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Minnesota’s pheasant index up 68 percent from 2011

September 10, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

A mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota’s pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The pheasant population index increased 68 percent from 2011.

Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall.

That’s up from last year’s estimated harvest of 204,000 but roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.

“While the 2012 increase reflects movement in a positive direction, the counts still remain 51 percent below the 10-year average,” said Kurt Haroldson, the DNR biologist who compiled the survey.

While favorable weather worked in the birds’ favor this year, their long-term success is more closely linked to habitat than annual variations in snowfall, rainfall and temperature.

“The state’s pheasant population is linked more closely to quantity and quality of habitat than annual differences in weather,” Haroldson said.

The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR’s annual roadside wildlife survey.

The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first half of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.

The highest pheasant counts were in the west central region, where observers reported 58 birds per 100 miles of survey driven.

Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in portions of west central, east central and southwest Minnesota.

The most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season.

Protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the state’s pheasant range.

Farmland retirement programs such as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CRP), Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.

High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs.

During the next three years, contracts for 620,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire.

If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 42 percent.

Minnesota’s pheasant population largely has mirrored what’s happened on the land.

“Pheasant numbers were higher during the small, diversified farming days from roughly 1931 to 1964 when habitat was more abundant,” Haroldson said. “Pheasant numbers declined during the intensive farming boom from 1965-1986 as field sizes grew and habitat shrank. Then, pheasant numbers rebounded when CRP began in 1987. However, enrollment in that program peaked several years ago, and further declines will not bode well for future pheasant populations.”

To help offset continued habitat losses caused by reductions in conservation set-aside acreage, DNR has accelerated acquisition of wildlife management areas in the farmland region of Minnesota.

DNR also supports habitat conservation on private lands by working with a variety of partners in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership and Working Lands Initiative.

More than 15,000 acres of private property have been opened to public hunting through the state’s Walk-In Access program.

The August roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was standardized in 1955.

DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August.

This year’s survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

The complete report is available online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasants.

Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see.

The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long term trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and other select wildlife species.

The gray partridge index also increased from last year and is similar to the 10-year average.

The cottontail rabbit index remains below the 10-year and long-term average.

The jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average.

Finally, the mourning dove index was 36 percent above last year but similar to the 10-year average.

Application deadline for upland bird hunt is today (Monday)
From the DNR

Inexperienced youth and women hunters have until Monday, Sept. 10, to apply for a chance to step into the field with an experienced upland bird hunter at locations across much of Minnesota on Saturday, Oct. 20.

Co-sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), hunt participants are paired with mentors from Pheasants Forever, Woodcock Minnesota and the Ruffed Grouse Society.

After discussing safety, habitat, ethics, scouting for places to hunt and securing landowner permission when necessary, mentors take participants into the field.

Parents and guardians must accompany youth at all times and at all events.

To participate in the lottery, youth must be 12-17 years old as of Oct. 20; have earned a valid firearms safety certificate; possess a small game license; and have a parent, guardian or adult authorized by a parent or guardian accompany them as a non-firearms carrying mentor to join the youth at a pre-hunt orientation as well as the hunt.

Women need a valid firearms safety certificate or an apprentice hunter validation certification, pheasant stamp (if pheasant hunting) and small game license.

Applications are available online at mndnr.gov/discover or by contacting the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

Successful applicants will be notified via mail or email by the end of September.

Newcastle outbreak closes island in Minnesota, Pigeon lakes
From the DNR

Islands in Minnesota and Pigeon lakes in southern Minnesota will be posted as closed to trespass until risk of the potential spread of virulent Newcastle disease has diminished, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said today.

The DNR closed the islands to waterfowl hunters and all other lake users after the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the disease from samples collected during cleanup of dead cormorants in early August.

Although Newcastle disease rarely affects humans, it can occasionally cause conjunctivitis, a relatively mild inflammation of the inner eyelids, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Minnesota Lake’s restricted island is located near the western shore and is the site of a large water bird nesting colony.

Temporarily lowered water levels have exposed the lake bed, providing a land route to the island.

Results from samples submitted from bird die-offs on several other lakes throughout Minnesota are pending.

If the disease is confirmed, lakes with islands that may be closed include Mille Lacs; Johanna near Glenwood; Pelican near Brainerd; Chautauqua and Pelican near Fergus Falls; and Wells near Faribault.

Newcastle disease is a viral disease that most commonly infects cormorants, but also affects gulls and pelicans.

Clinical signs of infection in wild birds are often neurologic and include droopy head or twisted neck, lack of coordination, inability to fly or dive and complete or partial paralysis. Juvenile birds are most commonly affected.

Wild birds can be a potential source of Newcastle disease and transmit the virus to domestic poultry if there is contact with them.

Clinical signs in domestic poultry include sudden death; lack of energy and appetite; decreased egg production; diarrhea; nervous system disorders such as tremors or paralysis; and severe respiratory signs symptoms such as nasal discharge, runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

The Board of Animal Health (BAH) recommends that poultry producers, large and small, increase their on-farm biosecurity practices to prevent introductions into their poultry operations.

Such practices include visitor and vehicle restrictions; preventing wild bird introductions, especially birds that tend to nest in or feed with domestic birds; controlling movements associated with the handling and disposal of bird carcasses, litter and manure; and monitoring poultry flocks for any signs of illness.

If domestic birds show signs of illness, producers should contact their veterinarian, BAH at (320) 231-5170 or the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at 800-605-8787.

DNR to hunters: Don’t shoot radio-collared bears
From the DNR

Hunters participating in Minnesota’s bear season are reminded to avoid shooting radio-collared research bears, which are marked with large colorful ear tags or colorful streamers.

Hunters are likely to find collared bears in and near Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area; the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge; the Chippewa National Forest; Camp Ripley; the Cloquet Forestry Station; Voyageurs National Park; and northern St. Louis County between Ely and Tower near the Eagles Nest chain of lakes.

Photos of some collared research bears are available on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website at www.mndnr.gov/bear.

Any hunters who do shoot collared bears should call the DNR Wildlife Research Office in Grand Rapids at (218) 327-4146 or 218-327-4133.

Hunters must register bears only at authorized stations
From the DNR

Bear hunters may only register their harvest at an authorized registration station that has tooth envelopes.

A revised list of these authorized bear registration stations is online at www.mndnr.gov/bear.

Bear hunting regulations require that a tooth be submitted from all harvested bears.

Registration stations that do not have the envelopes cannot register a harvested animal.

A new web application at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/bear now allows bear guides and hunters to register baiting sites online rather than printing forms and mailing them to DNR.

A user creates an account that keeps track of that user’s bear baiting sites.

Sandhill crane season opens two weeks after early goose season
From the DNR

Minnesota’s sandhill crane season will open two weeks later this year and does not coincide with the early goose season.
The crane season will remain the same length as last year, but it opens Saturday, Sept. 15, and closes Sunday, Oct. 21.
Cranes may only be hunted in the northwest goose zone.

The delay in season opening date is expected to reduce harvest on resident sandhill cranes by opening the season when a higher percentage of migrant sandhill cranes are present.

Hunters should note that overall sandhill crane abundance during the season still is expected to be as high as or higher than last year.

“The delay in the season is designed to shift harvest more toward migrant sandhill cranes by better timing the season with expected higher migrant bird numbers,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “Hunters should expect the same or better harvest opportunities this year compared with last year.”

The daily bag limit for sandhill cranes is two per day.

A sandhill crane permit is required in addition to a small game hunting license.

Early Canada goose season

The early Canada goose season runs Saturday, Sept. 1, through Friday, Sept. 21.

Bag limits for Canada geese are five per day statewide.

A $4 permit is required to hunt Canada geese in the early season.

Permits are available wherever hunting licenses are sold.

The restriction prohibiting hunting within 100 yards of surface water remains in effect in the northwest goose zone.

Early season goose hunters should consult the 2012 Waterfowl Supplement for zone maps and additional details.

Regular goose season

Minnesota’s regular goose season will open in conjunction with the duck season statewide on Saturday, Sept. 22, with a bag limit of three Canada geese per day the entire season.

Additional details on the duck, goose, sandhill crane and other migratory bird hunting seasons are available in the 2012 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations or online at www.mndnr.gov/regulations/hunting.

Eurasian watermilfoil discovered in Cedar Lake near Hutch
From the DNR

Eurasian watermilfoil has been discovered growing in Cedar Lake near the city of Hutchinson in McLeod County, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Cedar Lake has the first infestation of Eurasian watermilfoil in McLeod County,” said Nick Brown, DNR aquatic invasive species specialist. “Although the shallow lake receives little recreational use during the summer months, it is a popular spot for fall waterfowl hunting.”

An initial discovery was made by a DNR aquatic invasive species intern near the public water access.

A plant sample was brought to the Hutchinson DNR office.

A subsequent inspection of the lake showed Eurasian watermilfoil growing primarily along the southern shore of the lake, spreading from the public water access in six different spots.

Eurasian watermilfoil can form dense mats of vegetation and crowd out native aquatic plants, clog boat propellers, and make water recreation difficult.

Boaters who use Cedar Lake are urged to be extra thorough when looking for and removing aquatic plants from their boats, trailers, anchors, decoys and other equipment.

It is unlawful in Minnesota to transport aquatic plants or prohibited invasive species on roads or to launch watercraft with them attached.

Eurasian watermilfoil has now been discovered in more than 260 lakes, rivers or streams in Minnesota.

The lake will be designated as an infested water and signs will be placed at the public access to alert boaters.

More information about aquatic invasive species, how to inspect water equipment, and a current infested waters list are at www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquaticplants/index.html.

CO weekley reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) continued training COC Genereux.
The officers spent time checking early goose hunters.
They also worked on boating, angling, ATVs, AIS, and several other complaints.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) and COC Mueller started the week checking anglers along the Mississippi, and Wright County lakes.
Enforcement action was taken on no trout stamp, no license in possession and no fishing license.
Officers spent the weekend checking early goose and dove hunters in both the McLeod and Wright county areas.
Common violations found were no Federal or State duck stamps, person using a gun capable of holding more than three shells and persons in possession of toxic shot.
Special attention was also spent on AIS enforcement of area lakes

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) worked several AIS details in Carver, Hennepin and Sherburne counties.
A firearms safety presentation was given at the Minnesota National Wildlife Refuge to kids who will be hunting youth waterfowl day.
The goose and dove opener was worked with CO Sladek but success was not very good because of the hot weather.
Hunting related questions were returned daily and TIP calls responded to.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling, boating, and AIS activity.
Additional time was spent checking early goose and dove hunting activity.
Hatlestad also checked ATV activity and enforced state forestry fire laws.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked the opening weekend of the early Canada goose and dove seasons.
Despite the hot temperatures several hunters were out enjoying the two openers.
CO Oberg reports in general field goose hunters had more success than hunters on water.
CO Oberg also spent considerable time working AIS enforcement with very good compliance observed overall.
Enforcement action was taken for waterfowl violations.