Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

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

Feb. 2, 2004

New trail may be established in our area

Can you imagine a new recreational trail being established in our area in the next few years.

A trail, that if done right, would link up with the Luce Line, and create a great loop for bikers, hikers, snowmobile riders, horseback riders and potentially ATV users.

That could be the case. The old rail line that runs from the western suburbs through Mayer, New Germany, Lester Prairie, and Silver Lake was abandoned some time ago, and now the decision has been made to remove the rails.

Some activists in Hennepin County are already proposing the corridor be turned into a DNR recreational trail similar to the Luce Line Trail.

In our area, there hasn’t been much play on the subject yet, but the idea seems to be well received.

If the old line is turned into a trail, and several links to the Luce Line Trail are established, creating a variety of loops and distance options, our area could boast one of the best recreational trail systems in the state.

A trail system of that type would be great for local users, and could be a boom to our local small town economies.

Right now, with the issue, or idea, still in the infant stages, there doesn’t seem to be a solid reason why the corridor shouldn’t be turned into a trail.

It’s a safe bet some negatives or opposition will arise. However, the issue is well worth pursuing.

Moving down the trail a bit, before anyone starts ripping out rails, plans should be made to preserve all the bridges and passes so they don’t have to be replaced with new ones if the corridor is turned into a trail.

New bridges and over passes became an expensive venture in the development of the Luce Line and other trails in the state.

Howard Lake Fish Derby

The Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club will host it’s 58th annual Fishing Derby Saturday, Feb. 7, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Howard Lake.

The grand prize in this year’s drawing is a deluxe Ice Buddy fish house on wheels.

The fish house is on display at Joe’s Sport Shop and Hardware in Howard Lake.

Along with the many contests, prizes from many area merchants are given away every five minutes.

Tickets are available at Joe’s and from club members.

All proceeds go the Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club and are used for local conservation efforts.

Short-term Sacrifice, Long-term Gain

From the DNR

Short-term sacrifice, long-term gain. That is often the way it is with wildlife management.

Take the case of the hen turkey, for example.

There’s a patch of native prairie grasses just across the parking lot at our regional headquarters on the outskirts of New Ulm.

The hen figured it would be a good place to make a nest. And so she did.

That patch of prairie, however, was in dire need of a fire to rejuvenate it.

And so one day last spring, some DNR folks held a prescribed burn.

Not long after the flames began crackling and creeping across that stand of grasses, the hen turkey took flight to escape the fire.

That afternoon, the black ashes still smoldering, she returned to search for her nest.

I admit to a certain sense of melancholy as I watched her wander about. She soon found her way back to the area from where she had earlier taken flight.

Back and forth and in circles she moved, stopping occasionally as if trying to figure it all out.

After perhaps a half hour, she ambled away and disappeared back into the wooded ravine.

Would she find another place to re-nest? Maybe.

Over the spring and summer, that patch of prairie responded beautifully to the fire.

Instead of sparse, thin patches of grasses, by late summer there was a thick, vibrant stand of big and little bluestem, Indiangrass and side-oats grama waving in the breeze.

Next spring there may well be another turkey hen or two nesting in that prairie.

And, judging from recent events, it will probably produce some pheasants.

For much of this winter, that prairie has been providing a perfect roosting area for pheasants.

Now, you typically don’t see more than an occasional pheasant around here.

The ravines of the Cottonwood and Minnesota rivers are more suitable for deer, turkeys and other assorted woodland types than pheasants.

But close to thirty pheasants have come from who knows where to take winter refuge in that tangle of native grasses.

And come spring, the odds are good that there will be a bunch of little pheasants scurrying about there.

Early this winter, that same patch of prairie hosted one of the largest flocks of tree sparrows our resident naturalist said he has ever seen.

Tree sparrows nest in the north and spend their winters here in prairie, eating grass and wildflower seeds and spending the night nestled down in the tall grass for cover.

The hen turkey’s nest was sacrificed, yes. But in exchange, there will be many more turkeys, pheasants and other wildlife produced there than would have been had that fire not been set.

Such exchanges are not always well understood, or accepted.

It’s not uncommon to receive calls from upset citizens when the DNR is conducting spring burns.

There is, for example, a fellow I know who has converted substantial portions of his farm into outstanding wildlife habitat.

He has enrolled the land into several programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), and Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM).

He understands the value of periodic burns. Yet, last year he refused to allow a parcel to be burned because it was during the nesting season.

Prescribed burns are generally set in the spring, when most prairie plants are still dormant and cool-season, non-native grasses are actively growing.

These spring fires can damage the undesirable cool-season grasses while leaving the desirable, dormant plants untouched.

Fire removes accumulated dead plant material, allowing sunlight to more quickly warm the blackened soil, and helps keep trees from taking over the prairie.

Forb seed germination is stimulated and within a few days after fire, native plants begin to sprout.

In short, spring fires are most helpful for these flowers, forbs and grasses.

Once spring green-up is underway, it becomes much more difficult to get an effective burn.

More attention has been focused in recent years on the public and private benefits of protecting and re-establishing grasslands (such as improved water quality) in the once abundant tallgrass prairie region of the U.S.. And public understanding of the need to use fire as a management tool is increasing.

However, with less than one percent of the original prairie now remaining, and more grasslands being converted to cropland, it is more important than ever that what little prairie does remain is managed well.

The future of grassland-dependent wildlife species from prairie chickens to upland plovers depends on it.

For sure, a spring burn will destroy some nests that year. But in subsequent years, that burn will pay dividends that will far out-weigh one spring’s loss.

Short-term sacrifice, long-term gain.

DNR begin the trail designation, forest reclassification process

From the DNR

Next week, the Department of Natural Resources will present six off-highway vehicle trail designation plans to the public for review after completing state road and trail inventories in about a third of Minnesota’s 58 State Forests.

The trail inventories are the first step in designating motorized trails in Minnesota State Forests as directed by the 2003 Minnesota Legislature.

Trail designation plans identify which trails will be open or closed to motorized and non-motorized used in the future.

“With drafts of the first six proposed trail designation plans complete, we are ready to seek and consider public comment on the plans and move forward with implementation,” said Brad Moore, DNR assistant commissioner of operations.

Completing this work is the first step in better managing OHV use in Minnesota State Forests.

Legislation enacted in 2003 requires all state forests be classified as either “limited” or “closed.”

The limited classification allows OHV use only on roads and trails that are posted open leaving the rest of the forest closed to motorized use.

A closed classification means that no OHV use is allowed.

There are 45 state forests classified as managed that must be reclassified over the next few years as either limited or closed.

The former managed classification was less restrictive.

The new legislation also requires that state forest roads and trails be inventoried and evaluated for their potential to support motorized use.

The information collected will form the basis for designating trails and reclassifying managed forests.

The first public meetings in this multi-year process will be scheduled in April.

Visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/ohv for the latest information and public meeting notices or call (888) MINNDNR or (651) 296-6157.

Minnesota conservation officer tales

From the DNR

 

Officer Lee Alderson (Cloquet) was called to a car-deer accident on I-35 near Cloquet.

The deer was badly injured and had to be destroyed.

There was an element of mystery surrounding this occurrence. Someone had covered the deer with a blanket!

 

Conservation Officer Jeff Johanson (Osakis) was issuing a citation to an angler for fishing with more than two lines.

CO Johanson asked if the person had ever been cited for a game and fish violation.

The reply was, “Kermit got me 25 years ago for the same thing.”

Kermit Peterson was the game warden in the Osakis area in the ‘60s and ‘70s and is also CO Johanson’s grandfather.

 

CO Julie Olson (Princeton) reports enforcement action was taken for minor consumption of alcohol.

The two minors were “tipping a few” while ice angling.

They stated they were, “just leaving.” When the driver was asked what he was driving, he walked out of the fish house and could not remember where he had parked the truck.

The truck was just to the side of the house. A sober driver was called for the pair.

 

CO Joyce Kuske (Little Falls) and CO Paul Kuske (Pierz) report adding two new hopefuls to the ranks of conservation officers.

Joyce gave birth to twin boys on Jan. 2.

A DNR firearms safety instructor even got into the act. Gary Hebler drove Joyce to the hospital while Paul was returning from an afternoon hunting trip.

 

CO Brad Schultz (Center City) notes that anglers have again fallen into sloppy fish measuring habits on area special regulation lakes.

He heard statements such as, “it looked pretty close,” or “I thought it was OK.”

Measurement lessons are expensive.

 

During his normal course of duties, Conservation Officer Bruce Lawrence (Pine City) found an ice angler using one too many lines.

The angler explained that he was using the extra line to try to retrieve his cell phone, which he said he had accidentally dropped down his ice hole.

Turned out this was no wrong number. The angler had an underwater TV camera and showed Lawrence the cell phone resting in 15 feet of water.

No answer on whether the angler was able to connect with his cell phone of not.

 

CO Tim Jenniges (Windom) watched a portable fish house go sailing across an area lake with a SUV in hot pursuit.

The SUV caught up with the fish house after a half-mile chase and proceeded to take it back to the point of origin by holding onto it through the driver’s window.

Minutes later the same fish house escaped again and went sailing across the lake.

This time after the SUV caught up with it, it was folded up, and placed in the back end of the vehicle before being transported back.

 

CO Scott Staples (Carlton) assisted the Cloquet PD with a snowmobile fleeing case.

Charges are pending on a juvenile who was pulling one of his friends on a sled.

When attempting to stop the operator, he fled on the machine leaving his friend behind.

The friend gave all the information on who the operator was.

 

CO Dan Cogswell (Grand Rapids) reports checking out a complaint of two field dressed deer dumped on posted land on Baich Road near Trout Lake.

The deer (large buck and a fawn) appeared to be from deer season.

Only the head was taken from the buck, the meat and hide were still intact on both deer.

They probably hung in someone’s shed and were forgotten, except the bragging rights for the rack.

 

Any information on this can be relayed through the TIP line (1-800-652-9093) or contact the Grand Rapids DNR enforcement office at (218) 327-4117.

DNR Question of the Week

From the DNR

Q: I recently received my boat license renewal form. In addition to the usual fees, I noticed there is a $5 exotic species surcharge, what is this for?

A: The $5 surcharge on watercraft licenses, which is paid once every three years, is the primary source of funding for DNR efforts to curb the spread and reduce the harm caused by of aquatic exotic species such as Eurasian watermilfoil, zebra mussels, purple loosestrife, and Asian carp.

A state statue allows the DNR Exotic Species Program to use the surcharge for many activities including control, public awareness, law enforcement, monitoring, and research of nuisance aquatic exotic species.

An annual report describing how the funds are used is available at: http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/ecological_services/exotics/annualreport.pdf.

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