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MN pheasant index remains unchanged from 2009

September 13, 2010

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Minnesota’s pheasant index remains unchanged from 2009 but is 22 percent below the 10-year average, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Contributing factors to the below-average index include:

• The most severe winter in the farmland region of Minnesota since 2001, resulting in hen counts 28 percent below the 10-year average.

• Fewer nesting opportunities caused by the removal of more than 100,000 acres of private land from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and other farm programs during the past four years.

• Cool, wet weather during the normal June peak of the pheasant hatch appears to have reduced early brood survival.

A severe winter, fewer acres of habitat, and a cool, wet June all contributed to what DNR wildlife biologists are calling a below average pheasant population.

“We expect hunters to harvest a similar number of birds in 2010 as they did in 2009,” said Kurt Haroldson, a wildlife biologist for the DNR’s Farmland Population and Research Group in Madelia. “But after a series of above-average pheasant harvests from 2005-2008, Minnesota’s pheasant population has fallen below average for a second consecutive year.”

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey.

The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first two weeks of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.

“Given the severity of last winter, we expected a decrease in the range-wide pheasant index and we were pleasantly surprised to observe no change from last year,” Haroldson said

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 400,000 roosters this fall, similar to last year and 2004.

This compares to harvests that have exceeded 500,000 roosters five of the past seven years.

The 500,000 bird harvests correspond with a string of mild winters and high CRP enrollment.

The best opportunities for harvesting pheasants likely will be in the southwest, where observers reported 104 birds per 100 miles of survey driven.

Hunters also will find good harvest opportunities in the central and west central regions, where observers reported 76 and 70 birds per 100 miles driven, respectively.

This year’s statewide pheasant index was 63 birds per 100 miles driven.

Haroldson said the most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season.
Protected grasslands account for about six percent of the state’s pheasant range.

Farmland retirement programs such as CRP, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs.

During the next three years, 500,000 additional acres would be removed from Minnesota’s CRP land if no acres are re-enrolled, reducing the total number of CRP acres in Minnesota by 32 percent.

To help offset continued habitat losses caused by reductions in conservation set-aside acreage, DNR has accelerated acquisition of Wildlife Management Areas in the farmland region of Minnesota.

DNR also supports habitat conservation on private lands by working with a variety of partners in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership and Working Lands Initiative.

The August roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was standardized in 1955.

DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first two weeks in August.

This year’s survey consisted of 168 routes, each 25 miles long, with 148 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see.

The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long term trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and other select wildlife species.

The gray partridge index was similar to last year but 55 percent below the 10-year average.

The cottontail rabbit index was also below the 10-year and long-term average.

The jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average.

In contrast, the mourning dove index was similar to last year and the 10-year average.

Conservation officer reports from area
From the DNR

• CO Angela Graham (Hutchinson) checked dove hunters, anglers, boaters, and ATVs.

Officer Graham also attended a regional meeting, Gopher Campfire youth day, and spent time at state and county parks.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked a very busy opening to the early goose and dove seasons.

CO Oberg reports that most groups checked had geese in the bag, while dove numbers seemed down.

Officer Oberg found several hunters that decided to use unplugged shotguns this year; enforcement action was taken.

Enforcement action was also taken for possession of lead shot, loaded gun in a motor vehicle, no federal stamp, unsigned federal stamp, no PFD’s, and no license in possession.

CO Oberg’s partner helped retrieve a couple geese in a pond for a group of hunters without a dog or boat.

ATVs were also an issue with several violations observed.

Enforcement action was taken for allowing illegal operation of ATV’s by juveniles, operate ATV on county highway, operate ATV on Luce Line State Trail, expired ATV registration, and fail to display ATV registration.

Officer Oberg also took time to check anglers in the area with most going after catfish and panfish.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling, boating, and PWC activity. Additional time was spent checking and advising boaters of invasive species.

Hatlestad also checked dove and goose hunting activity, and enforced ATV laws.

Time was also spent attending a required meeting and training.

Boaters reminded to abide by invasive species law this fall
From the DNR

With the growing popularity of autumn fishing and the Minnesota waterfowl season set to open on Saturday, Oct. 2, there could be considerable boat traffic on state waters once again this fall.

“That means the potential for spreading invasive species will continue until freeze-up so it’s important that boaters keep in mind the law concerning transporting aquatic vegetation on boats and trailers.” said Lt. Cory Palmer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area conservation officer supervisor at Litchfield.

Because human activity is a frequent cause for spreading invasive species to new lakes, a state law was passed making it illegal to transport any type of aquatic vegetation on a boat or trailer, even if the vegetation is not invasive, Palmer said.

Palmer offers the following tips to boaters that will help curtail the spread of invasive species, as well as help avoid getting a ticket for breaking the law:

• When launching or trailering a watercraft, people must inspect it, the trailer, and equipment for aquatic vegetation and remove it before launching or leaving the access. Boats must always be transported with the plug removed and any water drained at the public access.

• Lakes that contain invasive species are marked at the public accesses with signs. Before leaving the public access at these lakes, drain the watercraft, bilge, motor and all livewells and bait containers in addition to removing vegetation from the watercraft and trailer.

• Boaters who are not using a public access, should find out ahead of time if the lake is infested.

• Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.

• It is also good practice to wash or rinse boat, trailer, and equipment and dry it for five days whenever possible.

From invasive plants like Eurasian watermilfoil to microscopic spiny water fleas, zebra mussels, or large silver carp, many invasive species in Minnesota are found in water systems.

Invasive species can cause environmental and economic damage and sometimes even pose human health risks.

For more information on invasive species or infested waters, call (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

DNR, Ruffed Grouse Society partner on new shared position
From the DNR

In a joint effort to increase emphasis on ruffed grouse and its related habitat, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) have created a new ruffed grouse coordinator position.

Ted Dick, a veteran DNR wildlife biologist, has been hired to fill this DNR position. The RGS will provide about 30 percent of the position’s funding.

“This partnership enables the Society to work even more closely with the Minnesota DNR in two ways,” said Mike Zagata, RGS president and chief executive officer. “One, it enables both organizations to better focus on habitat for game and non-game species. And two, it will ensure the continuation of abundant grouse and woodcock hunting opportunities for this and future generations.” Dave Schad, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division chief, expressed similar sentiments. “It’s a win for both organizations.”

Schad said Minnesotans often take the ruffed grouse - the state’s most-harvested small game bird - for granted.

“Year-in, year-out, Minnesota offers some of the best ruffed grouse hunting in the nation,” said Schad. “Because of our national status and state interest in grouse habitat and grouse hunting, it makes sense to focus additional energy on this fascinating game bird.”

Ted Dick, the newly hired coordinator, was previously the assistant area wildlife supervisor at Baudette.

An avid grouse hunter, he has a bachelor’s degree in biology from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and a master’s in wildlife conservation at the University of Minnesota.

“I’ve spent most of my career working with area foresters to improve habitat conditions for grouse and woodcock,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working on a larger scale with those who share an interest in healthy forests and quality grouse habitat.” Dick will work out of the DNR’s Aitkin office.

The RGS was established in 1961. It is the one international wildlife conservation organization dedicated to promoting conditions suitable for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and related wildlife to sustain the sport hunting tradition and heritage.

Blaze orange required for most small game hunting
From the DNR

Most hunters participating in the small game seasons, which open Saturday, Sept. 18, must wear blaze orange clothing, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“You can’t take small game unless a visible portion of at least one article of clothing above the waist is blaze orange, except when hunting wild turkeys, migratory birds, raccoons, predators, when hunting by falconry, or while trapping,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR education program coordinator.

This restriction does not apply to persons hunting by falconry.

Blaze orange, more than any other color, is the most easily seen and recognized bright, unnatural color against a natural background.

This shade of orange is the only satisfactory color for hunters to wear under all weather and light conditions.

From the standpoint of hunter safety, Hammer said the wearing of this high-visibility clothing while small game hunting in heavy cover, such as for grouse and pheasant, is a great communications tool.

“Blaze orange clothing is a tremendous aid in helping hunters maintain visual contact with one another, particularly when moving through dense cover or woods,” Hammer said. “Any hunter who has ever identified someone strictly by seeing an orange patch knows its value in keeping track of other hunters in the field.”

Volume of trash in outdoors areas concerns DNR
From the DNR

An increased instance of household garbage being dumped in Minnesota’s great outdoors concerns the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

State conservation officers’ report that the activity ranges from Moorhead to Grand Rapids, and lots of places in between.

In many instances the culprits are easy to find. Just ask Conservation Officer (CO) Angela Graham of Hutchinson.

“I came upon a pile of garbage that was dumped at a public lake access, and while looking through the garbage I found numerous items with the violators name on them,” Graham said.

The violator was issued a citation and urged to find a legal place to properly dispose of their garbage.

Some of the items discarded included bottles and cans, building supplies, furniture, and household appliances.

Conservation officers have also found credit card receipts, driver’s licenses, and other personally identifiable items.

Public boating accesses, wildlife management areas, state forests, state trails; just about any place that appears “convenient” seems to be a repository for garbage. Sometimes it’s deposited along roadways.

“I recently observed occupants of a vehicle throwing garbage out the window as they traveled down the road,” said CO Gary Nordseth of Worthington. He stopped the vehicle and issued a citation.

Litter is a petty misdemeanor criminal charge with a fine of up to $300.

Conservation officers also have solid waste civil citation authority.

These civil citations are “by the pound” or “by the cubic foot” penalties, and since they are not criminal charges, they don’t require proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The person suspected of littering must pay the penalty and clean up the mess.

The DNR has the following tips to keep the outdoors clean:

• Set an example for others, especially children, by not littering.

• Litter is a costly problem that we all end up paying for to keep our roadways, parks, and waterways clean. The act of littering not only costs money, but it also causes harm to the environment in many ways.

• Secure trash container covers to prevent wind or animals from spreading litter.

• Cover and secure any vehicle, truck, or trailer carrying refuse.

• When visiting any recreation areas make sure to leave the area clean for the next person to enjoy.