Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Aug. 30, 2004

Hunters hold the key to conservation

The pressures on our natural resources continue to mount. In fact, they increase every day, soil erosion, water pollution, loss and destruction of critical wildlife habitat due to residential and commercial development, just to name a few.

In our area alone, the natural landscape has given way, and changed, due to development at a tremendous pace in the past 10 years.

Without question, there are fewer potholes, fewer acres of undisturbed grasslands, fewer brush filled woodlots, and farm site groves.

They have been replaced by tar parking lots, mowed meadows for horse hay, more well drained farm fields, growing developments in our small towns based from the ever stretching Twin Cities area, and numerous country homes with manicured lawns, and landscaped holding ponds that are to deep for ducks, and not practical for fish.

The pressures, especially in our area, are immense.

Now, as we quickly move into another season of hunting in Minnesota, a strong reminder has to be placed to those who hunt, and especially to those who don’t.

The message is simple, and in my opinion, without question; Hunters hold the key to conservation.

Although there are many non-hunters that are concerned about our natural resources, they are not organized as well, and in most cases, do not carry the same level of concern, support, and commitment to the conservation of our natural resources that today’s hunter does.

The efforts of hunter’s to conserve, and enhance, our natural resources through organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and local sportsmen’s clubs like those in Howard Lake, Lester Prairie, Waverly and Winsted are unmatched by non-hunting groups.

Before a hunter takes the field, that person has invested in licenses fees, paid taxes on equipment, and donated dollars that directly promote, and produce, conservation.

With that, and in increasing numbers, comes the donation of time, and the presence of a conservation ethics, that again is unmatched by non-hunters.

In a final piece of conservation reality, while I was writing this column I got a call from a group strongly opposed to Minnesota’s new dove hunting season.

The person making the call asked me to not hunt doves, and to use this column to promote their efforts at putting an end to dove hunting, and hunting in general.

The person calling, nor any of the other representatives of the group asked me about my conservation efforts.

They didn’t ask me to help with, or donate, to any wildlife habitat or wetland restoration projects.

They didn’t ask me to write about, and promote, RIM or CRP so doves and wildlife would have more and better habitat.

They didn’t ask me to help improve our water quality or plant a tree.

They weren’t willing to buy a subscription or ad to help support this column and the paper that runs it.

Hunters do.

The quality of my life, my families, and yours is better, and will be better, because of the commitment and concern of our natural resources by hunters.

Today, that commitment and concern in still unmatched, and hunters hold the key to the conservation, and enhancement of our natural resources.

Resisting the surrender

From Tom Conroy of the DNR

Comes a time, a noted sage once advised, to surrender gracefully the things of youth. I suppose. But for now, I’m resisting.

Perhaps that has something to do with why, as the 2004 waterfowl season approaches, I’m feeling conflicted.

With the opener only weeks away, I’m carefully watching the lake I have hunted for the past twenty years.

The water level on this lake is as low as it was last year at this time. And last year the water was too shallow for me to operate my boat and motor. Which meant I missed most of the hunting season on my favorite waterfowl lake.

If the weather over the next few weeks turns hot and dry, others and I might be out of luck again this year.

Losing two seasons in a row when you’ve got forty, fifty or more to look forward to is not such a big deal.

But as the hair grows thinner and grayer, each fall hunting season is more appreciated. And I’m not yet ready to surrender gracefully my days in the duck blind.

My mixed emotions over this situation stem from the fact that I know the low water is good for the lake and good for waterfowl.

Shallow lakes need to occasionally become even shallower in order for the vegetation to flourish. Without those healthy aquatic plants, water quality declines and waterfowl avoid the lake.

So, while I understand the need for low water, I also have my own selfish interests in mind. I want to be out there hunting this fall!

Further stirring the pot is the fact that the low water on this lake is partially due to an artificial drawdown conducted by the DNR last year.

At about that same time, Mother Nature decided to get into the act by refusing to let it rain.

The lake dropped lower than anticipated. And because it has such a small watershed, it has been slow to fill back up.

Good for the lake and ducks, not so good for hunters - at least right now.

It’s a quandary wildlife managers constantly face. Their charge is to manage wildlife habitats while at the same time providing recreational opportunities such as hunting. Same for fisheries managers. Darn tough to find the perfect balance between the two.

Joel Anderson, DNR wildlife manager at Nicollet, has fully one-third of Minnesota’s shallow lakes in his work area.

Deciding which lakes to draw down, when and how far “is the most difficult thing I do. If I don’t have an ulcer, it’s amazing.”

Each drawdown, Anderson said, is something of a crap shoot. “You’re playing right into the weather’s hands. If you do a drawdown and that gets compounded by a dry cycle, you’re going to be criticized for doing the drawdown and limiting hunting opportunities. If you do a drawdown and it gets negated by a wet cycle, you’re going to hear that doing it was a waste of time and money. But when the timing is right, the results can be great.”

On shallow lakes with a water control structure, DNR conducts a couple of dozen or more drawdowns every year.

Organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association also endorse and work on drawdowns.

“The benefits of drawdowns are well understood,” Anderson said. “It’s the timing that makes it so tricky.”

As an avid duck hunter on the backside of his waterfowling years, I clearly understand the frustration of the hunter who arrives at his favorite marsh excited by the prospects of the coming gun season only to discover forty yards of muck between the cattails and open water.

In the “old days,” I’d find a way to get around that obstacle. No longer.

These days, not yet ready to gracefully surrender, I just grumble and pray for rain. It helps to know there are going to be better days ahead for me and the ducks.

Outdoor notes

• Minnesota’s first dove hunting season since 1946 opens Wednesday, Sept. 1.

• The September Canada goose season in our area opens Saturday, Sept. 4, and runs through Sept. 22.

For more information refer to pages 97 and 98 in the 2004 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.

Look for this year’s season to be a good one, get your decoys ready, make sure you have your $4 goose permit and stamps, and always get permission before you enter private land.

• The Winsted Chapter of Ducks Unlimited will host its annual banquet Tuesday, Sept. 14 at the Blue Note Ballroom in Winsted.

It’s the 21st annual, and tickets are available at the Blue Note. The quacking hour begins at 6 p.m.

• The youth waterfowl hunting day in Minnesota is set for Saturday, Sept. 18.

• The 2004 Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 16.

Results from the 2004 August roadside surveys from the DNR will be available in early September.

Look for the crop harvest to be a bit late this year, and for pheasant numbers in general to down from last season.

• The small game and archery deer seasons open Saturday, Sept. 18.

• The 2004 Minnesota firearms deer hunting season opens Saturday, Nov. 6.

Firearms deer hunters, who hunt a Lottery Deer Permit Area, may apply for an either sex permit by Thursday, Sept. 9.

• Get comfortable with your firearms again before you head to the field.

Give them a good cleaning, inventory your ammunition, make sure your firearms and ammo are locked, and in separate locations.

Finally, do some practice shooting. Try a round of trap at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club, the club is open for practice shooting Wednesday evenings through early September.

• Get yourself, and your dog, in shape for the upcoming hunting seasons.

• Minnesota’s 2004 waterfowl hunting season opens Saturday, Sept. 25.

Shooting hours on opening day this year begin at 9 a.m.

• The pheasant hunting season in Iowa opens Oct. 30, in South Dakota on Oct. 16, in North Dakota - early Oct. 9, - late Oct. 23.

• Take a kid hunting or fishing he or she will have fun and so will you.

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