web site www.dnr.state.mn.us.

HL Sportsmen's Club annual fishing derby

The Howard Lake Sportsmen's Club 57th annual fishing derby will be Saturday, Feb. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Howard Lake.

The grand prize in this year's raffle drawing is a deluxe King Crow fish house on wheels. Tickets can be purchased at Joe's Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake, or from club members.

Outdoor notes

­ It's been a wild year of ice fishing or, more accurately, just lake ice issues, in general.

The DNR and other law enforcement officials noted a combination of wind and warm weather were the reasons many fish houses sank into the water a few weeks ago.

Apparently, heavy winds blowing under fish houses caused open ice fishing holes to expand and grow bigger and bigger, until they got big enough to sink a fish house.

On a positive note, though, there weren't any fish houses in our area that sank to the bottom of a lake.

Other ice fishing and lake ice reports talk of black holes or spots in the middle of lakes that are not freezing over.

We should all remember that lake ice can vary greatly from lake to lake, and from one spot on a lake to another.

Finally, never make an assumption regarding the condition of lake ice. If you're heading out to a particular lake, especially one you are not familiar with, please check with local sources.

The people who use that particular lake on a regular basis, along with local bait shops, are probably the best sources of information when it comes to lake ice conditions.

­ Don't forget to pay extra attention to your pets during periods of extreme cold weather, especially dogs that are kept in kennels.

Check the paws, ears, eyes, and underside for signs of frostbite or cracking due to the cold weather.

­ If your hunting dog is a kennel dog and is used to being outside during cold weather, leave him there.

Many people think their dog may be better off in the house on those frigid nights, but in most cases, the dog is better off left in the kennel and in conditions the animal is used to.

Make sure the dog house is well insulated and off the ground. The dog should have areas to escape from the wind, and inside the dog house, there should be an ample amount of bedding.

Also, in the dog house, the less space the dog as to heat the better off the animal will be in cold weather.

Making sure a kennel dog has fresh water in the winter can also be a battle.

­ Make sure you're prepared for cold weather. Dress appropriately, and carry all the winter necessities in your vehicle that you can think of.

­ The walleye and northern pike fishing season on lakes in our area closes Sunday, Feb. 16.

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