Pheasant Action Plan Released
Back from Cancer, Kevin Lines will Battle Decline in Pheasants
Longtime conservationist and cancer survivor Kevin Lines knows a thing or two about beating the odds. Doctors told him in 2012 that he needed a bone marrow transplant to survive.
Now he’s back to work taking on a project that aims to reverse the trend of declining pheasant populations in Minnesota. Lines started Feb. 23 as pheasant action plan coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, where he’ll oversee development of a four-year plan to increase and enhance habitat and hunting opportunities in Minnesota’s pheasant range.
Lines, a lifelong hunter and angler who grew up in Milaca and now resides in North Branch, is no stranger to conservation work. He spent decades with the DNR and more recently, with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).
“I really appreciate this opportunity from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr to get back into the conservation game,” Lines said. “We’re really suffering from a loss of habitat, primarily grasslands. Despite the scope of this problem, this new plan will help us make measurable progress over four years.”
The action plan to be released this spring will be based on recommendations from the first Pheasant Summit convened Dec. 13 in Marshall. The event brought together Gov. Mark Dayton and 300-plus hunters, farmers and conservation experts, including those from Pheasants Forever and other organizations. They generated potential solutions to the plight of pheasants, whose numbers have declined significantly in recent years and are an indicator of landscape health.
Leading that effort is a steering committee of representatives from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, BWSR, the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, and the business group Hunting Works for Minnesota.
The committee is charged with providing overarching guidance as recommendations from the Pheasant Summit are developed and implemented. Landwehr will be convening the first meeting on Friday, March 6.
“Accelerating our loss of grassland is the recent expiration of hundreds of thousands of acres in Minnesota that had been enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which retired marginal cropland from production,” Lines said. “In our way forward, we need to preserve the grasslands we have, expand private land conservation programs, prepare for the next farm bill, acquire more public land, accelerate habitat work on state and federally owned wildlife lands, as well as educate people about the importance of grassland.”
He noted that pheasant populations have shown a clear correlation to the amount of land in the CRP program.
Lines can build upon success from his 38 years of conservation work. He was the DNR’s wildlife lake designation coordinator and subsequently supervised the north metro wildlife area. For a decade, he served as the agency’s farmland wildlife program consultant, giving him intimate knowledge of wildlife habitat in the pheasant range.
In 2000, he started as conservation easement section manager with BWSR, and was its main representative to the DNR during the development of the agency’s long-term pheasant, duck and prairie plans. Lines’ leadership at BWSR helped protect more than 100,000 acres through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, thousands more acres through easements in the Reinvest in Minnesota program, and helped leverage millions in federal funds for wetland restoration.
“Because 95 percent of the property in the pheasant range is privately owned, we must work closely with landowners, as well as maximize the habitat we have on existing wildlife management areas,” Lines said. “It’s implementing what we heard at the Pheasant Summit.”
Learn more about the Pheasant Summit at www.mndnr.gov/pheasantsummit.
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New fishing regulations, more opportunities for anglers
Anglers will have more opportunities to fish for bass, sturgeon and trout this year thanks to changes in Minnesota’s fishing regulations.
“This will be a great year to expand your fishing horizons in Minnesota,” said Al Stevens, fisheries program consultant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “There will be a new catch-and-release bass season and additional opportunities to fish for sturgeon and stream trout. Muskellunge will get greater protection, giving anglers more chances to catch one of our state’s most prized trophies.”
Fishing regulation changes are summarized on page six of the 2015 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet, which will be available by Sunday, March 1, at any license agent or online at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn and www.mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing.
Bass fishing expands
Beginning Saturday, May 9, anglers in most of the state can catch and release bass until the regular harvest season opens Saturday, May 23. Meanwhile, anglers in northeast Minnesota can continue to catch and keep bass during these two weeks. Northeast Minnesota is defined as essentially north and east of U.S. Highway 53.
“This new catch-and-release bass season means that anglers statewide can fish for bass starting on the May 9 walleye and northern pike opener,” Stevens said. “Anglers have long asked for more chances to fish for bass in the early part of the fishing season.”
In past years, anglers could not fish for bass until Memorial Day weekend outside northeastern Minnesota. But in the new two-week catch-and-release season, anglers can fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass. All bass caught during this two-week period must immediately be released.
In another bass season change, the fall closure on harvest of smallmouth bass has been lifted in the northeast.
“We’ve heard from anglers in the northeast who have long wanted more opportunities to harvest fish for meals, especially in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area,” Stevens said. “Smallmouth bass populations in the northeast have grown in recent years, and increased harvest of these fish should have minimal impact on bass populations.”
Interested in doing more bass fishing in Minnesota this year? Learn more at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn/bass.
Sturgeon fishing opportunities expand
Anglers will have more opportunities to fish for lake sturgeon starting March 1. However, season dates differ depending on location.
On inland waters and Minnesota waters bordering North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, a new catch-and-release season will allow anglers to fish for lake sturgeon from June 16 until April 14, a season lasting nearly 10 months. Anglers here cannot fish for lake sturgeon from April 15 to June 15, a closure intended to protect the fish during their spawning season.
On Minnesota waters bordering Canada there are harvest, catch-and-release and closed seasons for lake sturgeon. On waters bordering Wisconsin, there is a lake sturgeon harvest season in the St. Croix River south of Taylors Falls including Lake St. Croix, but otherwise all waters have catch-and-release lake sturgeon seasons that differ depending on date and location. Season details can be found in the border waters section of the fishing regulations at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn or on page 43 of the 2015 Fishing Regulations booklet, which will be available online at www.mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing on March 1.
Comebacks staged by lake sturgeon in recent years are making new fishing opportunities possible. Sturgeon numbers grew because of improved water quality, dam removals and restorative stocking efforts, according to Stevens. Yet, despite success stories, lake sturgeon populations remain in recovery mode.
“While it is a positive step to have populations healthy enough for catch-and-release sturgeon angling, the DNR will continue to carefully monitor sturgeon population numbers to make sure they stay healthy,” Stevens said.
Anglers also will find new regulations for shovelnose sturgeon, a species found mostly in the Minnesota River and the Mississippi River below St. Anthony Falls.
Muskie minimum length increased
This year, the minimum length limit to keep a muskie is 54 inches. The previous limit was 48 inches. Various muskie angling organizations supported the change.
“This change will help maintain Minnesota’s place as a nationally recognized destination for trophy muskie angling,” Stevens said.
Exceptions to the new 54-inch minimum length limit apply for muskie-northern pike hybrids, also called tiger muskie, in the seven-county metro area, where the minimum length limit remains 40 inches on certain lakes.
2015 Fishing regulation booklet
Anglers are encouraged to read the 2015 fishing regulations booklet to review these and other changes, including:
- Expanded seasons for stream trout, both in streams and winter fishing in lakes.
- New limits and seasons on Minnesota waters bordering Canada, including a new size restriction for walleye that becomes effective March 1 (only one walleye will be allowed in possession over 20 inches, where previously there was no size restriction).
- The flathead catfish season will close in winter.
Anglers are also reminded to check online at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn and www.mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing for the latest additions or corrections. In addition, changes to special or experimental regulations may be in effect, and are listed by lake online and in the special regulations section of the printed booklet.
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Lake sturgeon continue recovery in Rainy River and Lake of the Woods
A recent lake sturgeon population study in Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River illustrates the slow, steady sturgeon population recovery owing to cleaner water, effective fishing regulations and vigilant enforcement – a success story that one day will allow anglers the realistic expectation of catching 100-pound sturgeon.
“This strategy has worked very well,” said Henry Drewes, northwest region fisheries manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The fact that the lake sturgeon population has continued to expand in numbers, as well as in size and age distribution, under ever-increasing angling pressure is credit to those who worked together to bring about this recovery.”
The population study assessed and estimated the number of lake sturgeon longer than 40 inches, part of an effort to gain more information and a better understanding of lake sturgeon status, population dynamics and movement patterns. Sturgeon longer than 40 inches can be sampled with confidence using available gear, and at that size the fish are approaching sexual maturity.
There are an estimated 92,000 lake sturgeon longer than 40 inches in the system, which compares to an estimated 59,000 fish in 2004 and 17,000 in 1989.
“This is another high point in a continuing recovery success story,” said Phil Talmage, Baudette area fisheries supervisor with the DNR. “Results of the latest study show there’s a greater number of large lake sturgeon in the population than in 2004, when a similar study was conducted.”
In mid-April, 2014, in cooperation with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources offices in Kenora, Fort Frances and Thunder Bay and the Rainy River First Nations, DNR fisheries biologists from Baudette and International Falls began setting nets to capture and tag lake sturgeon. The study area included spawning sites on tributaries, all 82 river-miles of the Rainy River below the International Falls dam, Fourmile Bay, and a large portion of Big Traverse Bay on Lake of the Woods.
From June through mid-September, biologists used gill nets to recapture sturgeon at randomly selected sites on the southeastern portion of Lake of the Woods, and the entire length of the Rainy River.
“This was a very ambitious project given the size of the study area, the nomadic nature of lake sturgeon and the sheer number of fish required to make a statistically valid estimate,” Talmage said. “We are extremely pleased with the results of this effort.”
Anglers who were fishing for lake sturgeon in the study area during the tagging phase helped by allowing biologists to tag sturgeon they caught. With angler help, DNR biologists tagged 1,291 lake sturgeon longer than 40 inches, then used that count and data obtained from the recapture efforts to estimate the total population at 92,000.
“We appreciate the cooperation from anglers who allowed DNR staff in boats to tag and release their fish,” Talmage said. “These folks were a valuable part of our research efforts.”
Successful recovery means more angling opportunities
The outlook for lake sturgeon hasn’t always been so positive. Over-harvest through the late 1800s and early 1900s decimated the lake sturgeon population in Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River. Despite reduced harvest, poor water quality played a major role in limiting sturgeon recovery.
Water-quality improvements directly linked to clean water regulations beginning in the 1960s set the stage for restoration of this unique fishery. Better water quality in the Rainy River initiated a dramatic response in lake sturgeon reproduction and survival, which became the basis for population recovery.
“The recovery of the Rainy River is one of the best examples of how clean water regulation positively influenced angler opportunities in Minnesota,” Drewes said. “This is truly a unique opportunity that continues to improve for anglers.”
Based on the research findings and the success of the recovery program, lake sturgeon populations should remain strong and anglers can expect more opportunities to catch larger fish in the future.
“One day, in the not so distant future, lake sturgeon in the 100-pound class will become a realistic expectation for lake sturgeon anglers,” Drewes said.
To find more information on sturgeon fishing, including seasons and limits, see www.mndnr.gov/fishmn/sturgeon. More information on sturgeon in Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River can be found at www.mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries/baudette.
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DNR announces new special angling regulations
Angling regulations will change on nearly three dozen waters this year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Among the changes: Anglers will see more restrictive walleye regulations in and around Saganaga Lake in Cook County. Lake Winnibigoshish will have a relaxed, or narrower, protected slot limit for walleye. And northern pike special regulations will be removed on Big Birch Lake in Todd County.
Changed and new special and experimental regulations will be posted at public accesses on affected lakes and become effective March 1, except for those involving Sand Lake in Itasca County and connected waters, which will be effective in 2016.
Saganaga, Sea Gull, and Gull lakes (Cook County) and connected waters – Walleye will have a 17-inch minimum length restriction and a bag limit of three established to protect small walleye to make the most of limited production of those fish from natural reproduction or stocking. Fish managers have been concerned for several years about low numbers of young walleye seen in these lakes, and the possibility that without some protection, those low numbers would result in even lower numbers of adult fish, with further reductions in spawning success. Effects of this regulation will be studied for the next 10 years, and will be reviewed with the public in 2024.
Sauk River chain of lakes (Stearns County) – Anglers will have an expanded opportunity to harvest channel catfish, which became established in the late 1970s and since have become very abundant. A bag limit of 10, but with only one of the 10 longer than 24 inches, is to provide the opportunity for more harvest yet still provide a healthy population of catfish.
Lake George (Hubbard County) – Bass will have a protected slot limit of 14-to 20-inches, with one longer than 20 inches allowed in a possession limit of six. The lake has a healthy population of bass shorter than 15 inches but fewer larger bass compared to other nearby lakes and the regulation is designed to boost numbers of larger bass.
Sand Lake (Itasca County) and connected waters (Birdseye, Portage and Little Sand lakes) –Starting in May of 2016, walleye will have a 17- to 26-inch protected slot limit with one fish longer than 26 inches allowed in a possession limit of six. This experimental regulation is intended to increase abundance of spawning-age walleye, stabilize reproduction, and end boom-and-bust cycles of fishing success for walleye. The regulation will be monitored for 10 years and its effect on walleye and fishing will be reviewed with the public in 2025.
Lake Winnibigoshish – Walleye will have an 18- to 23-inch protected slot, with only one longer than 23 inches, relaxed from the previous 17- to 26-inch protected slot. This is to allow for more harvest opportunities while still maintaining protection to spawning-age fish. In recent years the slot limit on Winnibigoshish has consistently met objectives established for the regulation.
Clitherall and Sewell lakes (Otter Tail County) – On Clitherall Lake, smallmouth bass will have 14- to 20-inch protected slot limit with one longer than 20 inches allowed in a possession of six. This regulation replaces the catch and release regulation that has been in place for the last 10 years. The regulation for largemouth and smallmouth bass on Sewell Lake has also been changed to a 14- to 20-inch protected slot limit. This replaces the 12- to 20-inch protected slot limit. Both lakes have quality populations of bass but managers believe these lakes can sustain quality fish while allowing additional harvest for bass shorter than 14 inches.
Big Mantrap (Hubbard County) – Black crappie will no longer have a 10-inch minimum length restriction but will continue to have a restricted bag limit of five. The minimum length limit was determined to be ineffective at increasing the size of crappie in Big Mantrap Lake.
Regulations turning permanent
Special or experimental regulations will be dropped on four waters and return to statewide or border waters regulations.
Regulation objectives for improving northern pike in Big Birch Lake in Todd County; walleye and sunfish in Cottonwood Lake in Grant County; and sunfish in Mississippi River navigation pools 5, 5a, and 8 on Minnesota-Wisconsin border waters were not achieved, so special or experimental restrictions will be lifted.
For similar reasons, on Jewett and Pickerel lakes in Otter Tail County, bass regulations will return to statewide limits.
Three lakes that have had experimental or temporary emergency regulations will become permanent special regulations. Reduced bag limits of five sunfish on Pimushe Lake in Beltrami County and 10 sunfish on Star Lake in Otter Tail County were shown to have effectively maintained quality populations of sunfish.
The temporary catch-and-release regulation for a genetically unique population of lake trout in Mukooda Lake in St. Louis County was made a special regulation to conserve these fish for further study. On nearby Little Trout Lake, which also has a unique genetic population, there will be a new catch-and-release regulation for lake trout. Both lakes are accessible in Voyageurs National Park and anglers may travel through these lakes with lake trout legally harvested on other waters.
In most years, the DNR reviews the effectiveness of some existing regulations and also considers proposals for new regulations. After evaluating information collected from lake and angler surveys, the department takes public input before making decisions based on management goals. For more information, see www.mndnr.gov/fishmn.
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