Minnesota breeding duck numbers increase

June 23, 2008

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR
Minnesota’s breeding mallard and blue-winged teal numbers are higher than last year and the total duck population estimate increased, according to the annual May breeding waterfowl survey results released by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The mallard breeding population was estimated at 298,000, which is 23 percent above last year and identical to the most recent 10-year average.

This year’s mallard population estimate is 34 percent above the long-term average of 222,000 breeding mallards.

Blue-winged teal numbers increased 23 percent from last year to 152,000, but remained 32 percent below the long-term average.

“Blue-winged teal counts are always more difficult to interpret than mallard counts because they tend to be more variable,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “Because blue-winged teal nest later than mallards, their spring migration through the state is also later. In many years, we end up counting fair numbers of migrant teal that are going to nest north of Minnesota. With good wetland conditions in the state this year and such a late spring, I would have expected above or well above average blue-winged teal counts, but that wasn’t the case.”

The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, gadwalls, redheads and ring-necked ducks, increased to 290,000, about 65 percent above the long-term average.

This was the third-highest total recorded for their combined populations.

Much of the rise was due to record high counts of ring-necked ducks, a common but very late-nesting species in northern Minnesota.

Ring-necked duck numbers were up by more than 100,000 ducks from last year.

“This large increase simply reflects the late spring weather conditions and large numbers of migrant ring-necked ducks still present in the state when we flew the survey,” Cordts said. “What was more encouraging was to see small to moderate increases in the numbers of breeding wood ducks and some other of the less common nesting species.”

Minnesota’s estimated breeding duck population increased to 740,000 this year, 51 percent higher than last year and 19 percent above the long-term average.

“While we always like to see increased numbers of breeding ducks, these estimates should still be viewed as an index and with a bit of caution,” Cordts said.

Minnesota remains well below the goal of an average breeding population of 1 million ducks, which is outlined in the state duck recovery plan.

Much of the actual increase was attributed to the late spring and migrant ring-necked ducks.

“Even so, it’s always encouraging when we see improved wetland habitat conditions and increased numbers of breeding mallards and blue-winged teal from the previous year,” Cordts said.

Wetland habitat conditions are improved from last year and above the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) was 325,000 acres, up from 262,000 acres last year.

Cordts noted a few spotty areas of drier conditions in the northwest portion of the survey area, but overall wetland conditions looked good.

Increased rainfall in some areas will help ducks during re-nesting and brood rearing.

The breeding duck survey is conducted by a DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot who count all waterfowl and wetlands along certain routes flying low-level aerial surveys.

The survey has been flown each May since 1968, with only minor changes to the survey design.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service ground crews also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

The survey was designed to provide an index of breeding duck abundance in about 40 percent of the state containing much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat.

Data on breeding duck populations across other regions of North America is not yet available, but preliminary reports suggest generally fair to good wetland habitat conditions in parklands of Canada, but drier conditions in some prairie areas of Canada and North Dakota.

• Canada geese

Since 2001, the DNR has conducted a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April.

The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots in prairie, transition and forested areas.

This year’s estimate is 277,000 Canada geese, similar to last year’s estimate of 262,000.

Canada goose numbers, have averaged slightly more than 300,000 since the survey began.

“While our goose population is still in very good shape, it appears that the breeding population is no longer increasing rapidly and may be beginning to stabilize,” said DNR biologist Dave Rave. “Even with the late spring this year, production should be better than last year.”

Most wildlife managers have reported fair to good numbers of goose broods so far this spring, which should translate into plenty of opportunity for hunters this fall, Rave said.

The full waterfowl report can be viewed at www.mndnr.gov/hunting.

The DNR will announce waterfowl hunting regulations for this fall in early August.

Howard Lake GND fishing contest was Saturday

The Howard Lake Good Neighbor Days fishing contest took place this past Saturday on Howard Lake. Look for a complete list of winners in next week’s outdoors.

CROW sponsoring photo contest
From the CROW

The Crow River Organization of Watert (CROW) is inviting people to show them the Crow River the way they know and love by participating in the first annual Crow River Photo Contest.

Participants are invited to submit a photo in one of our contest categories by Friday, Nov. 14, 2008.

Contest categories include fishing, scenic/wildlife, active recreation, and unusual or humorous observations.

Photo entries will be posted on the CROW’s web site, and must be taken between May 1, 2008 and Friday, October 31, 2008.

All photos entered in the contest must be taken on the Crow River or one of its tributaries.

One first place winner will be chosen in each of the four categories, and will receive a prize of $50. Multiple entries are accepted.

For more information, contest rules, and an entry form, visit www.crowriver.org.

2008 Crow River clean up date is Sept. 13
From the CROW

The 2008 Clean Up the Crow River Day has been scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 13.

This will be the fifth annual watershed-wide clean up event, and there already has been eight communities committed to participating in this year’s event.

In 2007, 10.9 tons of garbage was removed from the Crow River and its banks.

Contact Diane Sander at (763) 682-1933 ext. 112 to find out if there is a clean-up scheduled in your community.

Watertown Lions BBQ; the ninth installment
From Gary Harding, Watertown Lions

As the Crow River BBQ Challenge draws near remember to clear your calendar for July 18 and 19. Watertown is the place to be for family fun and good eats.

Check it all out at www.crowriverbbqchallenge.org or at www.railstotrails.ws to learn about all the great events.

In the last article, I mentioned this year’s “Best Butt” contest and then left you hanging as to what it all means.

This is a great segue into talking about pork for pulled pork on your smoker/cooker.

There are basically three ways to achieve what we all know as pulled pork.

First and probably the most well known is to cook a whole hog. This is difficult to get right and takes a large cooker, so unless you’re experienced you might want to leave that to the pros.

What if you’re not skilled and don’t need that much pork for your patio party?

Well another method is to cook just the shoulder. A whole shoulder is easier to handle and is a very popular method in the South.

The last and most common around here is the shoulder roast or Boston Butt roast, or sometimes Boston Blade roast.

It is near the loin and is the upper part of the front shoulder containing the shoulder blade.

It is a well marbled meat that accepts flavor well and is usually inexpensive.

According to the National Pork Council “In pre-revolutionary New England and into the Revolutionary War, some pork cuts (not those highly valued, or “high on the hog,” like loin and ham) were packed into casks or barrels (also known as “butts”) for storage and shipment.

The way the hog shoulder was cut in the Boston area became known in other regions as “Boston Butt.”

This name stuck and today, Boston butt is called that almost everywhere in the US… except in Boston.

Six of the finest competition BBQ cookers in the United States have accepted the Watertown Lions’ invitation to a special competition to cook Boston Butt and you, the public, will have the chance to judge who’s the best Saturday night, July 19, at 5:30 p.m. in Watertown

MN DNR announces 2008 deer season changes
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is making major changes to simplify deer seasons and licensing for this fall, according to Lou Cornicelli, DNR big game program coordinator.

The changes include allowing a person to individually purchase licenses for regular firearms, muzzleloader and archery in any combination; consolidating deer zones so that licensed firearms hunters can hunt anywhere in the state; simplifying legal big game rifle calibers to allow any center-fire that is at least .220 caliber; and eliminating the need to validate the license when tagging an animal.

The changes are the result of recommendations of a citizens’ work group convened by the DNR to recommend simplification of the deer seasons.

During late 2007, DNR organized a group of stakeholders to provide recommendations to the DNR on how to streamline hunting while not compromising the ability to manage deer.

The team ultimately settled on four primary recommendations, which were brought to the public and the Minnesota Legislature for consideration.

The group’s recommendations were the subject of 12 public meetings held around the state last spring.

Legislative and rule changes made since that time will allow for implementation of the recommendations this fall.

“Minnesota previously had more license types and options for deer than any other Midwestern state, so the need for simplification was apparent,” Cornicelli said.

• Deer Licenses

Hunters can now buy an archery, firearm and muzzleloader license individually, or in any combination.

Previously, a person who wanted to hunt deer in both the regular firearms and muzzleloader seasons had to buy the more expensive all-season license, valid for regular firearms, muzzleloader and archery.

“We found that the vast majority of all-season license purchasers were paying three times the single season license fee ($78), but were only hunting in two seasons,” Cornicelli said.

This year, the system will be “a la carte,” meaning that hunters can purchase licenses for only the seasons they want to hunt.

Hunters are advised by the DNR to know the bag limits in the area they hunt.

Even though hunters can buy three licenses, the general bag limit for deer is one in lottery areas, two in managed areas, and five in intensive areas (with some exceptions, such as early antlerless seasons).

• Zone consolidation

The traditional firearm zone licenses (1A, 2A, 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B) have been consolidated into two licenses types: A statewide Season Option “A” and a Zone 3B (southeast Minnesota) season option “B.”

With the new system, hunters are no longer limited to a particular zone boundary, but must adhere to the different open season dates in permit areas within the zone.

Zone 4 has also been eliminated and merged with the Zone 2 nine-day season.

A number of deer permit areas formerly in Zone 4 will be renumbered.

Season “A” licenses are valid statewide in all “A” season areas (Zones 1A, 2A, 3A), which opens Nov. 8.

For example, by purchasing a statewide “A” season license, a hunter could hunt an area in 3A (seven-day season) opening weekend, move to an area in 2A (nine-day season) the second weekend and finish up the season in 1A (16-day season) on the third weekend.

In contrast, season “B” licenses are valid only during the Zone 3B season (Nov. 22–30) in southeastern Minnesota.

A regular firearm deer hunter may purchase either an “A” or “B” season license, but not both.

However, anyone (including 3B hunters) can now buy a muzzleloader license.

Both license types will be valid in the Twin Cities metro area, bovine TB area, and all early antlerless permit areas.

• Lottery applications, muzzleloader hunters

In some areas of Minnesota, the deer population is below the goal so antlerless permits have been reduced to very low levels.

With the past popularity of multiple zone licenses, the percentage of antlerless harvest taken in the muzzleloader season has gone up dramatically.

With the new licensing system, lottery area hunters who purchase both a regular firearms and muzzleloader license will need to apply for a limited number of antlerless permits that will be valid for taking an antlerless deer in either the regular firearms or muzzleloader season.

The number of muzzleloader-only hunters is low, so those who do not purchase a regular firearms license can take deer of either sex in lottery areas without an antlerless permit.

People who buy licenses for both the firearm and muzzleloader seasons will need to apply in the lottery if they want to take an antlerless deer in a lottery area.

If successful, the permit will be valid for either the firearm or muzzleloader season, provided the hunter has a license for that season.

People who only muzzleloader hunt (no regular firearms license) may take deer of either sex without applying in the lottery.

Final details will be released when the hunting regulations book comes out in early August.

• Legal calibers

For 2008, the definition of legal calibers has been simplified to .220 centerfire or larger.

Previously, the regulation had a larger minimum, minimum case length, and numerous exceptions.

The new regulation is consistent with most of the midwestern states that allow centerfire rifles.

“We understand there is a concern that hunters could use a type that is not suitable for taking deer,” Cornicelli said. “But we are confident that hunters can make an informed choice in regard to caliber and bullet selection, and that they’ll use a bullet that is appropriate for the big game they are pursuing. There is no substitute for knowing the capabilities of a firearm and practicing,” Cornicelli said.

• License validation

The regulation requiring hunters to validate their deer license has been eliminated.

However, the tag must still be validated and site tagging regulations have not changed, so hunters should familiarize themselves with those regulations when the regulations handbook arrives in stores.

DNR offers advice to people dealing with beavers
From the DNR

The largest member of the rodent family, the beaver is an active woodcutter and dam builder.

But when beaver populations get too high, they cause problems by cutting down valuable trees and flooding roads and property with their dams.

Although the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sets trapping seasons and limits on beaver, the agency no longer controls problem beavers.

However, DNR wildlife managers and hydrologists offer advice to landowners dealing with beavers.

Beavers are protected animals under Minnesota game and fish laws. That means people need a license or permit to kill them.

However, if a beaver is causing damage to property, a landowner, manager or occupant can kill the beaver on their land.

They do not need a license or permit as long as they contact a DNR conservation officer within 24 hours of the taking.

The taking cannot involve the use of poison, artificial lights or a motor vehicle. Most people use firearms or traps to take beaver. However, firearms are not legal everywhere, especially in more urban areas. In these areas, the taking may be restricted to trapping.

Landowners have the option of hiring a beaver trapper to provide this service.

Local wildlife managers and conservation officers can provide names of local trappers.

The USDA Wildlife Services does complaint trapping for a fee.

Beaver dams have no special protection under state law.

Property owners can remove dams from their own land as long as the removal doesn’t involve excavating a lake or streambed using something like a dragline or backhoe.

Such excavation requires a public waters work permit, which is available from the DNR.

If the beaver dam is on another person’s land, landowner’s permission is required before entering those lands to remove the dam.

If the beaver dam has been in place for many years and affects other property owners, DNR officials recommend contacting the landowners about removal.

If lakeshore and water levels have been developed and maintained in a certain way because beavers have controlled an outlet for many years, a DNR hydrologist should be contacted before the dam is removed.

People can discourage beaver damage by wrapping trees with protective hardware cloth.

There is also a simple, low-cost device called the Clemson Beaver Pond that allows water to flow through a beaver dam.

The DNR offers plans on how to make and install this device.

For information, contact a DNR conservation officer, wildlife manager or area hydrologist. Staff phone numbers and more information about beavers are available from the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR.

Grants available to make public swimming pool drains safer
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is accepting grant applications for a new grant program aimed at helping local units of government improve the safety of public swimming pool outlets and drainage systems.

Priority for grants will be given to projects that involve installing a secondary suction or drainage outlet for public pools where a fee is not charged for the use of the pool.

A total of $50,000 is available to distribute.

Local units of government may apply for a maximum of 75 percent of the total eligible project costs, with a maximum grant not to exceed $10,000.

Applicants must be able to fund at least 25 percent of the total project costs.

Costs must be incurred and paid for before reimbursement can be made.

The application deadline is Aug. 31. Grant awards will be announced in the fall of 2008. All work must be completed no later than June 30, 2009.

Funding for these grants was included in the “Abigail Taylor Pool Safety Act,” passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Pawlenty earlier this year. The act was named in honor of 6-year-old Abigail Taylor who was fatally injured in a wading pool drain accident in 2007.

More information and an application are available on the DNR Web site at www.mndnr.gov. Click on “Grants” and “Recreation.”

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: With high gas prices, are there good destinations for canoeing and kayaking in Minnesota without having to travel too far?

If so, where are they located and where can a person find information about them?

A: Minnesota DNR manages more than 4,000 miles of “water trails” on 30 rivers throughout the state for canoeing and kayaking.

In addition, the Lake Superior Water Trail is managed for kayaking and stretches the entire 155 miles of Minnesota’s North Shore.

You can find a water trail within about an hour or two of most parts of the state.

Free water trail guides that include maps, public accesses, free campsites, navigational features and interpretive information are available through the DNR Information Center by calling (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

You can also find these water trail guides, plus river level reports, recommended trips, trip planning and safety information on the Minnesota DNR’s Web site at www.mndnr.gov/watertrails.