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Breeding duck numbers improved, Canada goose population declines

July 22, 2013

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Despite lingering winter weather that included record late ice-out in 2013, Minnesota’s breeding duck populations improved from last year, according to the results of the annual Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) spring waterfowl surveys.

The state’s estimated breeding duck population was 683,000 compared with last year’s estimate of 469,000.

This year’s estimate is 10 percent above the long-term average of 620,000 breeding ducks.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 293,000, 30 percent above last year’s estimate of 225,000 breeding mallards, 14 percent above the recent 10-year average and 30 percent above the long-term average.

The blue-winged teal population was 144,000 compared with 109,000 in 2012 but remained 33 percent below the long-term average of 216,000.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 246,000,

This was 82 percent higher than last year and 39 percent above the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) was 258,000, up 13 percent from last year, and 2 percent above the long-term average.

“Although wetland numbers were average, conditions changed from extremely dry before May 1 to fairly wet by the end of May in most of the state,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

“Also, in a normal year, ducks begin arriving back to Minnesota in April or early May to begin the nesting season,” Cordts said. “But with record late ice-out and significant snow cover present in some areas until early May, the spring migration and nesting season were delayed so we had to delay the survey about two weeks.”

The DNR’s waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance.

The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.

A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane.

The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service provide ground crews that also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes.

This data is then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 250,000, which was considerably less than last year’s estimate of 416,000.

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April.

The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

Although this year’s estimate was lower than recent years, much of that change could be the result of the spring weather conditions that may have impacted goose distribution and abundance in the state.

Cold temperatures and April snowfall combined with a late ice-out reduced nesting success and effort, reducing the number of goslings.

During the past 10 years, the Canada goose population’s average has ranged from 275,000 to 350,000.

“While that should not impact the population in the future, fewer young geese in the early fall usually makes goose hunting more difficult for hunters,” said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section chief. “The bottom line is our Canada goose population remains higher than we’d like it to be and we’ll continue to maximize hunting opportunities this fall.”

The Minnesota waterfowl report can be viewed online at www.mndnr.gov/waterfowl.

The DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer.

Watertown firearms safety training class coming up

Watertown firearms safety training classes are coming soon, with registration Saturday, July 27 at the Watertown Rod and Gun Club from 10 a.m. to noon.

Classes will be August 2, 5, 6, 8, and 9 from 6 to 9 p.m.

There will be a field day Saturday, Aug. 10 starting at 8 a.m.

For additional information, contact Cory at (763) 218-3228 or at watertownfst@yahoo.com.

DNR announces first August Canada goose season
From the DNR

Minnesota will conduct its first August Canada goose season from Saturday, Aug. 10 to Sunday, Aug. 25, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said.

“The state’s Canada goose population is very high and exceeds our statewide goal,” said Steve Cordts, the DNR’s waterfowl specialist. “We have continued agricultural depredation concerns in the western portion of the state with large numbers of Canada geese. This is one more option for us to try and increase our harvest of Canada geese.”

Hunting will be restricted to an intensive harvest zone in west-central Minnesota.

The daily bag limit will be 10 Canada geese with no possession limit.

Shooting hours will be from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.

A small game hunting license, special goose permit and state waterfowl stamp are required.

“It’s hard to gauge what hunter participation will be since this is the first time we have had August goose hunting,” Cordts said. “But for those who are interested, there should be ample opportunity.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the hunt as a management option for states dealing with overabundant populations of resident Canada geese.

Additional details are on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/waterfowl.

The DNR will announce details of fall waterfowl seasons, including the September Canada goose hunt, in early August.

Sharing a fishing license is illegal
From the DNR

A Minnesota man faces multiple charges and fines after he was caught using his brother’s fishing license while on the St. Louis River near Knife Falls Dam in Cloquet, May 13, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). His brother was also cited.

Andrew T. Swenson, 30, of Cloquet had difficulty answering questions about date of birth, height, weight, and the address listed on the fishing license when asked by a DNR conservation officer (CO).

A check on the Minnesota driver’s and vehicle services website pulled up a picture of a person who looked different than the person who was fishing.

“I asked him to look at the photo on my computer screen and asked him who that was a picture of,” said CO Scott Staples of Carlton. “He said it was his brother.”

Swenson said his application for a fishing license was rejected because he was cited the previous year for fishing with extra lines.

Staples had issued that citation.

Swenson was taken into custody on Staples’ warrant for his arrest for failing to pay the previous year’s fine.

While Swenson was booked into the Carlton County Jail, Staples called Swenson’s brother, Chayse J. Swenson, 20, of Duluth, who said he was aware that his brother had his license.

“He stated that he did not think it was that big of a deal,” Staples said. “I informed him that it was not legal to lend another person a game or fish license and that I would be mailing him a citation for that violation.”

Andrew Swenson was charged with a gross misdemeanor for giving false information to a peace officer, angling without a license, and lending, borrowing or transferring a license.

The maximum fine for a gross misdemeanor is $3,000.

Angling without a license carries a $50 fine.

Lending, borrowing, or transferring a license is a $100 fine.

Chayse Swenson was charged with lending, borrowing or transferring a license. He pleaded guilty and paid the fine.

Col. Ken Soring, DNR enforcement director, said one of the most common fishing violations is angling without a license.

Minnesota statute states anglers age 16 or older must have the appropriate license in their possession when fishing.

“Well, ‘I don’t have one’ or ‘I just forgot to bring it with me’ is an excuse that conservation officers wish they’d hear less often than they do,” Soring said. He also said it’s an excuse that’s easily corrected.

The state’s electronic licensing system issues licenses and stamps through 1,500 license agent locations statewide.

Agents charge an issuing fee for each license and stamp sold.

Instant licenses and stamps are also available online at www.dnr.state.mn.us or by telephone at 888-665-4236. An additional convenience fee is added for sales via the website or telephone.

“The purchaser is licensed immediately, which is a tremendous feature,” Soring said. “Then you’re on your way to your favorite fishing spot.”

Anyone witnessing a fish or wildlife violation is encouraged to contact the 24 hour toll-free Turn-In-Poachers (TIP) hotline at 800-652-9093. Cell phone users can dial #TIP.

Grouse counts decline, later spring nesting may help hatch
From the DNR

Ruffed grouse drumming counts were down across most of the bird’s range, according to the annual survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“This decrease was not unexpected because the ruffed grouse population is still in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse biologist. “Drum counts peaked most recently in 2009.”

Drumming counts dropped from 1.1 to 0.9 per stop in the northeast, which is the forest bird’s core range in Minnesota.

Counts in the northwest declined from 0.9 in 2012 to 0.7 drums per stop in 2013.

Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.9 and 0.4 drums per stop, respectively.

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.

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

This year, observers recorded 0.9 drums per stop statewide.

The averages during 2011 and 2012 were 1.7 and 1.0 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.

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

Drumming did occur later this year because of the late spring, suggesting that nesting likely occurred later than normal.

“Later nesting would have pushed the hatch out a bit, hopefully beyond the spring rains,” Roy said. “Time will tell if that occurred and the impact on production.”

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

On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in the state each year, 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 64 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations.

This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 14 organizations surveyed 117 routes across the state.

Sharp-tailed grouse counts decrease slightly

Sharp-tailed grouse counts in the northwest, the bird’s primary range in Minnesota, were similar to 2012. Counts in the east-central region declined significantly.

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

Despite several years of declining numbers, 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 2013 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, is available online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

More businesses now fall under aquatic invasive species training requirement
From the DNR

Businesses that decontaminate, rent or lease boats or other water-related equipment will now be required to attend aquatic invasive species (AIS) training and acquire a permit under a state law change that took effect July 1, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Before this change, the law applied only to businesses that install or remove equipment from state waters,” said April Rust, DNR AIS training coordinator.

Employees of lake service provider businesses – which now include boat rental businesses – also need to complete a short online training course before providing services.

Another revision in the law removes the online AIS training requirement for employees of businesses who work with boats, equipment or structures that remain on their property in the same water body.

This legislative change was made to help reduce the staff training burden on lake service provider businesses that are at low risk for transporting AIS on their own site.

A final summer training AIS session for lake service providers is scheduled for Aug. 1 in St. Paul. Due to the expanded definition of service provider businesses, additional classes are planned for October.

After completing a free, three-hour AIS training, lake service providers must pass an exam, apply for a permit online, and pay a $50 application fee before a permit is issued.

Among other things, the training covers how to integrate AIS prevention strategies into business practices.

The permit is valid for three years. Lake service providers must have the permits while providing services.

Since January 2012, nearly 1,000 lake service businesses have attended AIS training and acquired a permit.

They are included on the DNR’s statewide list of permitted service providers (http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/rlp/permits/lsp/lsp-permits.pdf).

To register for training, find out if a business needs a permit, or for more information, visit the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/lsp.

Online firearms safety hunter course now available for adults
From the DNR

Minnesota residents 18 and older can now take the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ firearms (DNR) safety hunter education course online.

The new training option includes a virtual field day that emphasizes responsible gun handling and hunting safety.

Students who complete the course are issued a voucher that they can use to complete their certification immediately or attend an instructor led field day.

“This will greatly increase certification accessibility to working adults and military personnel who traditionally have conflicts trying to scheduling a multi-week classroom course,” said Capt. Mike Hammer, DNR Enforcement education program coordinator.

Minnesota and Iowa are the first states to offer this option for adults.

The online course takes about nine hours to complete and is interactive with narration, quizzes and final exam.

Both the main course and field day include a virtual range where students can shoot various firearms and action types at a variety of targets and distances.

There’s even instruction on how to properly sight-in rifles and pattern a shotgun.

“This is a great addition to our computer based adult safety training programs,” Hammer said. “We think it will be a huge success and create even more safe hunters.”

Take the course at www.huntercourse.com/usa/minnesota/.

CO weekly reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers last week.
CO Mies worked on boat and water.
CO Mies also handled complaint calls and worked in Stillwater.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) checked boaters and anglers on area lakes and some time was spent checking ATV operators. Enforcement action was taken for angling without a license, make false application for license, transport child on ATV without a helmet, angle with extra lines.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) worked an AIS detail on Lake Waconia and a boat and water safety detail on Prior Lake with Officer Thephong Le.
He assisted Waconia High School with a fishing event on Lake Waconia for special needs students who all caught several fish and had a great time.
State trails and parks were patrolled finding a lot of storm damage.
Enforcement action was taken for no angling licenses in possession, transporting zebra mussels, no personal flotation devices, unregistered and fail to display watercraft registration, riding on transom and gunwale of watercraft, operate PWC after hours, operate PWC within 150 feet of shore at high rate of speed and no lights on watercraft after sunset.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Mound) patrolled Lake Minnetonka for fishing and boating activity.
She followed up on several aquatic vegetation removal complaints.
Boat accesses continue to be monitored for AIS compliance.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) investigated a complaint of lake shore weeds dumped in a county ditch.
Patrol was done at Fort Ridgley State park for park permits, horse and golf passes.
Area lakes were checked for anglers, boat safety and aquatic plant permits.
Enforcement action was taken on angling without a license and no license in possession.
A report of a bobcat in a residence was taken but there was no evidence to prove it was a bobcat for certain.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: Given the drought situation over most of Minnesota last summer and fall, how did turtles and frogs fair?

A: We did have some pond kills because the oxygen levels got too low in ponds that had reduced water levels and shallower depths.

There were a few winter kills of turtles as a result of low water levels, deep frost, and low oxygen going into winter.

Severe drought concentrates populations of both turtles and frogs, which can lead to increased disease transmission and stressed animals.

It’s possible that there was some mortality as well as increased predation due to concentrated animals.

This year, turtles and frogs are on the move, away from areas where there is excessive water.

There’s also a delay in nesting for turtles due to cooler water and air temps.

We suspect there’s some impact to timber rattlesnake dens in a few areas from severe floods that occurred in past years during the summer.

With recent heavy rain and severe flooding in areas of southeastern Minnesota at a time when more snakes are in stream corridors, we may see impacts to some dens.