Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

October 22, 2007

The glory days

Hunters in Minnesota and North Dakota just completed the opening weekend of the 2007 pheasant hunting season and, without question, success was as good or better than this generation of pheasant hunters has ever experienced.

So good, that compared to much of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, you could call it the glory days of pheasant hunting.

To top it off, straight across the border in the pheasant capital of the world – South Dakota — hunting and bird numbers are probably the best they have ever been and many hunters will experience an abundance of birds that is almost beyond their imagination.

We could call it the glory days, but in perspective, we should call it Conservation Reserve or CRP days, like you hear many of the old timers refer to the Soil Bank days of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Moving on, and taking a walk through good cover, the glory days of CRP could change and are changing as fast as a rooster can bust from a heavy line of cattails.

In North Dakota last week, the pheasant hunting was tremendous, with nine of us having no trouble filling our two-day limit of roosters, while hunting on a mix of private and federal public hunting land.

However, as we hunted we got an upfront and close look at what the pheasant hunting future has to hold.

Sorry to say, instead of acres of prime CRP grassland, we saw hundreds of big, round bales, barren fields, and tilled ground.

Much of the CRP, about two-thirds in the area we hunt, came out of the Conservation Reserve Program Sept 29 and is now being moved back into crop production.

It’s simple, the farmer didn’t sign up a few years back to extend the CRP contracts, currently he didn’t qualify for a new sign-up period, cash rents for production land in the area are up to about $75 per acre compared to CRP’s payment of about $45 per acre, and commodity prices – corn, beans, and wheat are high.

The bottom line is the farmer made a sound business decision and the pheasants and other wildlife lost acres and acres of prime nesting habitat.

Without question, the pheasant population in the area will be significantly lower next year than it has been in the past five or more years.

Throw in a long winter with heavy snow and a wet spring and the pheasant population in the area could decline by 70 percent or more.

As a conservationist and pheasant hunter I can only hope that doesn’t happen, and the significant loss of CRP acres doesn’t continue.

If it does, within two years, across much of the Midwest pheasant range, we will all be referring to CRP like the old timers refer to the glory days of Soil Bank.

Locally, we are not as dependant on CRP acres for the pheasant hunting we do have to offer; in turn, we don’t have the bird numbers areas of western and southern Minnesota do.

No matter, local pheasant hunters gave glowing reports of good bird numbers and good hunting, with a few hunters noting they saw more birds in our area on opening weekend than they ever have before.

The same hunters, who, for the most part, hunted on public land, said large numbers of hunters were out and it was common to see five or six vehicles at a time parked at public hunting areas.

Finally, pay attention to the corn harvest, noting good areas of cover that are next to standing corn, and plan on getting wet.

During the season an educated rooster won’t shy away from a water-filled cattail slough and believe me, most of them are now full of water.

Waverly Gun Club range open to the public

The Waverly Gun Club range is open to the public for sight-in Saturday, Oct. 27, and Sunday, Oct. 28, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $7 per gun.

For more information about the gun club, visit its web site at www.geocities.com/waverlygunclub or call (763) 658-4644.

Dispelling some myths about hunting
From Tom Dickson of the DNR

If you don’t hunt, you might wonder what’s so appealing about this activity.

Why, for example, would anyone sit for hours in a chilly duck blind?

Or trudge mile after mile through soggy cattail sloughs?

And what’s the thrill in trying to kill an animal, anyway?

If hunters want to be outdoors and see animals, can’t they just watch wildlife without shooting them?

Hunting, with a half-million Minnesota participants, must certainly stir the curiosity of those who don’t take part.

Why someone hunts is a personal matter. Many do it to spend time outdoors with friends or family. Others hunt to continue a tradition passed down from their parents and grandparents.

Some go for the satisfaction of providing their own meat or the challenge of outwitting a wild animal.

Many hunt simply because they feel an urge to do so.

As environmentalist and hunter Aldo Leopold put it, “the instinct that finds delight in the sight and pursuit of game is bred into the very fiber of the race.”

It’s hard to generalize what hunters are doing when they go afield each fall.

But it is possible to explain what hunters are not doing, and to shed light on some aspects of hunting that might puzzle those who don’t participate.

Hunters aren’t killing animals needlessly.

People who say there’s no need to kill animals for meat when it can be bought in a grocery store don’t understand how food happens: Whether someone eats venison or beef, a big brown-eyed mammal has to die first.

The animal doesn’t care whether you pay someone else to kill it or you do it yourself.

Of course, vegetarians don’t kill animals. Or do they?

Most vegetable production is done at the expense of wild creatures, either by converting wildlife habitat to cropland or requiring the application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Soybeans and corn, for example, are often grown on wetlands that have been drained and plowed.

Without a place to nest, a hen mallard doesn’t die, but she doesn’t raise any young, either.

1. Hunters aren’t being cruel to wild animals.

Most wild animals don’t pass away in comfort, sedated by veterinary medication.

They usually die a violent, agonizing death.

Though a hunter’s bullet or arrow can cause a wild animal pain and trauma, such a death is no worse than the other ways wildlife perish.

A deer not shot eventually will be killed by a car, predator, exposure, or starvation.

An old, weakened pheasant doesn’t die in its sleep. It gets caught by a hawk and eaten.

Of course, hunters don’t do individual wild animals any favors by killing them, but they also don’t do anything unnaturally cruel.

2. Hunters aren’t dangerous, inept, or trigger-happy.

Hunting would seem more prone to accidents and fatalities than outdoor activities that don’t use firearms.

Not so. According to National Safety Council statistics, far more people per 100,000 participants are injured while bicycling or playing baseball than while hunting.

And the Council’s most recent statistics show that while roughly 100 people die nationwide in hunting accidents each year, more than 1,500 die in swimming-related incidents.

One reason for hunting’s safety record: Most states require young hunters to pass a firearms safety course.

In Minnesota alone, 4,000 volunteer instructors give firearms safety training to 20,000 young hunters each year.

Just as they handle their gun cautiously, so do most hunters strive to kill game as cleanly as possible.

Hunters practice their marksmanship, study wildlife behavior and biology, and take pains to follow a wounded animal to ensure any suffering ends quickly.

As do all activities, hunting has its share of scofflaws.

But most hunters obey the law and act ethically.

To nab the wrongdoers among them, hunters created Turn In Poachers, a nonprofit organization that offers rewards for information leading to the arrest of fish and game law violators.

3. Hunters aren’t harming wildlife populations.

Hunters see to that out of self-interest.

That’s why they support state and federal conservation agencies limiting seasons to just a few weeks or months a year, limiting the number of animals they kill, and placing restrictions on killing females of some species.

These regulations help ensure that wildlife populations stay healthy.

They also make the pursuit of game more difficult, requiring hunters to use their wits, patience, and hunting skills.

4. Hunters aren’t using non-hunters? tax dollars.

Hunters pay their own way, and then some. Minnesota hunters fund almost all Department of Natural Resources habitat acquisition and wildlife research with their license fees and a federal excise tax on hunting equipment.

In addition, their financial support pays to improve populations of non-game wildlife.

Wetland destruction has wiped out the habitats of many bird species, causing their numbers to decline.

Were it not for wetlands bought and improved with state and federal waterfowl stamp revenue and with the contributions of hunting conservation organizations, hunters and others who like to watch wildlife would today see fewer marsh wrens, pied-billed grebes, Forster’s terns, and other wetland birds.

These are some things that hunters aren’t doing.

What I suspect most are doing – if they hunt for the reasons I do – is fulfilling a need to be part of the natural world that observation alone can’t satisfy.

Recent trends suggest fewer people participating in outdoor recreation
From the DNR

Being Minnesotan means hunting, fishing, boating, camping, exploring the great outdoors, right? Well, maybe not so much anymore.

Recent surveys conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service show troubling declines in what once were the bread and butter activities that defined people who lived in this state.

These declines are also not unique to Minnesota. They are occurring across the country.

Apparently, nature based outdoor recreation does not have the priority in younger people’s lives that it once did.

What’s replacing traditional outdoor recreation? While much remains unknown, likely candidates include television, computer gaming, and over-programmed lifestyles.

According to the surveys, these declines appear likely to continue, given how broad-based they are.

The DNR is devoting its draft State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), to this topic.

The plan has one goal – increased participation in outdoor recreation.

This document also provides guidance to outdoor recreation decision makers and managers on policy and investment matters.

The DNR is seeking ideas for addressing this troubling trend. People can review the draft and share ideas on what to do, by visiting www.mndnr.gov. Comments will be accepted through Nov. 9.

The DNR, is also partnering with Twin Cities Public Television, to produce a one-hour exploration of these declines in nature-based outdoor recreation and its impact on society.

The show will air on TPT 17 on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. and it will highlight a mix of experts and citizens talking about these trends and what they might mean.

Deeper exploration of the research shows the declines are most closely associated with the 16 - 44 year old age group, which includes Generations X and Y, the latter to which is also referred to as the Millennial Generation.

Additionally troubling is the 16-44 year old age bracket is the generation that traditionally passes outdoor recreation experiences on to children. Who will do this now?

Anecdotal data points to the growing role grandparents are playing in sharing outdoor recreation experiences with grandchildren.

What are some of the implications of declining participation?

A 2006 survey by the United Health Foundation found that while Minnesotans are generally healthier than the rest of the country, Minnesotans share the phenomenon of growing fatter.

The survey indicated people who live in this state have witnessed a 132 percent rise in the obesity rate since 1990.

Obesity is a key predictor of future health problems including diabetes.

In addition to physical health, there are troubling indicators that our mental health is suffering too.

Richard Louv, in his best-selling book, “Last Child in the Woods”, sites a relationship between the growing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and the loss of connection with nature.

How should people respond to this trend?

There are a lot of independent efforts going on in schools, with our health care providers, and many other places, all focused on changing these troubling trends.

Lake Mille Lacs walleye net catches lower than expected
From the DNR

While the walleye population in Lake Mille Lacs remains healthy, it may be smaller than expected, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

This fact was discovered during recent routine test netting to monitor the size and abundance of walleye.

The DNR reports near-shore test nets caught only half as many walleye as the long-term average from 1983-2006.

Nets placed in deeper water also caught fewer walleye than previous years.

“Lake Mille Lacs continues to have a large number of walleye in a wide range of sizes,” said DNR Fisheries Chief Ron Payer. “That’s good. And we expected some decline in walleye numbers based on a number of factors, including a weak 2004-year class of walleye. But the magnitude of this year’s decline was unanticipated.”

Payer said near-shore net catches this autumn averaged 7.2 walleye per net. This compares to an average of 15.4 from 1983-2006.

Last year’s catch rate was 20.4 walleye per net.

The DNR did not catch as many medium- and large-sized walleye as expected.

He attributed the decline, in part, to higher than normal mortality due to unusually warm water temperatures, especially in June.

Higher water temperatures stress fish and hooking mortality increases as water temperature increases.

Payer said anglers should know Mille Lacs continues to hold good numbers of spawning-sized fish.

Still, the new data means the DNR will need to revisit regulations to ensure the lake’s walleye harvest stays within the safe harvest level and the state’s allocation.

No walleye harvest overage will be allowed in 2008 due to the lower than anticipated number of walleye in recent population assessments.

Lake Mille Lacs is managed differently than any other lake in Minnesota.

Its safe harvest level is set following meetings between the DNR and Chippewa Indian bands that signed the 1837 Treaty.

Fisheries biologists have estimated that 549,000 lbs. of walleye can be safely harvested from Mille Lacs from Dec. 1, 2006, through Nov. 30, 2007.

The eight bands set their harvest at 100,000 lbs., leaving 449,000 lbs. for non-band anglers.

The state may take up to 22 percent more than the allocation of 449,000 lbs.

Currently, state-licensed anglers have harvested about 470,000 pounds, which is more than the allocation but within the 547,800-pound cap.

Current regulations on Mille Lacs allow anglers only to keep walleye between 14 and 16 inches, and not more than one walleye longer than 28 inches. The limit is four.

This regulation is more restrictive than the regulation that was in effect during the early part of the fishing season because the estimated walleye harvest exceeded 365,000 pounds by July 1, a threshold that triggered a need for a regulation change to stay within the harvest cap.

That regulation is scheduled to expire on Nov. 30 and a 20- to 28-inch protected slot would go into effect on Dec. 1.

Payer said DNR Fisheries managers recently met with the Lake Mille Lacs Advisory Group to discuss fishing options for this winter.

No decisions were made at that meeting though participants attending the meeting favored retaining the 20- to 28-inch protected slot starting Dec. 1.

This regulation would include a bag limit of four and only one walleye 28 inches or larger.

A final decision on winter regulations will be made next week.

Regulations for the 2008 open water season will be established in February 2008 and go into effect with the walleye opener on May 12.

“We heard what people preferred,” said Payer. “We want to support the local Mille Lacs fishing interests as much as possible and their preferences will be part of our thinking as we review regulation options within the context of our management options.”

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: How does fall cutting of native grasses benefit habitat?

A: Wildlife managers view the harvest of native prairie grasses and broad-leaved prairie, field and meadow plants that are well adapted to the soils and climate of western Minnesota as a valuable grassland management option.

Prairie needs periodic disturbance in order to thrive.

Fire and grazing/mowing are the two primary means of disturbance.

Land managers today rely on prescribed burning as the chief method for revitalizing prairie growth and controlling invasive woody growth or noxious weeds.

But prescribed burns require exacting weather conditions and significant manpower to conduct, two requirements not always present.

Occasional haying mimics grazing once provided by native grazers including bison.

Some high quality prairie remnants remain today because farmers have historically harvested “prairie hay” in late summer as supplemental livestock forage.

Outdoor notes

• So far, Minnesota’s duck hunting has been a bit better than most hunters expected.

However, with the record amount of rain we have received this fall, it has spread out the ducks, making hunting more difficult.

Also, there have been no reports of any northern ducks moving through the area yet.

• The 2007 Minnesota firearms deer hunting season opens Saturday, Nov. 3.

In general, hunters are expecting another banner deer season.

• Pay attention on the roadways for deer. It’s the time of year when deer are on the move and are often crossing roadways. Pay extra attention at dawn and dusk.

• Remember to wear blaze orange when you are in the field hunting or out on a country road for a walk.

• A week of dry, sunny weather would be a blessing.

If anyone can remember July, I think we are getting a little pay back now.

• I have gotten several reports of squirrels without tails running around in several of the communities and neighborhoods in our area.

Lately, there has been a good share of speculation on why those squirrels don’t have a tail.

In the next few weeks, after some research, we’ll try and find the answer.

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

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