Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

September 29, 2003

A century of conservation

On my honeymoon ­ a trip to southwest Florida about eight years ago ­ my wife and I had the opportunity to visit and spend a few days at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge is located in Sanibel Island, near Fort Myers, and is a winter haven for a wide variety of waterfowl, including many that make their summer home in Minnesota.

From the great estuaries where salt and fresh water meet, to alligators and greenwinged teal, the refuge was an incredible place and a much different outdoor setting than what I was used to in Minnesota.

Back home, I grew up hunting and exploring the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge in western Minnesota. My dad and I watched the refuge grow and develop.

With hard work by many, and a fair share of conflict between landowners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Big Stone became a great place, a place that my dad and I loved, and a place that I still hunt and explore.

This year, 2003 marks the 100th anniversary of the national wildlife refuge system. Today, the system conserves nearly 100 million acres of wildlife habitat, and is unparalled for providing outdoor activities for all Americans.

In Minnesota, national wildlife refuges play a big role in our outdoor lifestyle and heritage, and we are blessed with a large number of them.

They include Aggassiz in Marshal County; Big Stone in Big Stone and Lac qui Parle counties; Minnesota Valley in Carver, Scott, Hennepin, and Dakota counties; Rice Lake and Sandstone in Aitkin and Pine counties; Rydell in Polk County; Sherburne in Sherburne County; Tamarac in Becker County; and the Upper Mississippi in Wabasha, Winona, and Houston counties.

Personally, I have visited all of them except Rydell.

If you're a hunter, hunting opportunities do exist on all of the refuges in Minnesota. However, special regulations do apply, and there are limitations.

Although many of us may not be familiar with the refuge system, and the refuges in Minnesota, they are vitally important to our lifestyle.

In simple terms, they provide us with a public place to use and enjoy the outdoors. A place where all of us are welcome during a time when there are fewer and fewer places to enjoy the outdoors.

As time moves on, and more homes are built and more land is developed, national wildlife refuges will only become more important ­ important to us, but essential for wildlife.

For more information on national wildlife refuges and those located in Minnesota, refer to pages 123 and 124 of the 2003 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations handbook, or write to Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056.

DNR receives favorable decision on boat searches

From the DNR

The Minnesota Supreme Court today ruled that Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers may search boats and live wells without probable cause.

The ruling reversed a lower court's decision that had prohibited them from conducting inspections of fish in angler's live wells.

"The Supreme Court carefully balanced privacy rights and resource conservation interests," said DNR Enforcement Director Mike Hamm, "and ruled in favor of limited inspections by conservation officers to help sustain our natural resources."

The DNR, along with angling and sporting groups, had been very concerned with a lower court decision that stated officers were required to have probable cause to inspect anglers' boats.

"This ruling will help Minnesota conservation officers, who have protected the State resource since 1887, preserve these resources for generations to come," Hamm said.

Fishing plays an important role in the lives of many Minnesotans, and the corresponding need for effective regulation to protect the viability of the state's fish and game resources was confirmed today by the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision on this matter, Hamm noted.

The decision does not grant conservation officers powers beyond that of other law enforcement officers. Instead, it recognizes that fishing is largely a recreational privilege and those 'who chose to apply for this privilege accept the conditions imposed to the sport of game fishing.'

The ruling is consistent with other cases, including Montana's Boyer case, in which the Montana Supreme Court ruled 'no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy exists when a wildlife enforcement officer checks for hunting and fishing licenses in open season near game habitat, inquires about game taken, and requests to inspect game in the field.'

"The ruling recognizes how absurd it would be ­ because fishing can take hours or even days over broad areas ­ for conservation officers to individually watch every angler to determine if probable cause existed," Hamm said.

This case differs from State vs. Larsen (in which the Minnesota Supreme Court prohibited the search of an ice fishing house without probable cause).

The court's position is that fish shelters are erected to protect occupants from the elements, and often provide eating, sleeping, and other facilities that allow for a reasonable expectation of privacy. That's different than an open boat.

Question of the week

From the DNR

Question: How does Minnesota decide the waterfowl hunting opener date, season length, and bag limit?

Answer by Jeff Lawrence, DNR Wetland Wildlife Group leader:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with input from states and flyway councils, decides the annual waterfowl hunting frameworks, which include the earliest opening and latest closing dates, maximum season length, and duck bag limits.

For the regular duck season, these guidelines are the same for all states in the Mississippi Flyway, including Minnesota. States have the option to be more restrictive than the federal frameworks.

Minnesota typically opens the duck season on the earliest Saturday permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, although last year's duck season opener was delayed one week following public comment.

Minnesota hunters have also been able to hunt the full season length and take the maximum bag limits allowed in most years. The DNR considers these decisions each year based mostly on the status of Minnesota's breeding duck populations.

For more waterfowl hunting information, go the DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Outdoor notes

­ The Minnesota pheasant season opens Saturday, Oct. 11. Excellent hunting is expected across Minnesota's pheasant range.

­ The evening shoot for Minnesota ducks begins Sunday, Oct. 12.

­ Look for great action with northern pike and walleyes on many lakes in our area this fall. Waconia and Belle are great fall walleye lakes, especially for anglers fishing in waders at night. The Crow River can also be a fall hot spot.

­ Regarding antlerless permits in managed deer permit areas, I was told by the DNR that if you're hunting in a permit area, or choose a permit area that is a managed deer area, you could buy your license the day before the season and be able to tag an antlerless deer in your specific managed deer area.

­ Read the regulations before you take the field in pursuit of game this fall. Also, please be courteous and cautious instead of competitive in the field this fall.

­ Take the time to preserve your outdoor memories by taking photos and keeping an outdoor journal. You will not regret it.

­ Fall is officially here, and if you haven't noticed, the day's have gotten a lot shorter.

­ Fall colors could be a little dismal this year. Because of dry condtions, many of the trees may drop their leaves before beautiful fall colors develop.

­ Look out for deer on the roadways. As fall moves along, deer become much more active, and car-deer accidents increase.

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