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No wild deer test positive for CWD

April 22, 2013

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

None of the more than 2,300 deer tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in three specific areas of Minnesota have tested positive for the disease.

Deer were tested in an area of southeastern Minnesota as part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) ongoing CWD surveillance and disease management efforts in the Pine Island area.

Deer also were tested as a precaution in east-central Minnesota because the disease was discovered in wild deer from nearby Wisconsin.

Testing was done in the north metropolitan area because a captive European Red Deer herd in North Oaks tested positive for the disease.

Testing will continue in southeastern Minnesota and the north metropolitan area.

Surveillance in deer permit areas 159, 183, 225 and St. Croix State Park will be discontinued.

“The results are encouraging in southeastern Minnesota,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program director. “To date, the only CWD positive deer we’ve found is the one discovered from the 2010 hunting season that prompted our surveillance.”

In the southeast, 1,195 deer tested negative for the disease in the CWD management zone during 2012, marking the second consecutive year of no positives being detected.

Deer tested were harvested during archery, firearm and muzzleloader seasons.

“Cooperation from hunters has been outstanding”, said Erik Hildebrand, DNR wildlife health specialist. “There is a lot of support for ensuring Minnesota has a healthy deer herd in the southeast.”

A helicopter survey conducted in early March within the CWD management zone indicated the objective of reducing deer population density in deer permit area 602 has been met.

As a result, the area will be designated as intensive rather than unlimited for this fall’s hunt, allowing hunters to harvest up to five deer.

“A shift away from unlimited antlerless harvest to an intensive designation reflects recent survey results but continues our focus on managing densities while the area is still under CWD surveillance,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program coordinator.

In east-central Minnesota, 1,092 samples were collected during the opening weekend of the firearm deer season.

In the north metro area, 180 deer that were killed by vehicles, removed through city deer reduction permits or harvested by archery hunters in the both Ramsey and Anoka counties were tested.

“The thousands of hunters who willingly donated a sample for the disease surveillance effort make these tests possible,” Carstensen said. “We appreciate hunter commitment to ensuring the health of Minnesota’s wild deer population and the help of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, both of which make DNR disease surveillance efforts much easier.”

Fishing Klinic for Kids set for June 15

All area youth and their parents are welcome to attend the 16th annual Fishing Klinic For Kids Saturday, June 15 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Sturges Park on Buffalo Lake.

Participants will enjoy fishing, as well as visiting with fishing pros. There will also be demonstrations, vendor booths, food, games, activities, fun, and prizes.

There is something for everyone at this family-friendly event.

This is the largest event of its kind in Minnesota. More than 20,000 youth have participated in this program over the years.

For more information on the organization and events, go to www.fishingklinicforkids.com.

More charges to be filed in investigation of illegal sales of game fish
From the DNR

Authorities are bringing state charges against 21 individuals following a major investigation into the illegal sale and dumping of thousands of protected game fish in north-central and northwestern Minnesota.

The three-year special investigation, known as Operation Squarehook, involved about 60 officers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and tribal authorities from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

This is Minnesota’s largest case of illegal fish commercialization in two decades.

The suspects are facing up to 35 misdemeanor and six gross misdemeanor state charges in six counties in northern Minnesota.

Total state fines are expected in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Cases have been presented to state county attorneys for prosecution; some individuals have been charged or have already paid fines.

The charges involve both illegal purchases and sales of the game fish, primarily walleye, taken from some of Minnesota’s most popular fishing lakes, including Cass, Leech, Red and Winnibigoshish lakes on the Red Lake or Leech Lake Indian reservations.

“This is a troubling case because it involved large numbers of people and a significant number of fish being illegally bought and sold,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “The investigation should serve notice that the illegal commercialization of walleye and waste of game fish will not be tolerated in Minnesota.”

Last week, the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis announced four federal indictments filed against 10 tribal individuals in the same case.

These 10 individuals are in addition to the 21 facing state and tribal charges.

State charges are being pursued or have been filed by county attorneys in Clearwater, Polk, Itasca, Cass, Pennington and Beltrami counties.

The illegal sale and purchase of game fish is a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, depending upon the value of the fish involved.

Tribal and nontribal members are being charged. Red Lake and Leech Lake authorities are filing charges against tribal members in tribal court.

During the investigation, DNR officers documented the suspects buying and selling thousands of walleye.

They also documented hundreds of other unwanted fish, such as northern pike, being thrown away and wasted because they weren’t as highly prized as walleye.

The investigation began with Red Lake and Leech Lake tribal members who legally netted or angled game fish, but illegally sold them to other individuals.

Tribal codes govern whether band members can fish or net for subsistence purposes.

The Red Lake Band allows subsistence angling for walleye; the Leech Lake Band allows for subsistence angling or netting for walleye.

While band members can legally harvest fish for subsistence, they cannot sell them for profit.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa has a legal commercial walleye fishery, but band members can only sell their fish to the tribe-operated processor.

The 21 individuals facing state charges are nontribal members who illegally purchased or sold fish.

In some cases, those individuals were intermediaries who purchased fish from tribal members and sold them to other individuals.

Acting on tips from the public, DNR officers used a variety of investigative techniques to track down the illegal sales and purchase.

Fish were sold for between $1.50 and $3 per pound, far less than the $11 to $17 per pound for legal walleye (typically from Canada) sold in grocery stores.

Officers discovered a competitive black market and significant supplies of purchasable fish.

“A significant problem is the number of people who knowingly buy illegal fish,” said Col. Jim Konrad, director of the DNR’s Enforcement Division. “The key to stopping this illegal commercialization of our game fish is stopping the demand.”

The illegal fish were of various sizes, from small to trophy specimens.

In one case, a trophy muskie was sold for mounting.

Some business owners or employees were involved in the illegal purchase and sale of walleye, though officials were unable to document that fish were sold as meals at restaurants or taverns.

“This illegal activity undermines the health of Minnesota’s sport and tribal fisheries and unfairly steals a valuable resource from law abiding sports people,” Konrad said.

The sale or purchase of less than $50 of game fish is a state misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and/or up to 90 days of jail.

The sale or purchase of more than $50 of game fish is a gross misdemeanor with a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $3,000 and/or up to a year in jail.

Operation Squarehook was authorized by former DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten and initiated by Konrad in March 2010. Commissioner Landwehr continued the investigation.

In 1993, 45 Minnesotans were charged with criminal conspiracy to illegally transport, take, sell and buy walleye from Red Lake and Leech Lake Indian reservations.

The sting operation, started in 1991, was known as Operation Can-Am. The defendants were found guilty of felony and misdemeanor charges.

Operation Squarehook is the largest case of illegal commercialization of fish in Minnesota since that case.

For information, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/staging/enforcement/op_squarehook.html.

Wildfire Prevention Week raises awareness of outdoor fire hazards
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has declared April 21–27 as Wildfire Prevention Week to increase awareness of outdoor fire hazards.

The DNR encourages people to make a special effort to control their fires during this week and all year long.

Minnesota wildland firefighters annually extinguish an average of 1,400 fires that burn 31,000 acres.

“Ninety-eight percent of wildfires in Minnesota are caused by people, and the number one reason is escaped debris-burning fires,” said Larry Himanga, the DNR’s wildfire prevention coordinator.

Most wildfires in Minnesota occur in the spring, between the time when snow melts and vegetation turns green.

Spring wildfires normally begin in the southern portion of the state and move northward as the snow disappears.

Although the fire hazard in Minnesota is low, it can quickly change.

Visit www.mndnr.gov/forestry/fire/firerating_restrictions.html for current statewide fire danger information and burning restrictions.

Instead of burning yard waste, Himanga recommends composting or mulching it. If burning is necessary, landowners should check fire burning restrictions in their area, obtain a burning permit, and be careful with debris fires. Piled debris can hold hot coals for several days to months.

“When you light a fire, you are responsible for keeping it under control and you need to stay with it until it is out,” Himanga said. “If you think your fire is out, check again.”

To learn more about open burning, visit www.mndnr.gov/forestry/fire/questions.html.

The DNR reminds homeowners that burning nonvegetative material or garbage can release cancer-causing toxins into the air.

“The toxins in smoke and ash from backyard garbage burning pollute our air, water and soil,” said Mark Rust with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Grazing livestock, vegetable gardens and other food sources absorb the toxins, concentrating the chemical in food and ultimately in our bodies, Rust said. He recommends recycling, composting or safely disposing of trash with a hauler or at a local drop-site to help protect people from unnecessary pollution.

In addition to contaminating food sources, burning illegal materials such as plastic and other household trash endangers firefighters responding to the fire as well as the homeowners igniting the pile.

The toxic chemicals released during backyard garbage burning can lead to serious medical conditions, including lung and heart problems.

Burning any material has risks. Wildfires jeopardize public health and safety, destroy homes and property and cost millions of dollars annually to extinguish.

The best way to protect lives and property from wildfires is to prevent the fires from occurring.

Bears emerging from hibernation; cause for preparation, not alarm
From the DNR

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife managers are reporting an increase in bear sightings as the animals begin emerging from hibernation.

Bear sightings are most prevalent in northern Minnesota, but bears can also be spotted in some metropolitan areas.

“Spring can be a tough time of year for some bears,” said Karen Noyce, DNR bear researcher in Grand Rapids. “As they emerge hibernation, they are not immediately hungry, but over the following week, their metabolism ramps up and they will begin looking for food. With berries and vegetation scarce at this time of year, bears may be tempted by dog food, livestock feed, birdseed, compost or garbage.”

Spring is a good time for residents who live close to bear habitat to check their property for food sources that could attract bears.

“When human-related food is easy to find, bears stop seeking their natural foods,” said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR Northeastern regional wildlife manager. “These bears eventually get into trouble because they return again and again.”

Unfortunately, food-conditioned bears often end up dead bears, Lightfoot said.

Sometimes a bear causing problems must be trapped and destroyed.

Bears that are trapped because they have become a nuisance are destroyed rather than relocated.

Relocated bears seldom remain where they are released.

They may return to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else.

Experience has clearly shown that removing food that attracts bears resolves problems much more effectively than attempting to trap and destroy the bear, Lightfoot said.

When it is determined a bear must be killed, the DNR can assign a licensed hunter or issue a special permit to shoot it.

Bears will not be trapped for causing minor property damage, such as tearing down bird feeders or tipping over garbage cans.

“If a bear enters your yard, don’t panic and don’t approach the bear,” Lightfoot said. “Always leave the bear an escape route. Everyone should leave the area and go inside until the bear leaves on its own.”

A treed bear should be left alone as well. It will leave once the area is quiet.

Bears are normally shy and usually flee when encountered.

“However, they may defend an area if they are feeding or are with their young,” he said. “Never approach or try to pet a bear. They are unpredictable wild animals. Injury to people is rare, but bears are potentially dangerous because of their size, strength and speed.”

The DNR offers some tips for avoiding bear conflicts.

Around the yard
• Do not leave food from barbeques and picnics outdoors, especially overnight; coolers are not bear-proof.
• Replace hummingbird feeders with hanging flower baskets which are also attractive to hummingbirds.
• Eliminate birdfeeders or hang them 10 feet up and 4 feet out from the nearest trees.
• Use a rope and pulley system to refill them and clean up seeds that spill onto the ground. Where bears are a nuisance, birdfeeders should be taken down between April 1 and Dec. 1.
• Store pet food inside and feed pets inside. If pets must be fed outdoors, feed them only as much as they will eat.
• Clean and store barbeque grills after each use. Store them in a secure shed or garage away from windows and doors.
• Pick fruit from trees as soon as it’s ripe and collect fallen fruit immediately.
• Limit compost piles to grass, leaves and garden clippings, and turn piles regularly; adding lime can reduce smells and help decomposition; do not add food scraps; kitchen scraps can be composted indoors in a worm box with minimum odor.
• Harvest garden produce as it matures; locate gardens away from forests and shrubs that bears may use for cover.
• Use native plants in landscaping whenever possible; clover and dandelions will attract bears.
• For bee hives, elevate them on bear-proof platforms or erect properly designed electric fences.
• Do not put out feed for wildlife (corn, oats, pellets, molasses blocks).

Garbage
• Store garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or dumpsters; rubber or plastic garbage cans are not bear-proof.
• Keep garbage inside a secure building until the morning of pickup.
• Store recyclable containers, such as pop cans, inside; the sweet smells attract bears.
• Store especially smelly garbage, such as meat or fish scraps, in a freezer until it can be taken to a refuse site.
• People should always be cautious around bears. If they have persistent bear problems after cleaning up the food sources, they should contact a DNR area wildlife office for assistance.

For the name of the local wildlife manager, contact the DNR Information Center toll free, 888-646-6367 or (651) 296-6157.

The DNR brochure “Learning To Live with Bears” is available online at www.mndnr.gov.

CO weekley reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers this week.
CO Mies worked fish run along with a law talk in Howard Lake.
CO Mies attended some waters training.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) attended a district meeting and training.
Fishing activity was very slow due to the weather and deteriorating ice conditions.
Several nuisance animal calls were handled in the area questions about the upcoming turkey season.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) investigated a potential waters violation near Norwood Young America.
He assisted with a firearms safety presentation in Rockford.
Creeks and rivers were monitored for spring fish run.
A district meeting was attended at Fort Snelling State Park.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) monitored spring fish activity during the week.
She assisted the sheriff’s office with a call.
Officer Mueller continued with commercial inspections and spoke at a FAS class at the Cedar Mills Gun Club.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked on spring fishing activity in the area.
CO Oberg also spent time instructing at the Use of Force training day at Camp Ripley.
Continuing education was also completed at a regional meeting.