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New Prairie Plan takes aim at rebuilding grasslands, wetlands

October 22, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

When Minnesota pheasant hunters go afield, they will head to prairie country, where tall native grasses provide food and shelter for this fast-flying and fine-tasting bird.

Unfortunately, Minnesota’s prairie country isn’t what it once was.

Long ago, Minnesota had about 18 million acres of native prairie. Today, that number is closer to 235,000 acres.

Much wild was lost as society found ways to tame the land in the name of a noble pursuit – growing food for America and the global community beyond our borders.

While no one can turn back the hands of time. We can look to new ways to build a strong agriculture and prairie conservation partnership in the future.

Forging a better future for prairie conservation and crop production is the right thing to do to help slow flooding, clean the state’s waters, shelter wildlife, provide for recreation and support our strong agricultural community.

Fortunately, there is a new tool to do this. It’s called The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan.

It was finalized this past summer and identifies common goals among conservation organizations for the next 25 years.

It will serve as a road map for protecting, restoring and enhancing prairies for the state’s primary conservation organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNR, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, The Conservation Fund, Audubon Minnesota, Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.

The DNR, BWSR and other partners look to work with landowners, agricultural interests and others to protect and enhance Minnesota’s prairie legacy.

The plan proposes to achieve conservation goals by:

• Permanent protection of grasslands via easements and acquisition of critical lands from willing sellers.

• Restoration activities including buffer strips, native plant seeding, wetland restoration and water level management.

• Enhancement of prairies and grasslands through prescribed fire, conservation grazing and invasive species control.

Minnesota is at a crossroads. We have already lost 99 percent of our original native prairie and 90 percent of our prairie wetlands.

In the next five years, nearly 800,000 additional acres of restored grassland is at risk due to expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, and the current congressional stalemate on the next Federal Farm Bill prevents processing any new enrollments after Sept. 30, 2012.

This leaves agricultural producers unable to predictably forecast and plan key aspects of their business.

It is Minnesota’s good fortune to have a funding option in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which can be used to ”protect, enhance and restore” the critical parts of the prairie landscape. Additionally, we need to seek opportunities to incorporate conservation into “working lands” – like grazing lands -- so conversation can contribute directly to local economies and agricultural lands.

Now is the time to act, before the crisis is upon us.

Our fish and our wildlife, including game and non-game species, depend upon native prairie, grasslands and associated wetlands for survival.

We don’t want to look back one day and ask ourselves what we should have done to preserve the state’s grassland heritage.

Rather, let us act now for a future where we can visit the Prairie Region and be proud to have saved our grassland legacy – and the economic and conservation benefits it supports – for many future generations.

To review the Minnesota Prairie Plan, go to DNR website at
http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/mcbs/mn_prairie_conservation_plan.pdf.

Sight-in dates at the Waverly Gun Club

The Waverly Gun Club has set 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27 and Sunday, Oct. 28 for rifle sight-in. The fee is $8 per gun.

Early season wolf hunters have until Wednesday to buy licenses
From the DNR

Hunters selected by lottery for the early wolf hunting season must purchase their license by Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Any early season licenses not sold by that date will be made available at noon on Monday, Oct. 29, on a first-come, first-served basis to early or late season applicants not selected in the lottery.

Any eligible hunter, regardless of whether he or she entered the wolf season lottery, may purchase a remaining early season license at noon on Thursday, Nov. 1.

To date, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has sold 1,155 of the 3,600 wolf licenses available for the early hunting season, which coincides with firearms deer season in each of Minnesota’s three wolf hunting zones.

Licenses are available from any DNR license agent, online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or by telephone at 888-665-4236.

Complete wolf hunting regulations are available online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/wolf.

Hunters selected by lottery for the late hunting and trapping season, which runs from Saturday, Nov. 24, to Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, must buy their licenses by Thursday, Nov. 15.

Any late season licenses not sold by that date will be available at noon on Monday, Nov. 19, on a first-come, first-served basis to early or late season applicants not selected in the lottery.

Remaining licenses will be available for purchase by any eligible hunter at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 21.

To date, DNR has sold 305 of the 1,800 late season wolf hunting licenses available and 166 of the 600 wolf trapping licenses available.

More than 23,000 hunters entered the lottery to participate in Minnesota’s inaugural wolf hunting season.

Minnesota assumed state management of the gray wolf after the species was removed Jan. 27 from federal protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Minnesota’s wolf population is estimated to be about 3,000 wolves.

The target harvest of 400 wolves for this inaugural wolf season is a conservative approach that does not pose a threat to the conservation of the population.

Additional information about wolf management in Minnesota is available online at www.mndnr.gov/wolves.

New penalties for deer baiting
From the DNR

Participants in Minnesota’s firearm deer season will be greeted with new penalties for baiting violations when they go afield Nov. 3.

“It seems that every year our officers are spending more and more time responding to complaints about baiting or discovering it while on patrol,” said Lt. Col. Rodmen Smith, Minnesota DNR Enforcement Division assistant director. “We hope these new penalties curb what has become an all too common violation.”

Deer baiting is placing food near deer stands or clearings with the intent of luring a deer into close shooting range.

It has been illegal to bait deer in Minnesota since 1991.

DNR conservation officers issued 144 citations, gave 24 warnings and seized 134 firearms/bows in baiting related investigations during the 2011 bow, firearms and muzzleloader seasons.

It’s the highest number of baiting citations issued during the deer hunting seasons since the DNR began tracking these violations in 1991.

The Minnesota Legislature recognized the negative impact of baiting deer and recently passed legislation to increase the penalties for those convicted of baiting deer.

“It was apparent that a fine and forfeiture of a firearm or bow was not enough to curtail the activity,” said Smith. “In order to show the seriousness of the offense hunters will be subject to license revocation when convicted of baiting deer.”

The new penalties for baiting:

• A person may not obtain any deer license or take deer under a lifetime license for one year after the person is convicted of hunting deer with the aid or use of bait.

The DNR’s Electronic Licensing System (ELS) will also block a person’s ability to purchase a license.

A second conviction within three years would result in a three-year revocation.

• The revocation period doubles if the conviction is for a deer that is a trophy deer scoring higher than 170 inches.

The fine for illegal baiting is $300, plus $80 or so in court costs.

Another $500 can be tagged on for restitution if a deer is seized. Guns may be confiscated as well.

Smith said he is hopeful the new penalties, in addition to fines, restitution and confiscation of guns sends a message that Minnesota values it natural resources and there is a price for engaging in this illegal activity.

Drought conditions straining state’s water resources; DNR urges conservation
From the DNR

Drought conditions are straining Minnesota’s water resources.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is urging everyone to adopt water conservation measures.

“Water is essential to our economy, our natural resources, and our quality of life,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “We are in the second year of a drought, and it is time for all of us to take water conservation more seriously.”

DNR is asking agricultural, commercial and industrial water users to stop outdoor irrigation and to implement conservation measures.

Everyone who holds a DNR permit for water appropriation should review and abide by their permit conditions and begin conserving water as soon as possible.

“The drought conditions are sobering and call for a collaborative response,” Landwehr said. “At a time that per capita water consumption is decreasing nationwide, Minnesota’s water use per resident is actually increasing. We will need to work together to meet these challenges.”

Public water suppliers have been contacted by the DNR and reminded to implement appropriate conservation measures contained in their water supply plans.

These could include water audits, leak detection, and promoting water conservation to their customers.

Examples of how drought conditions are straining the state’s water resources include:

• Water conflicts between users and uses are emerging in more places.

• Nearly one-half of the state is in severe drought or worse; severe drought is considered a one in 10-year event; extreme drought is considered a one in 20-year event.

• The extent and geographic distribution of the current drought is rivaling the extreme drought event of the late 1980s.

• Large areas of Minnesota have missed the equivalent of two summertime month’s worth of rain.

• Soil moisture levels are at or below all-time low values for the end of September.

• White Bear Lake’s water level has hit its lowest point on record.

• It is a dire situation going into the 2013 growing season.

It is often difficult to see the long-term impact a drought has on the state’s groundwater supplies.

It can take many years for groundwater levels to bounce back after a drought, even when the state’s surface waters appear to have recovered.

“Seventy-five percent of the state’s population depends on groundwater for its drinking water, so it is essential everyone start to conserve this vital resource,” Landwehr said.

Examples of how to conserve water are available on the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/watermgmt_section/appropriations/conservation.html.

The latest information and fact sheets about the drought are available at www.dnr.state.mn.us/climate/drought/index.html.

Deer safety: tips for avoiding an accident
From the DNR

You’re driving home from work when you sense movement in the ditch next to the highway; you pump your brakes in time to avoid the two eyes now flashing in the darkness that have moved onto the roadway. You sigh in relief as the deer scampers off into the darkness.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation reports Minnesota averages about 35,000 deer-car collisions a year, and three to 11 fatalities.

So, what can you do to stay safe when Minnesota’s deer season gets underway Nov. 3?

Read on to learn some of trends and statistics, as well as a few tips for making your drive through deer country as safe as possible.

Deer trends and statistics

• Dawn and dusk are the times you are most likely to encounter deer along the roadside.

• Deer-breeding season runs from October through early January, and during this time, they are highly active and on the move. This is when deer-vehicle collisions are at their peak.

• Although deer may wander into neighborhoods, they are more frequently found on the outskirts of town and in heavily wooded areas.

• As pack animals, deer almost never travel alone. If you see one deer, you can bet there are others nearby.

Preventive measures

• If you are driving through an area known for high deer populations, slow down and observe the speed limit. The more conservative you are with your speed, the more time you will have to brake if an animal darts into your path.

• Always wear a seatbelt. The most severe injuries in deer-vehicle collisions usually result from failure to use a seatbelt.

• Watch for the shine of eyes alongside roads and immediately begin to slow down.

• Use your high beams whenever the road is free of oncoming traffic. This will increase your visibility and give you more time to react.

• Deer can become mesmerized by steady, bright lights, so if you see one frozen on the road, slow down and flash your lights. NHTSA and other experts recommend one long blast of the horn to scare them out of the road as well.

• Pay close attention to caution signs indicating deer or other large animals. These signs are specifically placed in high-traffic areas, where deer sightings are frequent.

• If you’re on a multi-lane road, drive in the center lane to give as much space to grazing deer as possible.

Encountering a deer

• Never swerve to avoid a deer in the road. Swerving can confuse the deer on where to run. Swerving also can cause a head-on collision with oncoming vehicles, take you off the roadway into a tree or a ditch and greatly increase the chances of serious injuries.

• Deer are unpredictable creatures, and one that is calmly standing by the side of the road may suddenly leap into the roadway without warning. Slowing down when you spot a deer is the best way to avoid a collision, however, if one does move into your path, maintain control and do your best to brake and give the deer time to get out of your way.

• Don’t rely on hood whistles or other devices designed to scare off deer. These have not been proven to work.

• If you do collide with a deer or large animal, call emergency services if injuries are involved or local police if damage has been caused to your property or someone else’s. Never touch an animal in the roadway.

Knowing what to do when you encounter a large animal on or near the roadway can be a life saver.

Keeping calm and driving smart improve your chances of avoiding a collision and staying safe.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: Buckthorn has become a major problem throughout the state. When is the best time to remove it and treat the stumps?

A: The best time to cut buckthorn and chemically treat the stumps is in late summer and throughout the fall.

Chemical treatments can be very effective in the fall, plus buckthorn plants stay green later in the year than native trees, making them easier to identify.

Information on identifying buckthorn and buckthorn control methods are available on the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/woody/buckthorn.

CO weekley reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers. CO Mies checked hunters. CO Mies also worked on several wetland complaints.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) investigated several TIP calls: one for shooting a pheasant out a motor vehicle and another for angling violation. Reller also followed up on a couple of big game violations. Waterfowl hunting has picked up with some northern migration of ringnecks, canvasback, gadwall and redheads in the bag. Enforcement action was taken for taking pheasant out of season and shooting from a motor vehicle.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) attended a district meeting at Fort Snelling State Park. He gave two firearms safety presentations at the Carver Scott Cooperative School in Chaska. The pheasant opener was worked finding almost no hunters and zero pheasants in the bag. Waterfowl hunters were checked with CO Kahre and most hunters checked had shot a few ducks. Telephone calls were returned daily, most of them on hunting questions.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) spent time checking area lakes for waterfowl activity. The weekend was busy with the waterfowl season re-opening south of Hwy 212. The pheasant season also opened with almost everyone in compliance. Mueller also checked on local fishing hot spots.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked the opening of the 2012 pheasant season. CO Oberg observed low overall success and hunting pressure was down from past years. Officer Oberg also worked the opening of the Southern Waterfowl Zone. Hunters were still able to bag some teal and wood ducks along with a mix of divers. He responded to an ongoing wetland violation and did follow up on a case for the PCA.