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DNR advances work to protect lands, waters, and species in 2013

December 30, 2013

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is working hard to preserve and protect the state’s environment through research and active conservation projects.

For example, in 2013, the agency preserved more than 21,000 acres of conservation lands and initiated two major research projects to determine what’s killing the state’s iconic moose.

Further, the state now has an updated endangered species list and hunters and anglers can for the first time purchase licenses on their smartphones with a new mobile application.

Also, the historic swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park reopened to the public after being destroyed by floods last year.

“We at your DNR worked hard this year, tackling some tough issues,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We achieved successes that touched Minnesotans across the state. We’ve got lots more to do. We’re looking forward to some big challenges and some big accomplishments in 2014.”

Among this year’s highlights:

Major Moose Studies Launched

The DNR instituted two large research projects to determine what is killing the state’s adult and calf moose population.

The adult study involved capturing 110 moose during the winter of 2013 and affixing radio-telemetry collars that have the ability to send text messages to researchers when a moose has died.

Researchers can quickly get to animals, obtain diagnostic samples, and determine the cause of death.

A similar study is examining calf moose mortality factors.

Aquatic Invasive Species Response

The DNR increased enforcement and education efforts to gain voluntary compliance with Minnesota’s invasive species regulations. DNR conservation officers made 17,000 citizen contacts for aquatic invasive species (AIS) education and enforcement, conducted 18 AIS roadside check stations, and made 322 inspections.

The agency deployed three new, specially trained zebra mussel detection dogs and continued working with lake associations and other user groups to spread the word about controlling the spread of AIS.

The DNR completed a statewide watershed-based risk assessment of potential pathways for the spread of Asian carp by their own swimming abilities.

Efforts continued on a design for an effective carp barrier at Lock and Dam 1 on the Mississippi River.

The DNR has continued to support the closure of Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam to prevent the upstream spread of carp.

Phase one of improvements to the Coon Rapids dam was completed to make it a more effective carp barrier.

Projects are still ongoing in southwestern Minnesota to limit the expansion of Asian carp in the Missouri River watershed portion of Minnesota.

The Department collaborated closely with the new University of Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Institute to look for long-term control techniques.

Protecting Minnesota’s Conservation Lands

The DNR protected more than 21,000 acres of conservation lands in 2013, including the addition of more than 8,300 acres to the state wildlife management area system through fee title acquisition, partner acquisitions, and land donations.
The DNR also completed a 10,581 forest conservation easement near Finland, MN., and accepted a donation from
The Nature Conservancy of the 2,751-acre Camp Lake forest property in Cass County.

Connecting People with the Outdoors

The DNR’s popular “I Can!” programs in state parks, where families are provided equipment and instruction on outdoor recreation activities, served a record 2,000 visitors in 2013.

The Archery in the Schools program reached more than 166,000 Minnesota students.

The MinnAqua program taught fishing skills and education to more than 50,000 youth, and the DNR certified approximately 21,000 new students through firearms safety training, with the help of many volunteers.

A new trail center was constructed at Bear Head Lake State Park and a new visitor center is under construction at Tettegouche State Park.

The Upper Mississippi Academy charter school was selected to lease and redevelop part of the Fort Snelling Upper Post national historic landmark.

Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species List Updated

The state’s Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species List, first established in 1984, was updated for the first time since 1996.

Using significant new information, the DNR proposed status changes to 300 species of plants and animals.

Following five public hearings, an 86-day comment period, and approval from an administrative law judge, the DNR adopted the new list on Aug. 19.

Twenty-nine species, including the bald eagle, wolf, and snapping turtle, were removed from the list, while 180 species were added and 91 species had their status changed.

Making Information More Accessible

Mobile applications for smartphones became available to hunters and anglers, enabling them to purchase their fishing and hunting licenses (if they don’t require a site tag), and to register their harvest or obtain wolf season updates.

This new service is a major convenience for outdoor enthusiasts.

The DNR’s popular Lakefinder website was also improved and is now available through a mobile application.

In addition to detailed maps of each lake, the site provides information on invasive species, special fishing regulations, fish stocking and management data, and other information useful to lake users.

These applications were built and implemented in partnership with a licensing vendor at no cost to the state.

A new DNR land records computer system integrates work flow and data management so our internal and external customers get more accurate and timely information about land transactions.

Wildfire Fighting

In May, DNR wildland firefighters, along with a mutual aid response from over 40 local fire departments, saved more than 400 structures at the Green Valley fire near Menahga.

While the fire ultimately destroyed 12 homes, 43 outbuildings, and three commercial properties in Becker, Hubbard, and Wadena counties, there were no human accidents or injuries.

Approximately 217 personnel from the DNR, their local fire department partners, and federal, state, and local emergency response organizations fought the fire, evacuated and cared for local citizens and dealt with the aftermath of the wildfire.

Flood Recovery at Jay Cooke State Park

After being destroyed by floods in June 2012, the historic swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park reopened to the public Nov. 1.

The 219-foot bridge is now ADA-compliant with a wheelchair platform and turnaround location.

The repairs cost about $1.1 million, with money coming from the 2012 bonding bill and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Jay Cooke is the ninth most visited of Minnesota’s 76 state parks and recreation areas in 2010.

Minerals Management

The DNR improved the state non-ferrous metallic minerals lease sale process to provide further transparency and more opportunities for public comment.

Improvements include reviewing and updating the land use evaluation processes; preparing a draft mining unit book at the beginning of the formal mineral lease sale process; expanding notification of the mineral lease sale; improving maps of the mineral lease sale parcels; and expanding education and communication.

NorthMet Environmental Impact Study Released

The DNR worked with other agencies to prepare a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for Minnesota’s first proposed copper-nickel mine and processing plant.

Proposed by PolyMet Mining, the NorthMet project would include a mine near Babbitt and a refurbished taconite processing plant near Hoyt Lakes.

The 2,200-page SDEIS was published in December and initiates a 90-day public review and comment period for the document.

Energy Conservation

In 2013, the DNR installed six renewable energy systems (solar panels) at sites across the state, including Soudan Underground Mine, Tettegouche and Afton state parks.

The DNR now has 31 renewable energy systems installed around the state.

These sites will generate over 700,000 kilowatt-hours annually, or enough electricity to run about 63 average U.S. homes for a year.

The installations save the agency about $70,000 in reduced operating costs per year and help reduce emissions by over 1.2 million pounds of carbon per year.

Silica Sand

The DNR created a new permit for silica sand facilities in the southeastern portion of the state where there is critical cold-water habitat for trout.

Under the new permit program, proposed silica sand facilities within 1 mile of designated trout streams must apply for a DNR permit, which can only be granted when no impacts to trout streams are proven.

The agency also began developing rules on the reclamation of silica sand projects and participated with other state agencies to develop tools and recommendations to assist local governments with regulating silica sand mines and facilities.

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon

The DNR was recognized as a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon company in June 2013.

This recognition is for agencies or companies with a detailed plan for supporting their military members and families.

The program also recognizes the DNR’s dedication to hiring and supporting military staff and veterans.

Completion of the White Earth Land Settlement Act (WELSA)

WELSA was a legislative settlement to transfer 10,000 acres of land from state ownership to ownership in trust for the White Earth Band.

Most parcels were conveyed in the 1990s, and in 2013 the DNR facilitated the final completion of deed transfers for the final 22 parcels that had been awaiting resolution for a number of years.

Legacy Amendment

The DNR created a new map, web page and other materials explaining the environmental improvements and accomplishments that have resulted from the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

The agency highlighted the fifth anniversary of the amendment’s passage with specific examples of environmental work occurring around the state.

For more information about all of the accomplishments, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/aboutdnr/accomplishments2013.html.

Prairie Archers steak/shrimp dinner Tues., Dec. 31

Prairie Archers will be hosting a steak/shrimp dinner at the Dodge House in Lester Prairie Tuesday, Dec. 31 from 5 to 8 p.m.

Options for the dinner include steak and shrimp combo ($13), steak ($11), pork chop ($10), six shrimp ($9), and ribeye ($15).

Each meal includes baked potato, tossed salad, bread, dessert, and coffee or milk.

Reservations need to be made by Monday, Dec. 30 before 6 p.m., and be called in to the Dodge House at (320) 395-2877 or to Jim Richardson at (320) 395-2721 or (612) 636-7214.

Carver County Pheasants Forever annual banquet Sat., Jan. 18

The Carver County Pheasants Forever 28th annual banquet will be Saturday, Jan. 18 at the Hamburg Community Hall starting at 5 p.m.

If you are interested in attending, contact Randy Wendland at (612) 270-8583 or at bwendland@bevcomm.net to purchase tickets.

Entries sought for duck stamp contest

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting entries for the 2014 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest, which, in Minnesota, is administered by Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Student artwork will be judged in four grade groups: kindergarten through third grade, fourth through sixth grade, seventh through ninth grade, and 10th through 12th grade.

Submitted artwork must feature a native North American waterfowl species. A full list of permitted species, as well as an entry form and information about the contest is available at www.fws.gov/juniorduck.

Entries must be postmarked by Saturday, March 15, 2014, and mailed to Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 3815 American Blvd East, Bloomington, MN 55425.

Three first-, three second-, and three third-place, along with 16 honorable mentions will be awarded in each age group.

In addition, the conservation message and special student honors will be awarded.

The artwork will be judged on original design, artistic composition, and suitability for reproduction on a 1-inch-by-11.5-inch stamp.

A Best of Show entry will be selected from the 12 first-place winners and entered in the national contest in April.

The national winner’s artwork is used to create a Junior Duck Stamp each year. The stamp is available for $5, with proceeds used to support conservation education and contest awards.

For more information, contact Mara Koenig at (952) 858-0710, or mara_koenig@fws.gov.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: How does the winter cold and snow affect deer, and how do they survive Minnesota’s winter weather?

A: Wildlife in Minnesota must be able to withstand a wide variety of environmental conditions, which provides a niche for cold-adapted species that may otherwise be outcompeted by species that cannot survive the winter.

White tailed deer are found throughout North America and Central America, but also exhibit some winter adaptations.

The heavy fur on the outside of a deer’s coat is hollow.

The air stored inside each hair serves as an insulator that buffers the deer’s warm body from colder outside temperatures, much like the insulation inside a house’s wall traps warm air.

Snow affects deer in many ways. Like the hair on a deer’s back, fluffy snow can also trap air and provide good insulation for any animal that beds down in a deep snow drift. Snow can also be a detriment to deer because it can make food more difficult to find.

In winter, deer often shift from typical grazers feeding on grasses and herbaceous plants to browsers that feed on buds and rely on fat reserves gained during the summer.

Deep snow can also make travel more difficult for deer, meaning that they may alter their movement patterns or try to find areas where food and cover from wind are nearby one another.

This can cause deer to “herd up” in winter as they congregate near an available source of food or a windbreak.