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Drive safely this snowmobile season

December 13, 2010

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

As Minnesota’s snowmobile season begins, conservation officers from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) remind snowmobile operators to drive safely and to drive smart.

“They need to contain their enthusiasm for that first ride and get this season off to a smooth, safe start,” said Lt. Leland Owens, DNR recreational vehicle coordinator. “Drivers should also be aware of potential hazards and use good judgment.”
To legally ride a snowmobile in Minnesota, residents born after Dec. 31, 1976, need a valid snowmobile safety certificate.
There are two ways to do this. First, the traditional classroom course taught in local communities by volunteers is available for anyone 11 or older. These are listed on the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Second, a DNR adult or youth Snowmobile Safety CD-ROM for PC or MAC is available for those 16 or older. “People can learn from the comfort of home, fill out the exam, and send in results to be officially certified. It’s as easy as that,” Owens said.

The CD-ROM course for those 16 and older is available from the DNR Information Center by calling (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

In addition to safety training requirements, snowmobilers should follow these DNR safety tips:

• DON’T DRINK – Drinking and driving can be fatal. Drinking alcohol before or during snowmobiling can impair judgment and slow reaction time. Snowmobilers who have been drinking may drive too fast or race across unsafe ice.

• SLOW DOWN - Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents. Drivers should travel at a pace that allows ample reaction time. When driving at night, a speed of 40 miles an hour or higher often results in “overdriving” headlight illumination.

• BE PREPARED - Bring a first aid kit, a flashlight, waterproof matches and a compass.

• STAY ALERT - Fatigue can reduce a driver’s coordination and judgment.

• ICE ADVICE - Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness and strength. Snow cover can act as a blanket and prevent safe ice from forming. Never travel in single file when crossing bodies of water.

• DRESS FOR SUCCESS - Use a full-size helmet, goggles or face shield to prevent injuries from twigs, stones, ice and flying debris. Clothing should be worn in layers and should be just snug enough so that no loose ends catch in the machine.

• WATCH THE WEATHER - Rapid weather changes can produce dangerous conditions.

• BRING A BUDDY - Never travel alone. Most snowmobile accidents result in some personal injury, which is particularly dangerous if alone. If traveling alone, tell someone about the destination, planned route and expected time of return.

• REPORT ACCIDENTS - The operator of a snowmobile involved in an accident resulting in medical attention, hospitalization, death or damage exceeding $500 must file a written report with the DNR. If the operator is killed or is unable to file a report due to incapacitation, any peace officer investigating the accident can file the accident report within 10 business days.

Conservation officers reports from area
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers this past week.
CO Mies also gave a law talk at the sled class in French Lake.
CO Mies also checked sleds and deer hunters.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) gave a presentation to a youth snowmobile safety class in Maple Lake.
Reller also followed up several trespass complaints and injured animal calls.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) worked the last days of the duck season which ended as one of the best seasons seen in years for the Carver County area.
CO Walter followed up on several trespass, deer baiting and dogs chasing deer complaints.
CO Walter gave a snowmobile safety presentation in Waconia.
Several deer were delivered to the Waconia Lions Club for their upcoming wild game dinner which brings in money for community projects and feeds around 800 people.
The Waconia High School Conservation Club started out a few years ago with six kids and now has over 200 – 50 of them went pheasant hunting at Wings of Watertown where 110 pheasants were released.
The kids learned firearms safety, hunter ethics and how to clean pheasants.

• CO Jackie Glaser(Mound) monitored snowmobile activity on the Luce Line State Trail.
She received several TIP calls regarding deer hunting complaints.
She also attended an EMT refresher course at Hennepin Technical College.

• CO Angela Graham (Hutchinson) checked anglers/spear houses, deer and small game hunters, snowmobiles, and coyote hunters.
Officer Graham also spoke at the McLeod County youth snowmobile safety class, and followed up on a public access littering case where enforcement action was taken.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked muzzleloader and archery deer hunting activity.
Additional time was spent checking angling, spearing, and trapping activity.
Hatlestad also checked pheasant, predator, and small game hunting activity.
Hatlestad also enforced ATV and snowmobile laws, and investigated a possible WCA violation.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked primarily snowmobile enforcement.
Several people were out riding enjoying the freshly groomed trails in the area.
Enforcement action was taken for expired registration and no state trail pass.
Officer Oberg continues with follow up on deer season cases.
Officer Oberg also handled trapping complaints and took calls dealing with trap tampering.
A trespass issue is being dealt with in Sibley County.

DNR issues ice warning for aerated lakes
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) warns ice anglers, snowmobilers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts to use caution when going onto any lake covered or partially covered with ice, especially those that feature aeration systems.

“Open water areas created by aeration systems can shift or change shapes depending on weather conditions,” said Marilyn Danks, DNR aquatic biologist. “Leaks may develop in air lines creating other areas of weak ice or open water.”

Aeration systems are generally operated from the time lakes freeze until ice break-up in the spring.

They help prevent winterkill of fish, but they also create areas of open water and thin ice, which are significant hazards.

Two types of signs are used to post aerated lakes; “Thin Ice” and Warning” signs.

The person who applies for the permit (permittee) is to maintain “Warning” signs at all commonly used access points to the lake.

This sign warns people approaching the lake that an aeration system is in operation and to use extreme caution.

The permittee must also put up “Thin Ice” signs to mark the perimeter of the area.

Some municipalities may have ordinances that prohibit entering into the thin ice area and/or prohibit the night use of motorized vehicles on lakes with aeration systems in operation.

These local regulations are often posted at accesses where they apply.

Aeration systems are inspected for safety and compliance with regulations by permittees and DNR personnel.

For more information call a regional fisheries office or the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

The following is a list of the area lakes that will likely have aeration systems in operation this winter.

When there are lakes in the county with the same name as the aerated lake, the nearest town is shown in brackets.

Names in parentheses are alternate lake names.

Those names followed by an asterisk are newly aerated lakes.

CARVER: Eagle, Oak, Rice Marsh*, Susan.

HENNEPIN: Arrowhead, Bass, Crystal, Gleason, Hadley, Hyland, Indianhead, Mitchell, Penn (Lower Penn), Powderhorn, Rebecca [Maple Plain], Red Rock, Round, Snelling, Sweeney-Twin, Wirth, Wolfe.

SCOTT: Cedar, Cleary, Crystal, Lakefront Park Pond, Legends, McColl, McMahon (Carls), Murphy, O’Dowd, Thole.

SHERBURNE: Ann [Becker], Birch, Fremont, Unnamed [Fawn].

STEARNS: Becker, Black Oak, Dullinger, Marie (Maria) [Kimball].

WRIGHT: Augusta, Crawford, Dean, Little Waverly, Louisa, Mink, Somers.

MCLEOD: Marion, Swan [Silver Lake], Winsted.

MEEKER: Star, Thompson.

Fish shelter indentification required
From the DNR

Conservation officers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have some reminders for ice anglers and others who plan to place shelters on the ice of Minnesota waters this winter.

All shelters placed on the ice must display either the complete name and address, a driver’s license number, or the nine-digit DNR number on the license of the owner.

The information must be plainly and legibly displayed on the outside of the shelter, in letters and figures at least 2 inches high.

The requirement includes ice skating warming houses and other traditional structures placed on the ice, either temporarily or overnight.

There are other shelter regulations:

• Any shelter (fish houses, dark houses, warming houses, etc.) left on the ice at any time between midnight and one hour prior to sunrise must have a shelter license.

• The Department of Public Safety now requires the registration of trailers used to haul ice fishing houses or dark houses, and enclosed trailers or recreational trailers used for fishing. Registration can be done at a local deputy registrar.

• A tag, furnished with a license, must be attached to the exterior in a readily visible location.

• Shelters left on the ice overnight need to have at least 2 square inches of reflective material on each side of the house.

• A shelter license is not required on border waters with Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota or South Dakota.

• On border waters, shelters must comply with the identification requirements of the state for which the angler is licensed.

• A shelter may not be erected within 10 feet of an existing shelter.

• Portable shelters may be used for fishing within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), but must be removed from the ice each night. The structure must be removed from the BWCAW each time the occupant leaves the BWCAW.

No Bovine TB detected
From the DNR

None of the 1,618 deer that hunters harvested in and near northwestern Minnesota’s bovine tuberculosis (TB) management zone displayed obvious signs of the disease, likely eliminating the need for additional hunting seasons this winter and late winter sharpshooting, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Because adequate samples have been obtained, there will not be a special late hunting season in permit area 101 or any additional deer removal efforts this winter – as long as final test results do not indicate any new cases of the disease,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR Wildlife Health Program coordinator. Final test results for deer harvested this fall are expected late next spring.

Since bovine TB was first detected in cattle and deer in 2005, 27 free-ranging deer have tested positive within a 10-mile radius of the town of Skime.

Additional hunting seasons and late winter sharpshooting have been conducted in the area since 2007 to reduce deer density and help eradicate the disease.

“Reducing the deer population in the area was a necessary part of our disease eradication strategy,” Carstensen said. “That strategy has resulted in fewer deer testing positive for the disease each year, but hunters have been understandably frustrated because there are fewer deer to harvest.”

The number and distribution of samples from hunters this year was sufficient to satisfy all requirements of the bovine TB surveillance agreement that the state has entered into with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Carstensen said.

“We are pleased with the level of sampling hunters were able to provide from the core area,” she said. “The fact that all of the 450 deer taken from this area last winter by sharp-shooting were negative for bovine TB provides us with further confidence that we have adequate monitoring of the health of deer.”

The Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association, both at the state and local levels, offered incentives to hunters to encourage participation in the testing efforts.

These incentives included a raffle for three firearms and a lifetime deer hunting license.

“Having these raffle items available to hunters that participated in the TB sampling was a tremendous help in our ability to reach our surveillance goals,” Carstensen said. “Hunters really went the distance in helping us. We greatly appreciate their cooperation and support on this important disease eradication project.”

Ice not safe, snowmobile trails not yet ready for riding
From the DNR

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are reminding snowmobilers and others to stay off lakes because the ice is not safe yet.

According to the DNR, there have already been several ice rescues involving snowmobiles.

Also, one fatality occurred when a man on foot broke through thin ice on Lake Washington in Blue Earth County.

“We’re telling snowmobilers and others to please stay off of lakes until there is at least five inches of new, clear ice,” said Lt. Dave Olsen, DNR Enforcement, Grand Rapids “Early season riders are often tempted to ride on lakes. But they are not yet safe for snowmobiles, ATVs, or even walking, in most cases.”

And even though there is snow, many trails are not yet ready for riding, according to DNR Northeast Parks and Trails Operations Manager Scott Kelling.

Snowmobile clubs and trail crews are out working on the trails now, but it could be some time before all the trails are ready.

When the trails do open, people should continue to watch for hazards, especially if they are on unfamiliar ground.

“It takes at least a couple of passes with the groomer tractors to get trails into mid-season form,” said Kelling. “On their early runs, groomer operators often encounter areas that are too wet or not frozen enough to safely get through. Some stretches simply need more time and cold weather before they can be groomed.”

Several conditions must be met before trails are ready and legally open for travel:

• Trails must be cleared of dead falls, signs need to be in place and gates need to be opened.

• Bridges need to be checked and needed repairs made. Many trails and bridges were affected by heavy rains last summer. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR crews are finishing repairs.

• The ground must be frozen enough to allow crossing of wet areas.

• Trails must have adequate snow cover for grooming. Up to 12 inches of snow can pack down to a base of only an inch or two.

Many snowmobile trails cross private land.

Generally, landowner permission for snowmobile use on those trails began Dec. 1 and extends through March.

That permission is for snowmobiles only and other uses are trespasses, according to the DNR.

Also, riders must follow the snowmobile safety requirements when riding along public road rights-of-way.

For example, it is illegal to ride on the inside slope, shoulder, and roadway of state or county roads.

Minnesota has more than 20,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.

Snowmobile trail maintenance costs are partially funded through snowmobile registrations, trail pass sales, and gas tax attributed to snowmobile use.

Donations, fundraisers, and volunteer work by trail clubs make up the remainder of the costs and efforts to operate these trails.

Club volunteers do most of the maintenance.

Trail clubs always need more help and welcome new members to help keep trails open and join in other club activities.

Snowmobilers can check state trail conditions, maps and regulations on the DNR Web site at www.mndnr.gov or by calling (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

Trail conditions are updated every Thursday throughout the season.

Trail information and local contacts are also listed on the back of DNR Snowmobile Trail maps for each quadrant of the state (NW, NE, SW, SE).

Printed maps are available at local DNR offices and also can be ordered, printed or viewed from the DNR website.

Deadline approaching to nominate candidates for 18th annual MN Deer Hunters Ethics Award
From the DNR

Nominations for the 18th Annual Minnesota Deer Hunter Ethics Award are due by Friday, Jan. 21.

The award, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA), and Turn In Poachers, honors deer hunters who have exhibited exemplary hunting behavior during the 2010 season and who can serve as a positive example to all hunters.

Youth and adult division awards will be presented to the winners at upcoming MDHA events to be held in the area of the state in which they reside.

Anyone may nominate a hunter by writing a letter or e-mail explaining the actions of the nominee and why that person is worthy of recognition.

Both youth and adults are eligible, but nominees must be Minnesota residents.

The incidents for which hunters are nominated must have occurred during any of the 2010 Minnesota deer hunting seasons (archery, firearm or muzzleloader).

Nomination letters should be sent to: Ethical Hunter Award, MDHA, 460 Peterson Road, Grand Rapids, MN 55744-8413, faxed to (218) 327-1349, or e-mailed to kimhanson@mndeerhunters.com.

Upper Red Lake walleye regulation changed Dec. 1
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is reminding anglers that walleye regulations have changed for the winter at Upper Red Lake.

The slot reverted back to a 17-to 26-inch protected slot limit beginning Dec. 1 and running through the winter walleye season.

The daily and possession limit will remain at four fish, with only one fish more than 26 inches allowed.

The winter adjustment back to the 17-to 26-inch protected range is a necessary step for harvest management because winter angling pressure on Upper Red has been consistently higher than open water pressure.

Walleye abundance remains high and good numbers of fish shorter than 17 inches are present for harvest.

Red Lake walleye regulations are not specifically listed in the Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet since they are subject to revision based on seasonal harvest estimates.

This year is the second year of consistent open water and winter harvest regulations for walleye as DNR works toward a citizen advisory committee objective of regulation stability.

Current regulations are always available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/upperredlake.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: Where can I find information about snow depth and ski trail/snowmobile trail conditions?

A: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources maintains a web page that provides snow depth and ski trail/snowmobile trail condition information for locations across Minnesota.

The information is updated weekly or as conditions warrant. For current conditions see http://mndnr.gov/snow_depth.