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U of M to survey deer hunters on bovine TB management

July 23, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

An upcoming survey of Minnesota deer hunters aims to help state natural resource leaders make more informed decisions about wildlife disease response and deer management.

The University of Minnesota, in collaboration with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) researchers, will soon send a survey to 2,000 randomly selected deer hunters who hunted in and around the state’s bovine tuberculosis (TB) management area of Northwest Minnesota.

The survey will assess the state’s response to managing the bovine TB outbreak in wild deer.

It also will address related risk factors, deer population goals and future deer management alternatives.

“Survey results will help us better understand how our clientele perceived our actions and identify potential process improvements for the future,” said Dr. Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “Now is a good time to conduct the survey as Minnesota has regained its bovine TB-free status for cattle, and our agency is in what we hope to be the last year of wild deer disease surveillance.”

Bovine TB was discovered in cattle and free-ranging deer in 2005.

The DNR and other agencies took aggressive actions to eliminate the disease.

These actions, which included aggressive strategies to reduce deer densities in critical areas, helped Minnesota regain its Bovine TB-free status six years after the discovery of an infected beef herd.

Cornicelli said the survey also will enable the agency to obtain information on desired deer population size and how hunters believe deer should be managed in the future.

For example, wildlife managers could increase deer densities quickly in the affected area by not allowing antlerless harvest but letting hunters take any legal buck.

This would result in a rapid increase in herd numbers but a lower proportion of mature males in the population.

Another management alternative is to limit the harvest of bucks (through an antler point restriction) while allowing some antlerless harvest.

This would allow the population to increase more slowly, but more mature bucks would be in the population.

Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife programs manager, said that as the agency re-evaluates deer population goals across the state it is important to consider the opinions of deer hunters.

In particular, those hunters affected by Bovine TB management.

“They were very patient while we lowered deer numbers in the area. This survey will give us a sense of how they believe we should rebuild those numbers,” he said.

Results of the survey should be available this fall and will be posted on the DNR website.

The DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division conducts a number customer surveys each year.

Survey results help guide management decisions.

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.

Working like a dog pays off for DNR
From the DNR

Several deer poaching cases, including one from 1984, were recently solved thanks to the dogged determination of a conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and his K-9 partner.

For the past five years, Conservation Officer (CO) Travis Muyres of Ham Lake has been investigating the activities of Steven J. Benolkin, 57, of Isanti for alleged trespass and poaching deer.

“Mr. Benolkin has stated on numerous occasions that he has trespassed and killed deer in the University of Minnesota – Cedar Creek property,” Muyres said. “He joked that he has to hunt in tennis shoes so he can run without being caught by the warden.”

Muyres has received several Turn-in-Poacher (TIP) calls regarding Benolkin hunting at night, over bait and on private property.

A November 2011 TIP call reported that Benolkin had dumped a truck bed of carrots next to a hunting blind in Isanti.

Muyres confirmed the call.

Another TIP call said Benolkin was bragging in a local restaurant about a “big deer” he had shot.

Muyres deployed his K-9 partner “Hunter” at the blind to locate blood evidence.

The United States Police Canine Association certified wildlife detector dog located two blood spots in the snow.

“A K-9 is such an asset during game and fish investigations, you just can’t get anything by them,” Muyres said.

Hair and blood droplets next to the bait pile shown a deer had been taken by archery.

Blood spots, tire tracks and footprints at the site indicated a deer had been loaded into a vehicle.

A set of footprints lead to a vehicle parked at the end of the driveway near the blind.

The property where the driveway was located is leased by Steven Benolkin.

“I made contact with Benolkin, but he said he did not shoot the deer,” Muyres said.

A TIP call in early 2012 had Benolkin bragging again about a 10-point buck he had shot, even showing a picture in public.
During the course of the investigation, a trail camera picture was obtained of the possible 10-point buck that was killed.

Evidence led to a local taxidermist where Benolkin had dropped off the head and cape of the 10-point buck in November 2011.

A deer archery tag with Benolkin’s son’s name accompanied the deer.

Muyres took possession of the antlers, which scored trophy size.

In March, a search warrant was issued in Isanti County for Benolkin’s residence.

Meanwhile, conservation officers questioned Benolkin’s son about the deer.

“Mr. Benolkin continued to deny any involvement with the deer, or that he took a picture of the 10-point antlers,” Muyres said. “He said someone else had shot it and showed it to people, and that he didn’t have to tell me who had shot the deer.”

When conservation officers executed a search warrant at the residence, Benolkin said he had shot the deer and used his son’s tag. He also admitted to the bait pile and blind where the deer was shot.

When questioned about seven deer mounts in the living room, Benolkin said three were taken when he trespassed on the U of M – Cedar Creek property, one he thought was shot in 1984, and the most recent one in 2004.

The three deer heads were seized, along with other evidence that included a crossbow. A pickup truck was also seized.

Benolkin is charged with a gross misdemeanor for transporting illegally taken big game, as well as misdemeanors for taking deer over bait, illegal party hunting, failure to validate site tag, failure to tag deer, and two incidents of possessing an illegally taken big game animal.

Conviction of a gross misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $3,000 and one year in jail.

Restitution for a trophy buck is $1,000.

A court date has been set for Aug. 1 in Isanti County Court.

CO weekly reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers last week.
CO Mies gave a law talk at an ATV class in Southaven. CO Mies worked on AIS enforcement.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) returned several calls on AIS questions.
Anglers were checked all week having good luck on sunfish.
A boat and water safety detail was worked on Lake Waconia handing out lots of PF Panda awards to kids wearing their life jacket.
Multiple violations were documented for no throwable or wearable PFD, failure to display watercraft registration, no watercraft safety certificate, litter, no angling license in possession, angling without first procuring a license and angling with extra lines.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Mound) investigated an illegally taken deer case.
A large set of antlers were seized from an individual who had taken the deer.
She checked fishing and boating activity in the Mound area.
Reports were also completed as well as preparing for upcoming court hearings.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling, boating, and PWC activity.
Additional time was spent checking and advising boaters of the state AIS laws.
Hatlestad also handled various public access issues, and assisted other law enforcement agencies.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) reports working angling, boating and AIS enforcement.
Anglers in the area are mainly catching largemouth bass and channel catfish.
CO Oberg also spent time patrolling the MN River and working a littering case.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: I understand western prairie fringed orchids are in flower in southwestern Minnesota. Are these rare in Minnesota?

A: Yes, this federally-threatened prairie plant is one of Minnesota’s rarest orchids.

Typically it flowers in northwestern Minnesota in late June or early July and in southwestern Minnesota in mid-July.

This year the Red River Valley plants suffered from fall and spring drought and were hit by late frosts.

Very few plants will flower north of I-94.

Photographers and wildflower lovers would do best to head to southwestern Minnesota, where plants are in flower in the vicinity of Luverne and Pipestone.

The most easily seen plants are near the road at Touch the Sky National Wildlife Refuge in Rock County.

People can also see the orchids in the Sheyenne National Grassland in North Dakota.