DNR, partners working on 4-year plan to boost pheasant numbers

December 29, 2014

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Citizen input from the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Summit soon will be converted into a four-year action plan to increase and enhance grassland habitat on public and private lands.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said agency staff and partner organizations are analyzing dozens of recommendations from the Dec. 13 summit in Marshall.

This first summit brought together Gov. Mark Dayton and 300-plus hunters, farmers and conservation experts, including those from Pheasants Forever.

Together, they focused on pheasant habitat, pheasant biology and they spent much of the day identifying potential solutions to the plight of a bird whose numbers are declining at a significant rate.

“Citizens talked. We listened. The next step is to convert words into actions,” Landwehr said.

Landwehr said citizen input will be used to develop a summary of the Pheasant Summit recomendations that will be shared with the public in mid-January.

“The focus will be about increasing bird numbers not government regulations,” Landwehr said. “Realistically, that means zeroing in on the interests and needs of private landowners as they own 95 percent of the property in the pheasant range.”

Landwehr said the action plan to be completed in 2015 will include recommendations for increasing the quality and quantity of public grasslands but “the inescapable truth is what happens on private farmland is what drives pheasant numbers because of the vastly higher proportion of acres in private ownership.”

The summit was emceed by Minnesota conservationist Ron Schara, who termed the pheasant the proverbial canary in a coal mine.

“As pheasant numbers go, so go our bobolinks, butterflies, pollinators and more,” he said.

Both Schara and Dayton urged the group to focus on strategies that will increase pheasant numbers, improve habitat, and make sure future generations have the opportunity to enjoy one of the state’s most popular game birds.

“I was pleased we could have a candid conversation about habitat loss and its impact on our pheasant population,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “The summit produced a good variety of strategies to consider as we work to improve the future for pheasants in Minnesota.”

Minnesota’s current pheasant population estimate is down 71 percent from the long-term average.

Minnesota hunters harvested more than one million pheasants annually from 1931 to 1964; the 2014 harvest is projected to be about one-fourth of that.

Said Landwehr: “That’s what happens when only two percent of the state’s original 18 million acres of prairie remain and 490,000 acres of grassland have disappeared since 2007 through expiring contracts in the Conservation Reserve Program.”

Landwehr said it will take a couple of weeks to “accurately sort out the input of such a large group” and that he is buoyed by the depth and breadth of innovative ideas.

“Finding strategies that work for both land and people is key,” said John Jaschke, executive director of the Board of Water and Soil Resources. “Projects and practices to achieve clean water or soil improvement can help the pheasant population. Site selection and design can be adjusted to build habitat into watershed protection projects. Grassland buffers are one such example of a multi-benefit practice that was highlighted at the summit.”

Convened by Dayton, the Pheasant Summit was attended by citizens, conservation groups and many state, local and federal entities that deliver habitat conservation programs, including the DNR, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource and Conservation Service and more.

Learn more about the Pheasant Summit recommendations and current programs at www.dnr.state.mn.us/pheasantsummit/index.html.

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

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

Reservations need to be called in before 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 29 to either Jim Richardson (320) 395-2721 or the Dodge House (320) 395-2877.

The steak and shrimp combo costs $13; steak only is $11; pork chop is $10; six shrimp is $9; or a ribeye is $15.

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

Carver Co. PF annual banquet Jan. 17

The Carver County Pheasants Forever Chapter will host its 29th annual banquet Saturday, Jan. 17.

The banquet will take place at the Hamburg Community Hall starting at 5 p.m. for social hour. The dinner will begin at 7 p.m.

To get tickets to the event, or for more information, contact Randy Wendland or go to https://pheasantsforeverevents.org/event/1117.

Annual hunting and fishing expo set for March 21

The Christian Deer Hunters Association will host The Big Little Hunting & Fishing Expo & Auction Saturday, March 21 in the Agribition Center at the McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

This is an event for the entire family. Outdoor-related booths will fill the building, and there will be live and silent auctions, food, and hunting and fishing seminars throughout the day.

Youth will enjoy such things as a live trout pond, marshmallow gun shooting gallery, fishing for prizes, minnow races, hands-on fly-tying, and more.

The Minnesota Official Measurers will score your buck’s rack for free.

For more information, seminar times, auction times, and the exhibitors list, visit www.christiandeerhunters.org, or call (320) 327-2266.

Ruling classifies MN wolves as threatened
From the DNR

Effective immediately, Minnesotans can no longer legally kill a wolf except in the defense of human life.

A federal judge’s decision to immediately reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan place the animals under protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolves now revert to the federal protection status they had prior to being removed from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes region in January 2012.

That means wolves now are federally classified as threatened in Minnesota and endangered elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.

Only agents of the government are authorized to take wolves if depredation occurs.

Dec. 19 ruling makes killing wolves illegal
From the DNR

Effective immediately, wolves in Minnesota can only be killed in defense of human life.

Only agents of the government are authorized to take wolves if pets or livestock are threatened, attacked or killed.

Protect all evidence and report depredation incidents to a DNR conservation officer.

Use the Conservation Officer Locator and leave a recorded message 24/7.

A federal judge’s decision to immediately reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan place the animals under protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolves now revert to the federal protection status they had prior to being removed from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes region in January 2012.

That means wolves now are federally classified as threatened in Minnesota and endangered elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.

Fishing over the limit nets big fine, loss of boat
From the DNR

An Illinois angler faces nearly $2,200 in fines and restitution, plus the loss of his boat and equipment, following an investigation by conservation officers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Charles H. Siegerdt, 54, Keenyville, Illinois, was recently found with a gross over the limit of 21 bass (42 fillets) and 19 northern pike (38 fillets) at an Itasca County resort.

The daily possession limit in Minnesota is six bass and three northerns.

“Mr. Siegerdt admitted to possessing an over limit in the initial contact, about 14 bass and northerns combined,” said Conservation Officer Jayson Hansen of Big Fork.

When asked where he kept his fish, Siegerdt pointed to the resort cabin he had been staying at and said the fish were in the cabin freezer.

Siegerdt led the officer into the cabin and opened the freezer.

“The freezer was full of plastic bags with frozen fish in them. I immediately recognized this as over the legal limit,” Hansen said.

When asked if he had skin patches on all the fillets, Siegerdt said, “No.”

Minnesota law requires anglers leave at least a one-square-inch patch of skin with scales so fish species can be identified when transporting them.

Siegerdt said he had been coming to Minnesota to fish for 35 years.

Siegerdt asked if he had to pay the fine and restitution immediately; he was told he could, or he could pay it later, or he could go to court.

“Mr. Siegerdt said he wasn’t going to fight anything,” Hansen said.

Conservation officers also confiscated Siegerdt’s boat, boat motor, and boat trailer. He also surrendered two rods and reels. Those items will be auctioned off at a later date with the proceeds going to the DNR’s Game and Fish Fund.

Siegerdt was cooperative during the investigation.

“After collecting his personal items from the boat he reached out and shook our hands, said he understood, and said it wouldn’t happen again,” Hansen said.

Hansen added, “Basically I want people to understand that if they are caught with a gross over limit they will face large fines, loss of privileges in all Wildlife Violator Compact states, and the loss of their equipment.”

The Wildlife Violator Compact is an agreement between states that recognizes the suspension of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses in member states.

Minnesota is one of 43 states that participate in the compact.

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.

DNR expands winter trout fishing in SE Minnesota
From the DNR

Fly fishing guide Dan Michener walked to a partially snow-covered riverbank in Whitewater State Park. He cast a tiny nymph into the water several times then let it drift through deeper pools, hoping to entice a trout to bite.

Although Michener bought his first fly rod in 1967 and is no stranger to winter trout fishing, this season is bringing him some firsts.

For the first time, starting Thursday, Jan. 1, streams in an eight-county area in southeastern Minnesota will open to catch-and-release trout fishing.

In the past, winter fishing in the area was limited to only a few designated streams. And for the first time, trout fishing in southeastern Minnesota state parks is open all year.

“This is a new era for winter fishing,” Michener said.

Fishing for trout in winter weather adds some unique challenges. Anglers use tackle generally designed for finesse during a season when cold and bulky clothing seem to bedevil attempts at graceful movement. Fingers stiffen up. Ice seeks to clog line guides and can foul up fly line, making casting difficult. Because of the cold, outings usually are limited to a couple hours or so.

But all that isn’t stopping Michener, who has reached fishing spots in snowshoes, during blizzards and in the cold. He had good luck in the cold last winter on a designated trout stream nearby.

“It was three degrees. I was in Lanesboro last year and I had really good fishing,” Michener said.

Winter weather also is not appearing to stop the numerous anglers interested in winter fly fishing who have been calling the Whitewater park office and the area fisheries office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with questions.

“Most have never fished in winter,” said Vaughn Snook, assistant area fisheries supervisor in Lanesboro who’s worked since 2009 to help expand southeastern Minnesota trout fishing opportunities. He receives phone calls on a regular basis. “They want to know what fly patterns to use or where to go.”

The new regulations that went into effect this year make trout fishing in the southeast more accessible. In the eight southeastern Minnesota counties included in the new regulations – they are Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties – anglers get a catch-and-release season that runs from Jan. 1 to the beginning of the harvest season.

The harvest season runs from Saturday, April 18, to Monday, Sept. 14. Following that, southeastern streams are open to a fall catch-and-release season from Tuesday, Sept. 15, through Thursday, Oct. 15.

Outside of state parks, fishing closes for two and a half months to reduce competition between hunters on private land and anglers, and during spawning of brown and brook trout. It’s a somewhat simpler story in state parks, where anglers can fish all year under either a catch-and-release or harvest season.

In state parks, the new regulations include the following waters: East Beaver Creek in Beaver Creek Valley State Park; Forestville Creek in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park; Canfield Creek in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park; South Branch Root River in Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park; Trout Run Creek in Whitewater State Park and Middle Branch Whitewater River in Whitewater State Park.

Regardless of the expanded opportunities, anglers who plan to fish for trout should still check to see if there are any special regulations, including slot limits and required use of artificial lures and flies, for the stream where they plan to fish.

Winter fishing tends to be most productive between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Michener said that when the fishing is really good an angler can catch and release 20 fish in an hour or two.

Besides the action from the fish, a winter angler can see birds and other wildlife along the river. And winter fishing is another reason to get outdoors and seek some solitude.

“I think it’s a lot of people who don’t like ice fishing. They don’t snowmobile or cross country ski. You sit at home and tie flies and look for something to do,” Michener said.

On that early December day, even though the fishing was slow, Michener still managed to get three strikes on his nymph, and before long the drag on his reel hummed as the rod bent sharply. He landed a brown trout.

“Healthy. A great looking trout,” Snook said, looking on.

Michener released the fish, which darted back toward a pool in the river under the steep sandstone banks, perhaps for another angler to catch some day.

To find more information on trout fishing, including seasons and limits, see www.mndnr.gov/fishmn/trout.

New treatment aims to eradicate Christmas Lake zebra mussels
From the DNR

In an effort to eliminate any remaining zebra mussels from Christmas Lake in Shorewood, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has undertaken an experimental treatment that has been used only twice before in the U.S.

On Friday, Dec. 19, a contractor working with the DNR injected 1,000 pounds of potassium chloride under the ice near the public boat access on the northwest corner of Christmas Lake.

The chemical – also referred to as potash – kills zebra mussels by interfering with their ability to breathe, but it does not affect fish.

The potash application is the third treatment at the lake, where a small number of zebra mussels were found in August as part of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District’s early detection monitoring program.

Because the mussels were found early and were confined to a small area, DNR staff thought it feasible that treatment might eliminate them.

The DNR and the district have subsequently treated the affected portion of the lake with Zequanox, a substance made up of dead bacteria, and later with a copper-based chemical.

“We’re trying all available options at Christmas Lake as the zebra mussel infestation was isolated to a small area of the lake,” said Keegan Lund, an invasive species specialist for the DNR. “Most importantly, we’re learning a lot about new treatment methods for zebra mussels that have not been used before in lakes.”

This treatment is only the third time that potash has been used for zebra mussel control in the United States.

Because the chemical is not a federally registered pesticide, the DNR first needed to obtain authorization from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under an emergency exemption.

Potash then needed to be registered as a pesticide with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also reviewed the potash treatment plan and did not find immediate water quality concerns with the proposal.

If successful, the efforts at Christmas Lake could become the first time zebra mussels have been eradicated from a Minnesota water body, providing valuable information on treatment options when the invasive pests are discovered early.

A potash treatment may also be tried next spring on Lake Independence, where zebra mussels were found in October at the Baker Park Reserve boat launch.

Both lakes will continue to be monitored to determine if the treatments were successful.

Zebra mussels are an invasive species that can crowd out native mussels and compete for food sources with other aquatic animals such as larval fish.

They attach to boat hulls and other water-related equipment and can create a hazard for swimmers due to their sharp shells.

CO weekly reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers this past week.
CO Mies worked on a trespass complaint along with aeration permits.
CO Mies finished up with a big game case.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) fishing activity has been picking up on area lakes, with that individuals pushed their luck with ice conditions.
Anglers should beware the thawing has changed ice condition especially were runoff comes into the lakes.
Enforcement action was taken for several angling and ATV violations.

• CO Brent Grewe (Minnetonka) spent the week checking anglers and investigating complaints.
CO Grewe followed up with owners of fish houses that had fallen through the ice and picked up an injured owl.

• CO Nicholas Klehr (Litchfield) spent the week checking ice fishermen, many of whom are still reporting a slow bite.
Lend and borrow deer cases were followed up on.
Klehr also attended an Avid anglers meeting where he talked with the group and answered a few questions.
Klehr also worked with the local Police Department and Sheriff’s Department for “Shop with a Cop.” There was a good turnout of kids that all left very happy.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) continued with follow ups from the end of the muzzleloader season.
She checked anglers throughout the week and attended a meeting at Camp Ripley with fellow UOF instructors.
Mueller also assisted with some houses left within the warning signs of an aeration system prior to it being turned on.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked mainly ice angling enforcement.
Fishing in the area has been slow.
Oberg also attended a Use of Force and armorers meeting at Camp Ripley.
Recreational vehicles continue to be worked in the area.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: How does the DNR decide whether to aerate a lake to prevent winterkill of fish?

A: The DNR does not aerate lakes, but we do issue permits to lake associations, counties and other local partners who want to aerate shallow lakes that are prone to winterkill due to lack of dissolved oxygen in the water.

Public safety is the primary concern, so these permits require aerated parts of the lake to be clearly marked with thin ice signs and located away from high-traffic areas such as boat launches and snowmobile trails.

DNR fisheries and wildlife managers often provide guidance on whether or not aeration is a good idea for a given lake.

Some shallow lakes are important habitat for waterfowl, where fish compete with ducks and geese for food while stirring up sediment that can harm aquatic vegetation.

In those cases, natural winterkill of fish serves an important biological purpose.