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Boaters asked to slow down, use caution on lakes and rivers during Fourth of July Holiday week

July 2, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Water levels on a number of Minnesota lakes and rivers are expected to remain high during the Fourth of July holiday week, so the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is urging boaters to slow down and use caution.

“People should always wear their lifejackets while boating, but especially during times like this,” said Tim Smalley, DNR boating safety specialist. “The waters are higher and moving faster than people are accustomed to, and that can create dangerous situations.”

Recreational boaters should also be aware that there are high water conditions on the Mississippi, Minnesota and Lower St. Croix rivers resulting in hazardous debris in the water.

“River and lake debris could include trees as well as man-made items. Debris will often float just at or below the surface, so a boat traveling at high speed may not be able avoid it in time. Hitting a deadhead or snag at high speed could result in anything from a broken propeller to a ruined lower unit -- or worse, serious injuries to boat occupants.”

Smalley said that during periods of high water on lakes and rivers, boaters also need to slow down and make sure their wakes are small.

Boat owners are legally responsible for their wakes, under both federal and state law.

“During high water on a river, boat waves are not dissipated by the gentle slope of a beach but instead slam directly into the steep face of the bank,” explained Scot Johnson, Mississippi River hydrologist for the DNR. “Much of the energy contained in the wave is conveyed to the bank. This contributes to an accelerated rate of bank erosion.”

A 1992 Mississippi River study by the DNR near Red Wing showed that during high water, a large wake (25 inches high) from a cruiser or houseboat can be 30 times more destructive then a smaller 5-inch wake.

The Corps of Engineers recently mapped and surveyed eroding river banks on the Upper Mississippi River between Red Wing and St. Louis.

The corps found 240 miles of river bank to be eroding, with a large proportion of the total number of eroding banks in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Accelerated erosion can result in an increase in suspended sediment as well as a loss of trees and other vegetation into the river.

It also can create safety concerns, damage to boats and other property from deadheads and snags, shoreline property loss, reduction in water quality and damage to fish and wildlife habitat.

Boaters can reduce wave impacts by:

• Limiting boating activity on rivers until water levels return to normal summer conditions.

• Maintaining slow no-wake speeds (less than 5 mph) during high water.

• Staying close to the center line of the river. This will allow some wave energy to be dissipated as it travels through the water.

• If speeds greater than 5 mph are absolutely necessary, accelerate to planing speed as quickly as possible and stay on plane until reaching destination.

• If houseboat or cabin cruiser does not have a planing hull design or adequate horsepower, maintain slow no-wake speeds until water levels return to normal summer conditions.

For more information, boaters can request a free copy of the brochure “Mississippi River Bank Erosion and Boating” from the DNR by calling (651) 296-6157 or toll-free at 888-646-6367.

Computer users also can send an email to info.dnr@state.mn.us to ask for the brochure.

Watertown firearms training coming up

Registration for Watertown firearms training will be Saturday, July 28 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Watertown Rod and Gun Club.

Class dates are Aug. 3, 6, 7, 9, and 10 from 6 to 9 p.m., with a field day Saturday, Aug. 11 at 8 a.m.

For additional information, contact Cory at (612) 218-3228 or WatertownFST@yahoo.com

Ruffed grouse counts decline
From the DNR

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were lower than last year across most of the bird’s range, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Compared with drumming counts conducted in 2011, 2012 survey results showed an average decline of 24 to 60 percent, to 1.1 drums per stop, in the northeast survey region, which is the core and bulk of grouse range in Minnesota.

Drumming counts in the northwest declined 33 to 73 percent to 0.9 drums per stop.

Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, which had averages of 0.6 and 0.7 drums per stop, respectively.

“The grouse population is in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Mike Larson, DNR wildlife research group leader and grouse biologist. “The most recent peak in drum counts was during 2009, but hunter harvests remained relatively high through at least 2010.”

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions.

This year observers recorded 1.0 drums per stop statewide.

The averages during 2010 and 2011 were 1.5 and 1.7 drums per stop, respectively.

Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population.

The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.

Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer.

On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state’s most popular game bird.

During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse.

Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

One reason for the Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed.

An estimated 11.5 million of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.

For the past 63 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations.

This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 15 organizations surveyed 126 routes across the state.

Sharp-tailed grouse counts decrease slightly

Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest survey region decreased approximately 18 percent between 2011 and 2012, Larson said.

Counts in the east-central region declined approximately 33 percent.

Observers look for male sharptails displaying on traditional mating areas, called leks or dancing grounds.

Despite three years of declines, this year’s statewide average of 9.2 grouse counted per dancing ground was similar to the long-term average since 1980.

The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980.

During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

Overall, sharptail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration.

In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive.

The DNR’s 2012 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, will be available soon online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

DNR releases long-term management plan for ruffed grouse
From the DNR

A long-range ruffed grouse habitat and population management plan is now available on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) website at www.mndnr.gov/grouse.

“The plan reinforces the state’s commitment to ensure the viability of ruffed grouse and their forest habitat, manage grouse as an integral part of Minnesota’s forested landscapes, and encourage and promote hunting and observation of ruffed grouse in their natural habitat,” said Bob Welsh, DNR wildlife habitat program manager.

An average annual harvest of more than 500,000 birds over the past 25 years places Minnesota as one of the nation’s top three ruffed grouse states.

Grouse hunter numbers have traditionally followed cyclic changes in drumming survey indices, but when drumming surveys trended upward recently, hunter numbers did not follow as they had in the past.

The plan includes strategies to reverse that trend by offering improved habitat and access, as well as programs to help new hunters.

The DNR’s ruffed grouse management plan was approved earlier this year after public comments on the draft plan were reviewed and considered.

“Now that the plan has been approved, we can continue to implement and accelerate our strategies to maintain great hunting opportunities,” said Ted Dick, DNR grouse coordinator. “Those strategies include improved access to hunting land, better information for hunters and education for new hunters, and focused input to the timber planning process that will ensure that grouse habitat needs are well-presented and considered in all forest planning processes.”

Minnesota leads the nation in aspen-birch forest type, the preferred habitat of ruffed grouse, and offers more than 11 million acres of federal, state and county land open to public hunting.

Persons interested in learning more about grouse, hunting opportunities and available online tools are encouraged to visit the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/grouse.

More information, including podcasts, more detailed mapping and hunter education class announcements will be posted there as they are developed.

DNR accepting applications for 2012 Camp Ripley archery hunts
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will begin accepting applications on July 1 for the 2012 regular archery deer hunts at Camp Ripley near Little Falls.

Hunters may pick from only one of two hunting seasons, Oct. 18-19 (Thursday-Friday; code 668) or Oct. 27-28 (Saturday-Sunday; code 669).

A total of 5,000 permits – 2,500 per two-day hunt – will be available.

Successful applicants must purchase a valid archery license at least two days before their hunt to participate.

The bag limit for this year’s hunt is two, and bonus permits may be used to take antlerless deer.

Hunters may choose from four options to apply for the Camp Ripley archery hunts:

• Through the DNR’s computerized Electronic Licensing System (ELS) at any one of 1,500 ELS agents located throughout Minnesota.

• By telephone at 888-665-4236.

• Through DNR’s Internet licensing link at www.dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/index.html.

• At the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul.

The application fee for the hunt is $8 per applicant.

The application deadline is Aug. 17.

Those who apply by phone or Internet will be charged an additional convenience fee of 3 percent ($0.24) per transaction.

To apply, resident hunters 21 and older must provide a valid state driver’s license or public safety identification number.

Residents under 21 may also provide a DNR firearms safety training number to apply.

Nonresident hunters must apply using a valid driver’s license number, public safety identification number, or DNR customer number from a recent Minnesota hunting or fishing license.

All applicants must be at least 10 years old prior to the hunt for which they are applying.

In addition, anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, must have a firearms safety certificate or other evidence of successfully completing a hunter safety course to obtain a license to hunt or trap in Minnesota.

Hunters may apply as individuals, or as a group of up to four individuals.

Group members may only apply for the same two-day season.

The first group applicant must specify “Create New Group” when asked, and will receive a group number.

Subsequent group applicants must specify they want to “Join an Existing Group” and must use the same group number supplied to the first group applicant.

The archery hunt at Camp Ripley is an annual event.

The DNR coordinates the hunt with the Department of Military Affairs, which manages the 53,000-acre military reservation.

Rules for the Camp Ripley hunt are available at www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/index.html.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: The emerald ash borer, an invasive species, is now in Minnesota. How will this insect impact Minnesota trees?

A: Unlike the gypsy moth, which defoliates trees but does not necessarily kill them, the emerald ash borer is capable of killing healthy ash trees all by themselves.

That makes them potentially much more damaging than the gypsy moth.

The emerald ash borer is capable of killing all species of ash within three to four years of attack.

The insect can also affect ash down to one inch in diameter within any Minnesota forest type.

Ash trees were planted in abundance throughout the state after Dutch elm disease took out so many mature elm trees.

Those trees are now at risk of attack, and local communities face a potential crisis in tree protection, removal and replacement.

Public funds are inadequate to address the issue.

However, people can help by buying local or certified firewood when camping; burning it all before leaving their camp site; and checking with firewood suppliers when buying wood for use at home to make sure the wood is certified as pest free.

To report any suspected invasive pest, take a picture, note the location where it was found, and contact the local DNR, Department of Agriculture or University of Minnesota Extension agent office.