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Fewest fish houses on south-central MN lakes in 35 years

January 23, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Warm weather, eroding ice conditions, and changing technology may be responsible for the lowest numbers of fish houses on south-central Minnesota lakes in 35 years, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Since 1977, personnel from the DNR’s Hutchinson Fisheries Management Area have conducted fish house counts on up to 59 lakes each year across five and more recently seven counties.

“The surveys get us out on our area lakes during the winter,” according to Lee Sundmark, area fisheries supervisor. “Even better, it gives us a chance to talk to anglers and find out what they’re thinking and answer questions.”

Counts are conducted the first two weeks of January during daylight hours.

This provides consistency when comparing data over a period of years.

As each lake is visited, the number of fish houses, permanent and portable, are counted and recorded.

Over the past 35 years, there has been an average of 14.25 fish houses counted per lake surveyed. This year the average was only 1.9.

A grand total of 111 fish houses were counted on 59 lakes during this year’s survey period.

This compares to an average total of 734 fish houses counted per survey period since 1977.

Sundmark sees a couple of possible explanations for the dramatic dip in numbers.

“Obviously our warm weather and eroding ice conditions have been an issue with anglers getting fish houses out on lakes this year,” Sundmark said. “We’ve had record-setting temperatures and treacherous ice. It stands to reason that fewer fish houses will be out.”

Another trend impacting survey numbers is changing technology with ice fishing anglers.

Sundmark said that through the years there has been a dramatic shift from anglers using permanent fish houses to anglers fishing in portable ones.

“When we’re out doing our counts during the day, we know we’re missing many anglers that don’t come out until after work,” Sundmark said. “They pop up their house, fish for a few hours and then pack up and head home.”

He said it is easier than ever for anglers to ice fish for short periods of time and switch from one lake to another.

Proof of that is evident when fish are biting on a certain lake.

“Cell phones spread the news fast. We can go from a couple fish houses on a lake to a dozen or more in hours,” Sundmark said.

The forecast of cooler temperatures should improve ice conditions and bring more anglers out on lakes, but Sundmark advises caution. “Make sure you know your lake and check ice thickness,” he said.

For more information on ice fishing, visit www.mndnr.gov/fishing/fin/ice_fishing.html.

Firearms safety training at Waverly

The Waverly Gun Club will be hosting firearms safety training for boys and girls who will be 12-years old and older. Interested adults are also welcome.

The class includes safety, gun handling, conservation, first aid, and orientation.

Successful completion of the course meets requirement for purchasing a game license.

Register Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Waverly Gun Club. Registrations limited, taken in order received. Need to bring birth certificate to registration.

Classes will be Tuesdays – February 7, 14, 21, 28, March 6, 13, 20, 27, April 3, 10, and Saturday, April 14.

There is a fee and class size is limited to 25.

If you have questions, contact Mike Dongoski at (320) 543-3515.

Howard Lake fishing derby coming up

The 66th annual fishing derby is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 11 from 1 to 3 p.m. on Howard Lake.

Additional information will be in the Herald Journal in the weeks to come.

Minnesota Deer Hunter’s banquet

TThe Minnesota River Valley Chapter of the MDHA is having its 29th annual banquet Saturday, Feb. 18.

Everyone is welcome to attend. Social hour starts at 5 p.m., dinner is at 7 p.m., and the program starts at 8 p.m.

Cost for the banquet is $25 for adults and $15 for youth.

It will take place at the KC Hall in Shakopee, which is located at 1760 East 4th Avenue.

For tickets or more details, contact Barb Breeggemann at (952) 445-4396.

Dutch Lake Ice Fishing contest Jan. 28

The Dutch Lake Ice Fishing Contest will take place Saturday, Jan. 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The contest is sponsored by Dutch and Mallard Pass Lake Association.

Registration will be at the public boat landing, and there is a $10 registration fee.

First prize is $100 and there will also be drawings.

For all of the official rules, go to www.dmpla.org.

Da Shiver Ice Fishing tourney Feb. 4

The sixth annual Da Shiver Ice Fishing Tournament is Saturday, Feb. 4, from noon to 3 p.m. on the west end of Lake Sarah. The event benefits the Crow River Youth Hockey Association.

The early bird cost to fish is $35. After Jan. 20, the fee is $40.

Prizes are awarded to the 10 biggest fish, and door prizes will be given away throughout the day. The event also includes a raffle drawing for an Ice Castle fish house.

For more information contact Doug Lawman at dashiver@yahoo.com, (763) 479-1206 or (612) 991-5159.

Snowmobile safety awareness
From the DNR

It was recently snowmobile safety awareness week in Minnesota.

“We see the excitement to ride building up as people wait for that first ‘good’ snow of the season to arrive,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Education Program coordinator. “We see a lot of pent up riding excitement during these low-snow seasons. Our concern is all of the anxious snowmobilers suddenly hitting the trails at once when that good snow finally arrives.”

To legally ride a snowmobile in Minnesota, residents born after Dec. 31, 1976, need a valid snowmobile safety certificate.

More than 1,800 volunteer instructors teach DNR snowmobile safety courses across the state.

For more information on the dates and locations of these courses, visit the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us or call 800-366-8917.

DNR and MnUSA remind snowmobilers of a few basic safety tips:

• DON’T’ DRINK AND DRIVE – Drinking and driving can be fatal.
Alcohol can impair judgment and slow reaction time.
Snowmobilers who have been drinking may drive too fast or race across unsafe ice.
Alcohol also causes body temperature to drop at an accelerated rate, increasing the likelihood of hypothermia.

• SLOW DOWN – Speed is a contributing factor in nearly all fatal snowmobiling accidents.
Drivers should drive at a pace that allows ample reaction time for any situation.
When driving at night, a speed of 40 miles an hour may result in “over driving” the headlight, so the driver can’t react in time to avoid danger.

• BE PREPARED – When traveling, bring a first aid kit, a flashlight, waterproof matches, and a compass.

• STAY ALERT – Fatigue can reduce coordination and judgment.

• ICE ADVICE – Avoid traveling across bodies of water when uncertain of ice thickness and strength on lakes and ponds.
Snow cover can act as a blanket to prevent safe ice from forming.
Never travel in a 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.
The most dangerous situations occur when a person is injured and alone.
When traveling alone, tell someone the destination, planned route and expected return time.

• REPORT ACCIDENTS – Snowmobile operators involved in accidents resulting in medical attention, death or damage exceeding $500 must file an official accident report through the county sheriff’s office within 10 days.

For a copy of DNR’s 2011-2012 Minnesota Snowmobile Safety Laws, Rules and Regulations handbook, call (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

It’s also available on the DNR’s website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/regulations/snowmobile/index.html.

MN deer harvest declines 7 percent in 2011
From the DNR

Lower deer populations and a windy first weekend of the firearms season resulted in Minnesota’s deer harvest dropping 7 percent in 2011, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Minnesota hunters harvested 192,300 deer during the 2011 season, a drop of 15,000 from the 207,000 deer harvested in 2010.

In 2011, firearms hunters harvested 164,800 deer, while archery and muzzleloader hunters harvested 20,200 and 7,300 deer, respectively.

Overall, the statewide archery and firearm harvest was down 6 percent for both seasons and the muzzleloader harvest declined 19 percent from last year.

“Upwards of 50 percent of the annual deer harvest occurs during opening weekend,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “The high winds hunters experienced opening weekend hindered deer activity and the associated harvest.”

Deer densities were lower in many areas because of hunting regulations designed to bring populations to goal levels, and because of a harsh winter in 2010.

Now that many areas are at the established goal levels, there is a general dissatisfaction among hunters with the current deer population.

As a result, the DNR will develop a process in the near future to reassess deer population goals.

Although that process may not be complete for several months, DNR staff will examine population densities and trends in all permit areas and begin making adjustments in time for the 2012 season.

Cornicelli said hunters should pay close attention to the hunting synopsis, which comes out in mid-July, to see if they need to apply for a lottery either-sex permit.

For the 2012 season, the deadline for the either-sex permit application is Thursday, Sept. 6.

Archery deer hunting will begin Saturday, Sept. 15.

The statewide firearms deer hunting season will open on Saturday, Nov. 3.

The muzzleloader season will open Saturday, Nov. 24.

The final deer harvest number is calculated using information provided by hunters when they register their deer.

A final report, which includes more detailed harvest information, will be available online at www.mndnr.gov/deer in the coming weeks.

MN’s Wolf Management Plan to take effect Friday
From the DNR

Minnesota’s population of wolves will transition from federal protection to state management by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on Jan. 27, bringing with that transition a number of law changes.

Minnesota’s Wolf Management Plan will protect wolves and monitor their population, but also give owners of livestock and domestic pets more protection from wolf depredation.

The plans splits the state into two management zones, with more protective regulations in the northern third, considered the wolf’s core range.

“The DNR is well-prepared to manage gray wolves and ensure the long-term survival of the species,” said Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. “The state’s Wolf Management Plan will allow Minnesotans more flexibility to address the real conflicts that occur between wolves and humans.”

The major change with state management is the ability of individual people to directly protect their animals from wolf depredation, subject to certain restrictions.

In addition, the state-certified gray wolf predator control program will be available to individuals as another option to deal with livestock depredation.

The Wolf Management Plan has provisions for taking wolves that are posing risks to livestock and domestic pets.

Owners of livestock, guard animal or domestic animals may shoot or destroy wolves that pose an immediate threat to their animals on property they own or lease, in accordance with local statutes.

“Immediate threat” means observing a gray wolf in the act of stalking, attacking or killing livestock, a guard animal or a domestic pet under the supervision of the owner.

In addition, the owner of a domestic pet may shoot or destroy a gray wolf posing an immediate threat on any property, as long as the owner is supervising the pet.

In all cases, a person shooting or destroying a gray wolf under these provisions must protect all evidence and report the taking to a DNR conservation officer within 48 hours.

The wolf carcass must be surrendered to the conservation officer.

In the southern two-thirds of Minnesota (Zone B), a person may shoot a gray wolf at any time to protect livestock, domestic animals or pets on land they own, lease or manage.

The circumstance of “immediate threat” does not apply.

A DNR conservation officer must be notified within 48 hours and the wolf carcass must be surrendered to the conservation officer.

Also in Zone B, a person may employ a state-certified gray wolf predator controller to trap wolves on or within one mile of land they own, lease or manage.

Unlike federal regulations, state regulations allow harassment of wolves that are within 500 yards of people, buildings, livestock or domestic pets to discourage wolves from contacting people and domestic animals.

Wolves cannot be attracted or searched out for purposes of harassment and cannot be physically harmed.

Similar to federal regulations, Minnesota’s Wolf Management Plan allows anyone to take a wolf to defend human life.

Any wolves taken must be reported to a DNR conservation officer within 48 hours, and evidence must be protected.

Although some level of agency wolf depredation control may be in place under a cooperative agreement between DNR and the Wildlife Services Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, funding for this program has been eliminated as a result of federal budget cuts.

The DNR is working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and state livestock associations to identify funding that could support this program in the future.

The DNR already has staff in place to fully implement the state management plan, and to ensure that wolves continue to thrive in Minnesota while minimizing the inevitable conflicts that arise between wolves, humans and livestock.

Dr. John Erb, DNR wolf research biologist, will continue to address wolf research and population monitoring needs.

Stark will coordinate all wolf management activities in Minnesota.

The DNR has designated three conservation officers in the wolf range as lead officers to ensure enforcement of provisions of the Wolf Management Plan.

These officers are Lt. Pat Znajda in Thief River Falls, Dave Olsen in Grand Rapids and Greg Payton in Virginia.

Mary Ortiz, executive director of the International Wolf Center based in Ely, said Minnesota is taking a thorough approach to wolf management through further wolf research and monitoring.

She urged Minnesotans to learn more about the DNR’s plan as a new era of state management unfolds.

“This is a comprehensive and conservative plan with a very specific and highly controlled approach to wolf management,” Ortiz said.

The state’s wolf population, estimated at fewer than 750 animals in the 1950s, has grown to its current estimate of 3,000.
The endangered species act requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor wolves in Minnesota for five years after delisting to ensure that recovery continues.

Minnesota’s Wolf Management Plan establishes a minimum population of 1,600 wolves to ensure their long-term survival in the state.

Federal rules removing the Great Lakes population of wolves from the endangered species list also take effect Jan 27 in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The complete Minnesota Wolf Management Plan, zone maps, population survey information as well as a question and answer fact is available online at www.mndnr.gov/wolves.

DNR, NWTF mentored youth turkey applications due Feb. 13
From the DNR

First-time youth turkey hunters, ages 12 to 17, have the chance to go afield this spring and learn from an experienced National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) volunteer, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Applications, maps and general information for the wild turkey hunt are available online at www.mndnr.gov/youthturkey.

The application deadline is midnight Monday, Feb. 13.

Participants will be selected through a random lottery.

“Rookie turkey hunters and their guardian will learn life-long outdoor skills and how to be a responsible hunter,” said Mike Kurre, DNR mentoring program coordinator. “The outdoor coaches of the NWTF are helping create the next generation of hunters.”

This is the 10th consecutive year DNR and NWTF have cooperated to provide opportunities for first-time youth turkey hunters.

More than 1,500 youth have been introduced to this unique hunting experience since spring youth turkey hunts began in 2002.

Most hunts will occur Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22, which is the first weekend of the regular wild turkey season.

Nearly all youth will hunt on private land thanks to the generosity of private landowners and the NWTF volunteers who obtained permission.

To be eligible, a youth hunter must be age 12 to 17 on or before Saturday, April 21; have a valid firearms safety certificate; and be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The program is for first-time turkey hunters only.

Any youth who has ever purchased or been selected by lottery for a Minnesota turkey license of any type is not eligible.

Hunters and their mentors will be assigned a NWTF volunteer coach, who must accompany both the youth and parent or guardian throughout the entire hunt.

Participation in the hunts is only restricted by the number volunteers and private lands that are available.

People who have an interest in providing quality turkey hunting land for the mentored youth hunts should contact a NWTF chapter online at www.nwtf-mn.org/Home/ChapterListings.

CO Weekly Reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers.
CO Mies also worked on a trapping complaint.
CO Mies worked the trout opener.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) gave a presentation to a snowmobile Safety Class at Hasty/Silver Creek Sportsman Club.
Reller also served a Restoration Order for illegal work done in a public waterway.
Lakes in the area still have some thin ice areas.
Several fish houses, an ATV and a snowmobile went through thin ice on local lakes.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) performed aeration inspections on area lakes.
Illegal draining of wetlands is under investigation with the SWCD.
Anglers were checked on the trout opener and special regulation lakes.
Fish house owners were contacted to remove their fish houses that fell through the ice.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Mound) worked the winter trout opener on Courthouse Lake in Chaska.
Not as many people were out this year as in year’s past but plenty of trout were still being caught.
Several fishermen were cited for fishing for trout before the season opened.
She issued a Cease and Desist Order to an individual in Shorewood for filling in a wetland.
She continued to work on a background investigation.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling and spearing activity.
Additional time was spent checking ATV and trapping activity.
Hatlestad also continued work on an employment background check, and spoke at a snowmobile safety class in Watkins.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) reports very low activity levels due to the poor ice and snow conditions.
CO Oberg spent time working on wetland cases in the area.
Calls of cars driving on the Luce Line Trail were taken as well as littering.
Officer Oberg spoke to the snowmobile safety class at the Lake Marion Sportsman’s Club.