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DNR to reassess deer population goals

March 12, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will begin reassessing deer population goals this spring.

From 2005 through 2007 the DNR used an extensive public input process to establish deer population goals for all of the state’s approximately 130 deer permit areas.

Now that those goal populations have been achieved in most areas, the DNR will use a similar process to reevaluate population goals in 23 permit areas in southwestern and north-central Minnesota.

“Hunter dissatisfaction has increased as deer numbers have decreased to meet established goals,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife programs manager. “In fact, hunters are even expressing disappointment in certain areas where deer populations have increased to meet goals.” As a result, he said, the agency wants to revisit population goals in order to strike the right balance between hunter, landowner and other societal and resource interests.

The last time the DNR set population goals about one-half of the state’s deer hunting permit areas were slated for deer reductions.

Conversely, about 40 percent of permit areas were slated for deer increases.

Most of these areas were in the farmland country of western and southern Minnesota.

Today, nearly 70 percent of deer populations are within goal, while 15 percent remain below goal and 18 percent are above goal.

“To a large degree we have achieved what we aimed to do,” said Merchant. “However, many Minnesota hunters are telling us they are not seeing the number of deer they have in the past. So, we intend to formally listen to their voices and those of others prior to setting 2012 deer hunting bag limits.”

The agency intends to use the new population goals as an information tool for making 2012 deer season management decisions.

Merchant said the DNR decided to begin the reassessment process by convening stakeholder input groups in southwest and portions of northern Minnesota.

As available, the agency will use the same stakeholder groups that met during the previous effort.

The DNR will also take public comments via its website.

The agency will make a formal announcement when the website’s public survey is online.

“We believe that the original stakeholder participants, many of whom were deer hunters, did a good job listening to each other’s points of view, and worked hard to reach consensus,” said Merchant. “Their input and that of citizens who complete the online survey will give us a good sense of public sentiment.”

The entire statewide reassessment process will take more than one year.

It will begin by focusing on the following permit areas: 118, 119, 171, 173, 176-179, 181, 199, 234, 237, 238, 250, 252, 279, 286, 288, 289, and 294-296.

Like last time, Merchant said, he expects stakeholders to bring forward their concerns about hunter satisfaction, forest health, crop depredation, deer-vehicle collisions and more.

In the rest of the state where deer are at or below goal, DNR will set regulations for the fall of 2012 that will maintain or increase populations until the statewide goal review process is completed.

Acting Big Game Program Leader Erik Thorson will coordinate the reassessment.

Thorson is serving in the position until a permanent replacement is hired for Lou Cornicelli, who recently vacated that position to lead the agency’s wildlife research unit.

Minnesota’s deer population has swung significantly over the past 50 years.

In 1971, for example, the state closed the deer hunting season because the population was too low.

The DNR rebuilt the deer herd through tighter hunting regulations during the following decades.

The deer harvest peaked at 290,000 in 2003 as the agency began to reduce deer numbers.

Last year’s harvest was 192,300, down 7 percent from the previous year and 15,000 fewer than the 2010 harvest.

Nationally, deer managers look at deer density goals as a societal issue more so than a biological issue.

Deer are capable of achieving high densities, so are generally managed at a level of social tolerance rather than managed for the maximum number that can be supported by the habitat.

This involves balancing desires of hunters, wildlife watchers and others who may support higher deer densities with those of farmers, foresters or others who experience conflicts with deer who may favor lower deer densities.

White-tailed deer are an important resource to the state of Minnesota.

Nearly 500,000 individuals hunt deer and countless other people enjoy viewing deer in the state.

Firearms safety training in LP

There will be a firearms safety training class taking place at the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club.

Registration for the class will be Tuesday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m. at the LP Sportsmen’s Club, with classes beginning that evening.

The class will then run every Tuesday and Thursday night through early May.

For additional information, contact Doug Minnick at (320) 395-2143.

McLeod County PF spring banquet will be March 24

The 26th annual McLeod County Pheasants Forever Spring Banquet is scheduled for Saturday, March 24 at the commercial building at the McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.

The program begins at 4 p.m., with dinner at 6 p.m., and special events following at 7 p.m.

The deadline for reservations is Friday, March 16.

There will be $25,000 in prizes given away at the banquet.

All profits raised will be spent in McLeod County.

Cost to attend the banquet ranges from $55 to $100.

To register, or for additional information, either call (320) 587-0052 or visit www.McLeodPF.org.

Youth Wood Duck Building Day March 24

The annual Youth Wood Duck Building Day is scheduled for Saturday, March 24.

The event will take place at Burns Excavating Shop, kiddy-corner to the southwest of the Hollywood Sports Complex located in Hollywood Township.

There will be a kid’s laser shoot, an archery range, and food and drink.

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

There are enough kits cut out to build 220 houses this year.

If anyone is interested in helping out, or would like additional information on the event, contact Chip Hentges at chentges@co.carver.mn.us, or at (952) 200-3176.

Conceal and carry class at Waverly Gun Club

The Waverly Gun Club will be hosting conceal and carry classes Monday, March 19 and Wednesday, March 21.

For additional information, contact Kevin at (763) 242-4553.

Wright County PF banquet March 26

The Wright County Pheasants Forever chapter will host its 27th annual banquet at the Buffalo Civic Center Monday, March 26 at 5:30 p.m.

The chapter has been active since 1984, and has contributed over $1 million to conservation and education projects within Wright County and Minnesota.

The banquet this year will include a silent auction, live auction, assorted raffles, and games for all ages.

According to Chapter President Brandon Murphy, “We have great prizes and auction items this year, including a 3-day/4-night pheasant hunt in South Dakota. More importantly, all of the funds raised at the banquet will be put to good use promoting conservation and education within Wright County and across Minnesota.”

If you would like more information about attending the banquet or providing a sponsorship, contact Bruce Bartl at (763) 682-0653, visit the website at www.wrightcountypf.org, or via facebook at www.facebook.com/wright county pheasants forever chapter #95.

DNR, NWTF mentored women’s turkey apps due April 2
From the DNR

First-time adult women turkey have the chance to go afield and learn from an experienced National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) volunteer during mentored hunts being offered this spring, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said.

“The adult women turkey hunters will learn life-long outdoor skills and how to be a responsible hunter,” said Mike Kurre, mentoring program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Thanks to the NWTF, their outdoor coaches will help create the next generation of family oriented hunters.”

Women are encouraged to sign up with a friend or adult daughter for an educational adventure in wild turkey hunting.

An application and general information for the mid-May wild turkey hunt is available at www.mndnr.gov/discover.

The application deadline is midnight Monday, April 2.

Participants will be selected through a random lottery if oversubscribed.

This program is based on the successful mentored youth hunts where, during the last 10 years, more than 1,700 youth have been introduced to this unique, educational hunting experience.

With women being one of the fasting growing segments of the hunting society, the need is there, Kurre said.

Most hunts will occur Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20, at several locations in Minnesota’s turkey range, which generally covers the southern and western half of Minnesota.

Hunts include a mandatory turkey clinic leading up to an actual hunt.

All participants will hunt on private land, thanks to the generosity of private landowners and the NWTF volunteers who obtained permission.

To be eligible, a female hunter must be 18 on or before Saturday, May 19.

All participants must possess a valid firearms safety certificate, purchase an apprentice hunter validation, or be born before Dec. 13, 1979.

The program is for first-time turkey hunters only.

Participants will be assigned a NWTF volunteer coach, who must accompany them 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 a quality experience in turkey hunting, have hunting land and are members of NWTF, should contact the NWTF at www.nwtf-mn.org for information about participating.

Bald eagles on spring migration back to Minnesota
From the DNR

Bald eagles are migrating back to Minnesota and may be seen in large numbers across parts of the state over the next few weeks, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“It’s definitely time for folks to keep their eyes out,” according to Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer, DNR regional nongame wildlife specialist. “Usually we see these bigger pulses of migrating eagles a little later in March, but it appears that timing may be early for a lot of natural events this year due to the mild winter.”

Only two states, Florida and Alaska, have greater nesting populations of bald eagles than Minnesota.

In 2005, researchers estimated there to be more than 1,300 active nests in this state.

Fall migration typically occurs as lakes and rivers freeze over, since most eagles prefer a diet of fish.

Bald eagle wintering grounds typically contain open water, ample food, limited human disturbance and protective roosting sites.

Gelvin-Innvaer said that not all bald eagles migrate in the fall.

In southern Minnesota, it’s common for some eagle pairs to stay the winter, especially during milder winters.

“This winter has been a good example,” Gelvin-Innvaer said. “We’ve had more open water than usual, and with the lack of snow, carrion has been easy for eagles to find.”

Bald eagles that stay local may begin courting and nesting as early as December or January.

Other bald eagles return to their breeding territories in late winter, as soon as a food source is available.

“Eagle migration hotspots are a bit of a moving target, so it’s hard to say where the eagles are right now,” Gelvin-Innvaer said. “In Minnesota, the biggest migrations tend to be along the Minnesota River corridor, the north shore of Lake Superior and around Lake Pepin in southeastern Minnesota.”

Adult bald eagles are easily identified by a white head and tail contrasting with a dark brown body.

Bald eagles attain full adult plumage in their fourth or fifth year. In flight, bald eagles are sometimes confused with turkey vultures.

However, bald eagles have a tendency to soar on flat, board-like wings, while turkey vultures fly with their wings in a v-shape.

For more information on bald eagles or where to view them, visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/birds/eagles/winter_wabasha.html www.mndnr.gov/snapshots/birds/baldeagle.html.

Silver, bighead carp were caught by commercial fishermen in Mississippi River
From the DNR

A silver carp and a bighead carp were caught in a seine net by commercial fishermen March 1 in Pool 6 of the Mississippi River near Winona, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Silver and bighead carp, members of the Asian carp family, are nonnative species that can cause serious ecological problems as they spread into new waters.

The silver carp caught last week, which weighed about 8 pounds, represents the farthest upstream discovery to date of the species, known for its tendency to leap from the water when startled.

“A silver carp discovery this far upstream is discouraging, but not surprising,” said Tim Schlagenhaft of the DNR’s Mississippi River Team at Lake City. “This is further evidence that Asian carp continue to move upstream in the Mississippi River.”

“We hope this galvanizes meaningful action to slow down the upriver movement of Asian carp while we figure out ways to control and deal with their impacts,” said Paul Labovitz, superintendent of the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area in the Twin Cities.

No established populations of bighead or silver carp are known in Minnesota.

However, individual Asian carp have been caught by commercial fishermen in recent years.

Three silver carp (two in pool 8 near La Crosse, one in pool 9) were caught between 2008 and 2011.

One bighead carp was caught in the St. Croix River in 1996 and one in 2011.

Between 2003-2009, six bighead carp were caught in the Mississippi River between Lake Pepin and the Iowa border.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) testing last year indicated the presence of silver carp in the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers in the Twin Cities area.

However, searches by the DNR and commissioned commercial fishermen failed to turn up any sign of live Asian carp at that time.

Populations of bighead and silver carp are established in the Mississippi River and its tributaries downstream of pool 12 in Iowa.

Bighead carp can weigh up to 110 pounds and silver carp up to 60 pounds.

They are voracious eaters, capable of consuming 5 to 20 percent of their body weight each day.

They feed on algae and other microscopic organisms, often outcompeting native fish for food.

Scientists believe Asian carp could severely disrupt the aquatic ecosystems of Minnesota waters.

Several grass carp were also caught in Pool 6 on March 1.

Although grass carp are also a concern, they have been present in Minnesota waters for many years.

Adult grass carp, which can weigh up to 70 pounds, can dramatically reduce aquatic vegetation.

More information about Asian carp is available on the DNR’s website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/asian-carp/index.html.

CO Weekly Reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers this past week.
CO Mies worked on litter on the lakes.
CO Mies checked sleds.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) gave a presentation to a Firearms Safety Class in Hanover.
Reller also checked snowmobile activity and took several complaints on trespass by snowmobilers.
Angling activity has slow with most ice shelters off the ice.
Enforcement action was taken for snowmobile registration and no Safety Certification.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) checked trappers and coyote hunters.
Fish houses were marked and documented on area lakes.
Snowmobilers were checked on state and grant in aid trails.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Mound) patrolled the Luce Line State Trail and local grant-in-aid trails for snowmobile activity.
She followed up on several litter complaints from the removal of fish houses.
Fishermen were checked on Lake Minnetonka and Courthouse Lake.
She also attended a meeting in the Lake Minnetonka area.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling and trapping activity.
Additional time was spent checking ATV and snowmobile activity.
Hatlestad also investigated possible big game and public waters violations, and monitored shelter removal from area lakes.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) reports working snowmobile enforcement with several snowmobilers out with the fresh snow.
Enforcement action was taken for failing to stop at road crossing and failure to display registration.
CO Oberg also had court on a deer case from last fall and Ice house checks were completed.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: I’m seeing raccoon tracks everywhere. Is this normal?

A: Raccoons do not truly hibernate, but they do “hole up” in dens and become inactive during severe winter weather.

In the southern United States they may be inactive for only a day or two at a time, whereas in the north this period of inactivity may extend for weeks or months.

In northern areas, raccoons may lose up to half their fall body weight during winter as they utilize stored body fat.

They come out when the weather is milder in search of food, and for mates.