Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

Feb. 14, 2005

Ducks, wetlands, and clean water rally

Spearheaded by Star Tribune Outdoor Columnist Dennis Anderson, a rally to bring the issues of wetland degradation, clean water, and the current state of Minnesota’s waterfowl population to the forefront is set for Saturday, April 2 at the Capitol mall in St. Paul.

The goal of the rally is simple, to get the ball rolling in an effort to dramatically improve and restore Minnesota’s shrinking wetland habitat.

The rally may include several different types of outdoor venues like vendor booths, and duck calling contests.

But, the focus of the rally is a legislative and policy agenda that is being developed at this time – cleaning up Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, restoring and enhancing wetlands and grasslands that benefit water and wildlife, and restoring state duck populations.

Event organizers are suggesting that Minnesotans from outside the Twin Cities Metro Area who plan to attend the rally should organize through various outdoor conservation groups like local sportsmen’s clubs, Pheasants Forever, and Ducks Unlimited Chapters.

The rally begins at 1 p.m., and in an effort to get the ball rolling, I’m urging everyone reading this column to attend.

Next week, I plan on getting a link set up at www.herald-journal.com with more information on the rally.

Hunter education turns 50; one million students certified

From the DNR

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) firearm safety/hunter education program.

It also marks a significant milestone in the program, the millionth student certified.

Hunting has always been a part of Minnesota culture, according to Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement education program coordinator.

From the pioneers who depended on it for their survival, to today’s recreational hunters who enjoy a day in the woods, there’s no other form of social activity in the state that has a longer tradition.

“This tradition continues because of a dedicated group of volunteers who have provided millions of hours of instruction in safe and responsible hunting,” Hammer said.

Today’s 3,500 volunteer instructors bring the message of conservation, ethics and a better understanding of our natural environment to 23,000 young Minnesotans each year.

Responsible, ethical behavior by hunters will be essential to the future of wildlife and the survival of hunting.

The Minnesota Legislature enacted the firearms safety program in 1955.

Since then almost one in every five Minnesotans has completed firearms safety training with outstanding results.

With approximately 750,000 hunters taking to the woods, fields and marshes each year, Minnesota has one of the best safety records in the nation.

In the past 10 years there has been an average 1.7 hunter fatalities per year, with no hunting fatalities reported in 1998 and 2004.

“Hunting is safe and getting safer,” Hammer noted.

Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, cannot purchase a license to hunt in Minnesota without first taking a DNR safety training course and receiving a certificate.

Some states have even more stringent mandatory hunter education requirements.

Firearm safety and hunter education courses are available both in the spring and early fall. Spring classes are now available.

Sessions fill up fast so hunters are encouraged to register today for best selection.

For class information, log on to www.dnr.state.mn.us or call (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

2005 spring light goose hunting begins March 1

From the DNR

In Minnesota and 24 other states, the harvest of snow geese, including blue-phased and the smaller Ross’ geese, will be allowed under a federal conservation order this spring.

Since 2000, when Minnesota began participating in the conservation order, the state harvest of light geese has varied dramatically from a few hundred to 6,000 depending on weather conditions.

Hunting this year will be open from March 1 to April 30.

“Minnesota is at the extreme eastern edge of the spring migration through the Midwest,” said Ray Norrgard, wetland wildlife program leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “March weather, particularly snow and ice conditions, can have a tremendous effect on the migration routes of light geese.”

A spring light goose permit is required and may be obtained after Feb. 20 at any of the 1,800 Electronic Licensing System agents statewide.

Spring light goose permits will also be available by telephone at 1-888-665-4236 or online after March 1 at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

No other license, stamp, or permit is required to participate.

Although the permits are free, there is a $3.50 application fee to cover the cost of issuing the permit.

Nontoxic shot requirements and federal baiting regulations, as well as most regulations that apply to fall goose hunting seasons, will also apply during the spring light goose conservation action.

The use of electronic calls and unplugged shotguns is allowed.

Refuges closed to either duck or goose hunting during fall seasons are also closed during the spring conservation action.

Shooting hours will be one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset each day and no daily or possession limits apply.

The conservation order is part of an international effort to reduce by 50 percent by 2005 the populations of lesser snow geese that breeds in Arctic coastal areas and the Hudson Bay area. High populations cause habitat damage on the breeding grounds.

A summary of regulations will be available from license vendors, DNR wildlife offices, or by calling the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

DNR, hunters pleased with extended pheasant season

From the DNR

Minnesota’s longest-ever pheasant hunting season, it appears, was a hit with both the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and hunters.

Kurt Haroldson, DNR wildlife research biologist at the Madelia Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Station, said he expects the pheasant harvest during the 77-day 2004 season to come in slightly above the previous 10-year average of 346,500 roosters. (More precise harvest estimates will be available after small game hunter surveys are tabulated this summer.)

“One of the more interesting observations from this past season was that 1,111 hunters purchased pheasant hunting stamps after Dec. 19, when the season would have closed under the old framework,” Haroldson noted. “And 65 of those were purchased by out-of-state hunters.”

Haroldson believes the late-season response was due to both the unseasonably warm weather during the latter part of December and to the “strong interest in pheasants and pheasant hunting that continues to exist in Minnesota.”

The season opened Oct. 16 and closed Dec. 31.

When the extended season was first proposed, Haroldson said, support was not unanimous.

Some hunters were concerned that a 77-day season was too long, that roosters would be over-harvested, hens would also be impacted and the following year’s pheasant population would be hurt.

“I hope we’ve been able to demonstrate that pheasant population dynamics just don’t work that way,” Haroldson said.

In the early days of pheasant hunting and management, he noted, “all states started out with very short hunting seasons and gradually lengthened them as we learned more about pheasant biology and hunting effects.”

With the 77-day season, Minnesota is now comparable to surrounding states: Iowa (73), Nebraska (87), South Dakota (79), North Dakota (86) and Wisconsin (75).

Pheasants are the most-studied game bird in Minnesota, according to Haroldson. “And one thing that was learned early on is that pheasants cannot be ‘stockpiled’ from one year to the next,” he stressed.

Haroldson said that numerous studies have shown that shortening or even closing a season “will not result in more pheasants the following year. Shooting hours, bag limits and season length have a lot more to do with sociological concerns than biological ones,” Haroldson said.

Although the numbers vary somewhat, studies have found that hunters take about 65 percent of the rooster population each fall.

And because pheasants are polygamous (one rooster will breed with many hens), all that is needed for normal reproduction is about 10 percent of the rooster population from the previous fall.

“You just don’t need a lot of roosters in the spring to get the job done,” Haroldson stated. What actually happens, Haroldson said, is that there is a “rooster surplus” at the end of the hunting season of somewhere around 25 percent.

“Those surplus roosters could have been harvested with no impact at all on the following year’s population,” Haroldson said. “From a hunting perspective, those rooster represent a missed opportunity. Instead of ending up on someone’s dinner table, about one-third of them will end up dying as a result of winter weather, predators, or even vehicles.”

In addition to rooster mortality, concern was expressed about the possible consequences an extended season might have on pheasant hens.

Wouldn’t hens become more vulnerable to weather and predators if, during harsh winter conditions, they were to be pushed out of protective cover by dogs and hunters?

“We know that roosters-only hunting does result in some hen mortality,” Haroldson acknowledged. “We estimate it’s about 11 percent of the fall population. However, while it is possible to over-harvest hens, studies from both Europe and North America have found that about 20 percent of the fall hen population could be harvested without decreasing the following year’s population.”

Both sexes are still hunted in Europe. Between the 1940s and 1960s, most pheasant states in this country allowed hens in the daily bag.

Haroldson said the extended season likely resulted in a “modest increase” in hen mortality but “certainly not enough to affect future populations.”

Haroldson also pointed out that in future years, if weather conditions might make hens excessively vulnerable to late-season hunting, the DNR commissioner does have authority to close the season.

Bill Penning, DNR farmland programs coordinator, said he has received many e-mails, talked to many hunters, and given a presentation at the Pheasants Forever convention this year. “All but two of the reactions to having more days to be out in the field were very positive.”

Outdoor notes

• The ice fishing season on inland waters in Minnesota for northern pike, walleye, bass, and muskie closes Sunday, Feb. 20.

• Fish houses must be removed from lakes in our area by Monday, Feb. 28.

•Officials from the DNR are throwing around the idea of an early antlerless dear season in certain parts of the state.

• What happened to Winter? It seems another season has gone by, and a good, old-fashioned Minnesota winter missed us again.

• The pan fish bite on many lakes in our area continues to be very good.

Dog is giving up small crappies, anglers have been finding limits of sunfish on Waconia, and Lake Ann had another surge of crappie action last week.

• The Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club is planning a potluck wildgame feed Monday, April 4 at the club house. The club will not be hosting a father/son-daughter banquet this year.

• Congratulations to all the winners at the Howard Lake Sportsmen’s Club Fishing Derby.

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

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