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Last Updated: Sept 2012
A mild winter followed by a warm spring contributed to a significant increase in Minnesota's pheasant count, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The pheasant population index increased 68 percent from 2011. Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 290,000 roosters this fall. That's up from last year's estimated harvest of 204,000 but roughly half the number taken during the 2005-2008 seasons when hunting was exceptionally good.
"While the 2012 increase reflects movement in a positive direction, the counts still remain 51 percent below the 10-year average," said Kurt Haroldson, the DNR biologist who compiled the survey.
While favorable weather worked in the birds' favor this year, their long-term success is more closely linked to habitat than annual variations in snowfall, rainfall and temperature.
"The state's pheasant population is linked more closely to quantity and quality of habitat than annual differences in weather," Haroldson said.
The pheasant population estimate is part of the DNR's annual roadside wildlife survey. The survey summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, gray (Hungarian) partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first half of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota.
The highest pheasant counts were in the west central region, where observers reported 58 birds per 100 miles of survey driven. Hunters will find good harvest opportunities in portions of west central, east central and southwest Minnesota.
The most important habitat for pheasants is grassland that remains undisturbed during the nesting season. Protected grasslands account for about 6 percent of the state's pheasant range. Farmland retirement programs such as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CRP), Reinvest in Minnesota and Wetlands Reserve Program make up the largest portion of protected grasslands in the state.
High land rental rates and competing uses for farmland diminish the economic attractiveness of farmland conservation programs. During the next three years, contracts for 620,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 42 percent.
Minnesota's pheasant population largely has mirrored what's happened on the land.
"Pheasant numbers were higher during the small, diversified farming days from roughly 1931 to 1964 when habitat was more abundant," Haroldson said. "Pheasant numbers declined during the intensive farming boom from 1965-1986 as field sizes grew and habitat shrank. Then, pheasant numbers rebounded when CRP began in 1987. However, enrollment in that program peaked several years ago, and further declines will not bode well for future pheasant populations."
To help offset continued habitat losses caused by reductions in conservation set-aside acreage, DNR has accelerated acquisition of wildlife management areas in the farmland region of Minnesota. DNR also supports habitat conservation on private lands by working with a variety of partners in the Farm Bill Assistance Partnership and Working Lands Initiative. More than 15,000 acres of private property have been opened to public hunting through the state's Walk-In Access program.
The August roadside survey, which began in the late 1940s, was standardized in 1955. DNR conservation officers and wildlife managers in the farmland region of Minnesota conduct the survey during the first half of August. This year's survey consisted of 171 routes, each 25 miles long, with 152 routes located in the ring-necked pheasant range. The complete report is available online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant.
Observers drive each route in early morning and record the number and species of wildlife they see. The data provide an index of relative abundance and are used to monitor annual changes and long term trends in populations of ring-necked pheasants, gray partridge, eastern cottontail rabbits, white tailed jackrabbits and other select wildlife species.The gray partridge index also increased from last year and is similar to the 10-year average. The cottontail rabbit index remains below the 10-year and long-term average. The jackrabbit index was 96 percent below the long-term average. Finally, the mourning dove index was 36 percent above last year but similar to the 10-year average.
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DNR welcomes 12 conservation officer candidates
Twelve conservation officer candidates, selected from 800 applicants, are spending the next 12 weeks at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Enforcement Conservation Officer Academy at Camp Ripley.
The candidates are receiving instruction on fish and wildlife laws, rules of evidence, patrol procedures, search and rescue, and fish and wildlife investigation. Upon graduation, the new conservation officers will spend 16 weeks in field training with a veteran conservation officer before receiving their initial assignment.
The officer candidates represent the 14th academy class of Minnesota conservation officers, celebrating 125 years of service to the people of Minnesota.
"Conservation officers are the face of the department so it's important to project a positive, professional image," said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner.
Landwehr added that being a conservation officer is not a job, but a lifestyle, demanding on family, inherent with the dangers associated with natural resources law enforcement.
Despite the personal and professional challenges, Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director said being a conservation officer can be a very rewarding and satisfying career.
"On a beautiful summer day you could be working from a boat, or during the winter you could be working from a snowmobile, rarely is there a day where you won't think 'this is great,"' Konrad said.
Conservation officers ensure the future of natural resources opportunities for the people of Minnesota through responsible enforcement of appropriate laws, regulations and rules. A normal field station covers 650 square miles so conservation officers usually work alone and cover extensive and often remote areas of Minnesota. Unlike most other law enforcement agencies, conservation officers seldom have backup support when they encounter potential lawbreakers.
Currently, 25 of DNR's 155 conservation officer field stations are empty.
Konrad had some parting words of encouragement for the recruits. "Work hard, do your best and make us proud."
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Block said the majority of WIA acres are enrolled for multiple years and are also enrolled in a federal or state conservation program designed to maintain cover on the acres. Many of these conservation programs have been opened to emergency haying and grazing in response to severe drought conditions across the country. Landowners under WIA contracts will be allowed to remove a portion of the forage from those conservation lands, but their WIA payment will be reduced 25 percent for the year. The WIA website will list the sites that have been approved for emergency haying or grazing.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded the first two years of the program. The Minnesota Legislature has approved additional funding for WIA. A $5 surcharge on non-resident hunting licenses has been directed to the program. Resident hunters have the opportunity to donate $1, $3 or $5 to the program when purchasing a small game or deer license.
“Hunter support is key to this program,” Block said. “Using the land, respecting the land and donating to the Walk-In program will help build future access for hunters.”
WIA land is open to hunting from Sept. 1 to May 31 each year.
WIA a partnership among the DNR, soil and water conservation districts, Board of Water and Soil Resources and USDA.
Jana Albers, DNR forest health specialist, offers tips for landowners dealing with storm-damaged forests.
What are some of the effects of large numbers of downed trees?
Are landowners required to clean up downed trees and forest debris caused by a storm?
No. However, salvage/clean-up is desirable to reduce the future potential for wildfires and insect infestations. Salvage/clean-up will likely be necessary to encourage natural regeneration of the forest trees and plant communities.
What is a salvage harvest?
Salvage harvest is a type of logging method used in forested areas to remove trees, stems and stubs that have been damaged by a natural disturbance such as a wind storm. Healthy, sound trees with full crowns are retained. A tree needs at least a quarter to a third of its height in foliage to be considered healthy.
What should people do first if they want to conduct a salvage harvest?
Conduct a thorough damage assessment and consider a salvage harvest:
Where can people get assistance with a salvage harvest?
Professional assistance is available to help people assess the situation and make informed decisions on how to proceed. For a more detailed assessment to determine value losses and how to set up and conduct a timber sale, the DNR recommends contracting with a private forestry consultant. A forestry consultant will know reliable loggers, local market conditions and regulatory requirements. For a listing of private consultant foresters, visit http://www.paulbunyan.net/users/norfor/members.htm.
What is involved in timber salvage/clean-up operations?
How much time do people have before the trees deteriorate and lose economic value?
Timelines for wood deterioration, insect infestation and preventing insect spread to healthy trees:
Do any of my trees have value for wildlife?
Yes, people may consider retaining a few storm-damaged trees (large-diameter reserve trees, mast and cavity trees, snags and coarse woody debris) for wildlife habitat. Species that may benefit are the red-headed, black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers, northern flickers, and several species of bats. Reasons to remove dead trees may include where tree retention is deemed a threat to human health and safety, or where they would interfere with regeneration operations and/or where leaving them would interfere with methods to control insect and disease outbreaks.
What are the concerns for streams, ponds and wetlands?
These are natural features that are important habitats for frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, fish and many invertebrates, as well as for all types of birds. When harvesting, DNR guidelines recommend keeping trees and slash out of all streams, ponds, wetlands and lakes. If there are downed trees in streams, wetlands or ponds, wait until the soil is frozen before moving through these areas with heavy equipment. Until then, travel around these features when skidding wood to the landing.
What concerns should people have about the presence of nonnative or invasive plants or possible invasions after the salvage operation?
Salvaging activities can be beneficial to invasive plants because the forest environment is changed and there is more sunlight, open space and soil disturbance. Prevent new introductions of invasive species by including specifications in the contract stating that the logger must arrive with clean equipment. If invasive plants are already present, it's best to control them prior to the salvage operation. If prior control is not possible, harvest infested areas last so weed seeds are not spread to new areas. Include specifications in contract that require the logger to clean his equipment before leaving property to help protect the next landowner. Ensure rapid re-vegetation of the site by seeding with native plant species. This will help keep any new infestations from moving into the disturbed areas. For information on how to treat existing weed infestations, visit http://www.dot.state.mn.us/roadsides/vegetation/pdf/noxiousweeds.pdf or http://mipncontroldatabase.wisc.edu/.
Can people use some of the salvaged wood for firewood?
Yes, but it is recommended that pine and oak firewood is cut, stacked and tightly tarped. It is likely that by now, insect pests of pine or oak are infesting the firewood. To prevent infestation of nearby healthy trees, burn the firewood prior to April 1 next year or leave the pile tarped until next September when it can then be opened to dry and used thereafter.
Where can people get advice on site preparation and reforestation?
Many tree species regenerate naturally following harvest, including aspen, oak, basswood and maple. Jack, white and red pine may not regenerate naturally. Contact a consultant forester or local DNR forester since salvage harvest methods and timing may limit regeneration options. Evaluate the harvested area after two to three years for supplemental planting that may be needed.
Where can I get seedlings to plant?
The DNR nursery or private nurseries provide seedling stock. The DNR recommends replanting with native species suitable to the site. Contact General Andrews State Nursery 800-657-3767 or http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/nurseries/index.html for advice.
Additional information on forest health care can be found at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/treecare/maintenance/stormdamage-prevention.html
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No lottery application will be necessary. Hunters still must declare a turkey permit area when purchasing a license, and they are restricted to hunting that area.
The application and lottery are being discontinued because the number of fall turkey licenses available has exceeded the number of applicants for the past several years.
"Everyone who entered the lottery received a license," said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager. "Allowing over-the-counter purchase streamlines the process for hunters."
Last year, hunters purchased 5,382 fall turkey permits and registered 953 birds. This year's 30-day season begins Sept. 29 and runs through Oct. 28.
Licenses may be purchased at any time before or during the season at DNR license agents, online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or by phone at 888-665-4236.
Complete details of the fall turkey hunt are available online at www.mndnr.gov//hunting/turkey.
The survey, designed specifically for mallards, estimates duck numbers for just a portion of the states. The survey areas estimated breeding mallard population index was 225,000, which is similar to the long-term average of 226,000 breeding mallards, but 21 percent lower than 2011 and 17 percent lower than the 10-year average.
The blue-winged teal index was 109,000 this year compared with 214,000 in 2011 and 50 percent lower than the long-term average of 219,000 blue-winged teal.
The survey results for other ducks combined, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads, was 135,000, which is 29 percent lower than last year and 24 percent below the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands (Types II-V) decreased 37 percent from last year and was 10 percent below the long-term average.
“It was a very unusual spring for weather, wetland conditions and breeding waterfowl,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “We had record warm temperatures and early ice-out by late March, so ducks moved into the state early. But wetland conditions were extremely dry at that time.”
Conditions have improved dramatically since then, but much of the precipitation to date came after ducks had already begun nesting or moved through the state, Cordts said. Those, and other factors, make it more difficult than usual to interpret this year’s population indices.
The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each May since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state, which 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 provides 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.
The goal in the DNR’s Duck Recovery Plan is to attract and hold a breeding population of 1 million ducks.
“Although the survey does not estimate total duck populations in the state, the decline in this year’s spring duck population index indicates we’re likely well below our goal,” said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief. “The DNR remains committed to our long-term habitat goals of improving breeding and migration habitat for waterfowl in the state.”
The Canada goose population is estimated by a separate helicopter survey conducted in April. This year’s estimated goose population was 434,000, which was higher than last year’s estimate of 370,000.
“Because of the early spring, Canada geese nested early,” Cordts said. “Production appears to be excellent, with large numbers of goose broods across the state. This has resulted in increased reports of agricultural damage by geese this year.”
The Canada goose hunting season established by the DNR in recent years is open for 107 days, the maximum number of days allowed.
“We may have to explore additional options in the future in order to address the large Canada goose population,” Cordts said.
The Minnesota waterfowl report can be viewed online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations in early August.
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“We changed the closing date for the late season from Jan. 6, 2013, to Jan. 31,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife program manager. “We also tightened the wolf harvest registration requirement so we can more quickly close a zone based on harvest results.”
Another notable change is that the wolf range will be divided into three zones for the purposes of harvest targets, registration and season closure. The northeast zone and the east-central zone closely parallel the 1854 and 1837 treaty ceded territory boundaries. These zones will allow the state to allocate and manage wolf harvest in consultation with Indian bands that have court-affirmed off-reservation hunting rights. The northwest zone will be the other area open to wolf hunting. Only that portion of Minnesota where rifles are legal for deer hunting will be open for taking wolves. When harvest targets are reached in any zone, that zone will be closed and hunters will be able to continue to hunt in any other open zone.
The state’s first regulated wolf hunt will begin Saturday, Nov. 3. The target harvest is 400. The early wolf season will last up to nine days in the 200-series deer permit areas and up to 16 days in the 100-series deer permit areas. The late season, which also allows trapping for those with a wolf trapping license, will begin Nov. 24 statewide. Target harvests are 265 in the northwest zone, 117 in the northeast zone and 18 in the east-central zone.
The state’s inaugural wolf season will be conducted under a conservative approach that is consistent with the goal of ensuring the long-term survival of wolves, and addressing wolf and human conflicts. The state’s wolf population is estimated at 3,000. This year’s wolf season follows the transition of wolves from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act to state management this past January. The 2012 Legislature also passed and Gov. Dayton signed a bill providing additional direction and authorities for conducting a wolf season.
Merchant said the public comment period that ended June 20 was helpful, providing additional insights that helped determine the final decisions. The DNR received 7,351 online survey responses. The survey was designed to solicit input on specific management options for the hunting and trapping season.
“Of those who approved of the season, 82 percent of survey respondents said they supported the DNR’s proposed season structure and implementation of a limited fall hunt,” said Merchant. “That suggested our proposal was generally in line with hunter and trapper expectations.”
Other survey results included strong backing (75 percent) from those who supported wolf hunting for having both early and late wolf hunts. The DNR also asked hunters and trappers for their preference on notification and closure for ending the hunt when the target harvest quota is reached. Respondents overwhelmingly preferred that notification of closure be published by early morning, and that hunters and trappers be allowed to finish out the day’s hunt. The season will close at the end of the first full day for which closure notification is posted and sent to license holders.
Additional information about wolf management and the upcoming season is available online at www.mndnr.gov/wolves.
Details of the season
Consistent with state law, the state’s first regulated wolf season will start with the beginning of firearms deer hunting on Saturday, Nov. 3.
The season will be split into two parts: an early wolf hunting season coinciding with firearms deer hunting; and a late wolf hunting and trapping season after the firearms deer season for those with a specific interest in wolf hunting and trapping.
A total of 6,000 licenses will be offered, with 3,600 available in the early season and 2,400 in the late season. Late season licenses will be further split between hunting and trapping, with a minimum of 600 reserved for trappers. The target harvest will be 400 wolves for both seasons combined, and will initially be allocated equally between the early and the late seasons.
The early hunting only season will be open only in the northern portions of Minnesota where rifles are allowed for deer hunting. It will start on Saturday, Nov. 3, the opening day of firearms deer hunting. It will close either at the end of the respective firearms seasons in the two northern deer zones (Nov. 18 in Series 100 deer permit areas or Nov. 11 in Series 200 deer permit areas), or when a registered target harvest by zone is reached.
The late hunting and trapping season will begin Saturday, Nov. 24. It will close Jan. 31, 2013, or when a registered total target harvest by zone or total harvest of 400 in both seasons combined is reached, whichever comes sooner. The late season will be open only where rifles are allowed for deer hunting. The use of bait and electronic calls will be allowed.
Wolf hunting licenses will be $30 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. Nonresidents will be limited to 5 percent of total hunting licenses. Wolf trapping licenses will be $30 (limited to residents only). A lottery will be held to select license recipients. Proof of a current or previous hunting license will be required to apply for a wolf license. The application fee will be $4. A wolf season regulation booklet is being developed.
Season closure and notification
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