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Last updated: March 2013

More charges to be filed in investigation of illegal sales of game fish in northern Minnesota

Wet, snowy conditions will require temporary road and trail closures

Bighorn Sheep Auction License Breaks Record

Bear hunt applications available; deadline is Friday, May 3

Have a hunting or fishing license? Get a special rate on Twins tickets

Mille Lacs Lake regulations changed to boost walleye population

Routine patrol on Lake Winnibigoshish nets Wisconsin anglers

Stearns County Pheasants Forever Named Minn. Chapter of the Year

 

More charges to be filed in investigation of illegal sales of game fish in northern Minnesota

Authorities are bringing state charges against 21 individuals following a major investigation into the illegal sale and dumping of thousands of protected game fish in north-central and northwestern Minnesota.
The three-year special investigation, known as Operation Squarehook, involved about 60 officers from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and tribal authorities from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. This is Minnesota’s largest case of illegal fish commercialization in two decades.
The suspects are facing up to 35 misdemeanor and six gross misdemeanor state charges in six counties in northern Minnesota. Total state fines are expected in the tens of thousands of dollars. Cases have been presented to state county attorneys for prosecution; some individuals have been charged or have already paid fines.
The charges involve both illegal purchases and sales of the game fish, primarily walleye, taken from some of Minnesota’s most popular fishing lakes, including Cass, Leech, Red and Winnibigoshish lakes on the Red Lake or Leech Lake Indian reservations.
 
“This is a troubling case because it involved large numbers of people and a significant number of fish being illegally bought and sold,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “The investigation should serve notice that the illegal commercialization of walleye and waste of game fish will not be tolerated in Minnesota.”
Last week, the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis announced four federal indictments filed against 10 tribal individuals in the same case. These 10 individuals are in addition to the 21 facing state and tribal charges.
State charges are being pursued or have been filed by county attorneys in Clearwater, Polk, Itasca, Cass, Pennington and Beltrami counties. The illegal sale and purchase of game fish is a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, depending upon the value of the fish involved.
Tribal and nontribal members are being charged. Red Lake and Leech Lake authorities are filing charges against tribal members in tribal court.
During the investigation, DNR officers documented the suspects buying and selling thousands of walleye. They also documented hundreds of other unwanted fish, such as northern pike, being thrown away and wasted because they weren’t as highly prized as walleye.
The investigation began with Red Lake and Leech Lake tribal members who legally netted or angled game fish, but illegally sold them to other individuals. Tribal codes govern whether band members can fish or net for subsistence purposes. The Red Lake Band allows subsistence angling for walleye; the Leech Lake Band allows for subsistence angling or netting for walleye.

While band members can legally harvest fish for subsistence, they cannot sell them for profit. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa has a legal commercial walleye fishery, but band members can only sell their fish to the tribe-operated processor.
The 21 individuals facing state charges are nontribal members who illegally purchased or sold fish. In some cases, those individuals were intermediaries who purchased fish from tribal members and sold them to other individuals.
Acting on tips from the public, DNR officers used a variety of investigative techniques to track down the illegal sales and purchase. Fish were sold for between $1.50 and $3 per pound, far less than the $11 to $17 per pound for legal walleye (typically from Canada) sold in grocery stores. Officers discovered a competitive black market and significant supplies of purchasable fish.
 
 “A significant problem is the number of people who knowingly buy illegal fish,” said Col. Jim Konrad, director of the DNR’s Enforcement Division. “The key to stopping this illegal commercialization of our game fish is stopping the demand.”
The illegal fish were of various sizes, from small to trophy specimens. In one case, a trophy muskie was sold for mounting. Some business owners or employees were involved in the illegal purchase and sale of walleye, though officials were unable to document that fish were sold as meals at restaurants or taverns.
“This illegal activity undermines the health of Minnesota’s sport and tribal fisheries and unfairly steals a valuable resource from law abiding sports people,” Konrad said.
The sale or purchase of less than $50 of game fish is a state misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and/or up to 90 days of jail. The sale or purchase of more than $50 of game fish is a gross misdemeanor with a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $3,000 and/or up to a year in jail.
Operation Squarehook was authorized by former DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten and initiated by Konrad in March 2010. Commissioner Landwehr continued the investigation.
In 1993, 45 Minnesotans were charged with criminal conspiracy to illegally transport, take, sell and buy walleye from Red Lake and Leech Lake Indian reservations. The sting operation, started in 1991, was known as Operation Can-Am. The defendants were found guilty of felony and misdemeanor charges.
Operation Squarehook is the largest case of illegal commercialization of fish in Minnesota since that case.
For information, visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/enforcement/op_squarehook.html

Wet, snowy conditions will require temporary road and trail closures

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will need to close many roads and trails temporarily in state forests, state parks, recreation areas and wildlife management areas, due to wet, snowy conditions. Road and trail conditions are deteriorating rapidly this spring, and many are not yet firm enough to support vehicle traffic without being damaged. The temporary closures could remain in effect until sometime in May, depending on weather conditions.
“These are normal spring closures that happen when roads and trails become wet and fragile,” said Richard Peterson, recreation program coordinator for the DNR’s Forestry Division. “We ask that people use good judgment, obey the closures and frequently check the DNR website for updates.”
Road conditions can change quickly. The DNR advises people to check individual state park, state trail or state forest Web pages before planning trips to avoid being surprised and disappointed by temporary closures.
Road and trail users should pay particular attention to state forest closures. Generally, all roads and trails in a particular forest will be closed, but not always. Those that can handle motor vehicle traffic will remain open but may be restricted by gross vehicle weight. Signs will be posted at entry points and parking lots.
Online road and trail condition information is updated every Thursday by 2 p.m. Changes are added as soon as possible to the “Current Conditions” page on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov (www.dnr.state.mn.us/trailconditions/index.html). Signs may be in place before the website is updated. All signs must be obeyed.
Road and trail closure information is also available by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free, 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

For information on roads and trails on county land, contact the county directly.

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Bighorn Sheep Auction License Breaks Record

North Dakota’s 2013 bighorn sheep auction license sold for a record $75,000 at the March 23 Midwest Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation annual meeting in Bloomington, Minn. The previous high of $50,000 was set in 2007.
In addition, a 5 percent conservation fee for all auction licenses generated an additional $3,750 from the sale of North Dakota’s license.
North Dakota’s auction license allows the winning bidder the rare privilege of pursuing a North Dakota bighorn on a self-guided hunt.
One hundred percent of the auction license proceeds are used to enhance bighorn sheep management in North Dakota. Since 1986, more than $1 million has been raised for wild sheep conservation through the sale of the license.

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Bear hunt applications available; deadline is Friday, May 3

Applications for Minnesota bear hunting licenses are available beginning Monday, April 1, and will be accepted through Friday, May 3, the Department of Natural of Resources (DNR) said.
A total of 3,750 licenses are available in 11 permit areas. The number of available licenses for 2013 is about 35 percent fewer than the 6,000 licenses available in 2012.
The 2012 bear harvest was 2,604. That was a 22 percent increase from 2011, despite 15 percent fewer bear quota licenses being available. The increase in harvest for 2012 was largely due to poorer fall food conditions, making bears more attracted to hunters’ baits.
The DNR’s goal with the lower license quotas is to allow for a gradual increase in the current bear population.
“Although the trends in the last few years indicate a stable bear population, DNR is reducing bear license numbers in the quota bear area to increase bear population numbers,” said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist. “After intensive efforts in the 1990s and early 2000s to reduce a growing bear population, we are now at or near population goals. These quotas will help assure that we continue to have a productive bear population.”
DNR monitors the bear population using a modeling technique based on ages of harvested bears, supplemented periodically by total population estimates based on mark-recapture data. Bear ages are determined from tooth samples that hunters are required to submit.
Notification to successful lottery winners will be made in mid- to late May. The deadline to purchase licenses awarded by lottery will be Thursday, Aug. 1. Any remaining unpurchased licenses will be available to any eligible persons starting at noon on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
Application for a bear license can be made at any DNR license agent, the DNR License Center in St. Paul, online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or by phone at 888-665-4236. Bear licenses cost $44 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. There is a $4 application fee. 
An unlimited number of bear licenses also will be available over the counter for the no quota area of east-central and far northwestern Minnesota. The bag limit in the no quota area is being reduced from two to one.

Complete information on the fall bear hunt is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/bear.

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Have a hunting or fishing license? Get a special rate on Twins tickets

Kids and adults who have a 2013 Minnesota hunting or fishing license can buy discounted tickets online to six Minnesota Twins baseball games and receive a free regulation blaze orange Twins logo baseball cap as part of a special promotion with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Hunting, fishing and the Twins are all big parts of Minnesota’s culture,” said Jenifer Wical, DNR customer enhancement manager. “This is a great deal for those who love the outdoors and outdoors baseball.”

The special rate starts with the April 13 home game against the New York Mets at 3:10 p.m. It also includes home games on April 27-28 against the Texas Rangers, Aug. 3 against the Houston Astros, Aug. 18 against the Chicago White Sox and Sept. 7 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Discounted ticket prices range from $12 to $20, depending on the game.

“The DNR is able to provide an additional value to its first-time or long-time license buyers,” said Phil McMullen, Twins ticket sales executive. “For us, it’s a way to express our appreciation for those who have contributed to fish and wildlife conservation through their license purchase.”

Those who want to buy discount tickets should go to www.mndnr.gov/twins and enter the transaction number, which is printed on the license. A limited number of tickets are available for each game and will be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. The offer is available online only.

Minnesota 2013 fishing and hunting licenses can be purchased and printed online at
www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense.

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Mille Lacs Lake regulations changed to boost walleye population

Regulations that will limit the harvest of walleye and potentially increase the harvest of northern pike and smallmouth bass will be implemented on Mille Lacs Lake this spring as part of a multi-year effort to rebuild the lake’s legendary walleye population, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

When the walleye season opens May 11, anglers will be able to keep walleye only between 18- and 20-inches or longer than 28 inches. All others must be immediately released. The possession limit is two, with only one longer than 28 inches.

Last year, anglers could not keep walleye 17- to 28-inches in length. They could keep up to four walleye shorter than 17 inches, with one longer than 28 inches allowed.

“We want Mille Lacs to continue to be a world-class walleye fishing destination,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries chief. “Currently, the size and structure of the walleye population isn’t where we want it. We are committed to remedying the situation as quickly as possible through regulations that are designed to increase survival of the lake’s younger and smaller walleye.”

The agency is particularly interested in conserving the lake’s large 2008 year-class of walleye because no strong year-class is coming up behind these fish despite ample spawning stock and good hatches of young fish. Fish in this year-class are 15- to 17-inches in length.

In addition to new walleye regulations, the lake’s 27- to 40-inch protected slot regulation for northern pike will be narrowed to a 33- to 40-inch protected slot, with only one pike longer than 40 inches. The possession limit is three.

Similarly, the smallmouth bass bag limit and slot limit will be broadened to allow for more harvest. The new regulation is a 17- to 20-inch protected slot. The possession limit is six, with only one longer than 20 inches in possession. Previously, all smallmouth bass less than 21 inches had to be immediately released and the possession limit was one.

“The smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations are designed to protect smaller walleye until we have better information on what these predator species are eating,” said Peterson. “We’ll be starting a predator diet study this spring. Meanwhile, the regulations will allow anglers some additional non-walleye harvest opportunities while also retaining solid numbers of trophy-sized fish.”

The new regulations aim to keep the total walleye kill below the combined state-tribal 2013 safe harvest level of 250,000 pounds. Fishing regulations may be adjusted if angler kill is expected to be either too high or lower than the anticipated. This year’s safe harvest level is the lowest established since treaty management began in 1997.

Tom Jones, Mille Lacs Lake coordinator, said the agency modeled 33 different walleye regulations before determining the 18- to 20-inch harvest slot regulation was the best option for this angling season. “It protects males from the 2008 walleye year-class, it meets the goal of being small fish friendly, it allows anglers to keep a meal of fish, and given normal fishing conditions it should keep harvest within the state’s allocation.”

The DNR discussed a variety of potential regulations with the Mille Lacs Lake public input group during a Feb. 27 meeting and solicited email comments from the general public.

Jones said a 2-inch walleye harvest slot is not unprecedented on Mille Lacs, having been implemented in 2001, 2002 and 2007. He added the state’s walleye harvest has been below this year’s allocation level of 178,500 pounds four of the last 10 years and in 2005 the harvest was below 200,000 pounds.

The fundamental concern for fish managers is that not enough walleye are becoming big walleye because of increased mortality rates. A secondary concern is that mature male walleye numbers have decreased.

The lake is also becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. This is due largely to changes in the aquatic community, including the presence of unwanted aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussel, spiny water flea and Eurasian watermilfoil.

These factors, plus a state and tribal harvest management strategy that focused largely on walleyes in the 14- to 18-inch range, all have contributed to a declining walleye population.

Jones said despite the declining walleye population, winter walleye fishing was good, which typically suggests good fishing in spring, too.

For more information about Mille Lacs Lake fisheries management, go to www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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Routine patrol on Lake Winnibigoshish nets Wisconsin anglers

A routine patrol by three conservation officers (CO) with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources netted three Wisconsin men nearly $3,300 in fines, restitution, and court costs for an overlimit of perch.

CO’s Luke Belgard, Mike Fairbanks, and Jayson Hansen were working ice anglers on Lake Winnibigoshish on March 4 when Belgard checked the fishing license of David L. Gauthier, 41, of Keewaunee, Wis., who said he had caught his limit of perch. The daily legal limit is 20 perch with 40 in possession.

“He had a few smaller perch in a pail that were still alive and said he was now trying to catch some larger ones and he would let the smaller ones go,” Belgard said. “I advised Mr. Gauthier that he wasn’t allowed to do that.” Culling fish is illegal.

Gauthier said he had been coming to Lake Winnie for many years.

Gauthier then tried to take one of the live fish and put it back down the hole, but was instructed to leave the fish on the ice and the few in the pail where they were.

Gauthier’s father, Wayne E. Gauthier, 61, and brother, Anthony A. Gauthier 27, both of Keewaunee, Wis., were fishing nearby when approached by CO Fairbanks.

The three men were staying at a local resort when David Gauthier said there were perch in a bin outside their cabin. When the count was completed, the Gauthier’s possessed 203 yellow perch or 83 more than the legal limit.

David Gauthier was charged with having 29 more perch than the legal limit. He faces fine, restitution and court fees totaling $1,130. Wayne Gauthier and Anthony Gauthier were each charged with having 27 more perch than the legal limit. They face fines, restitution and court fees of $1,080 each.
The Gauthier’s nonresident fishing licenses were seized, the fish were collected and photographed as evidence, and the citations mailed to each individual.

Anyone witnessing a fish or wildlife violation should contact the nearest conservation officer, law enforcement agency or the 24 hour toll-free Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline at 800-652-9093. Cell phone users can dial #TIP.

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Stearns County Pheasants Forever Named Minn. Chapter of the Year

Minneapolis, Minn. - The Stearns County Pheasants Forever (SCPF) chapter was recognized as the Minnesota Chapter of the Year by Pheasants Forever (PF) at its annual state meeting held February 16 in conjunction with National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic 2013. This honor recognizes a Minnesota chapter that is balanced in its approach to accomplishing the mission of Pheasants Forever and excels in all aspects of being a chapter.

In addition to the Minnesota Chapter of the Year, SCPF received recognition for spending $3 million on total habitat and conservation expenditures since their inception in 1983. Stearns County is only the third chapter in the nation to earn this honor. Since their beginning, SCPF and partners helped purchase 33 land parcels accounting for almost 4,200 acres which are now protected and open to public hunting and outdoor recreation in Stearns County.

"The Stearns County PF chapter does it all," stated Eran Sandquist, Pheasants Forever regional wildlife biologist. "They throw a great fundraising banquet and leverage those locally raised dollars to bring more resources for the organization's local habitat mission. Combined with their rich history of being the first PF chapter to create a newsletter, a sponsorship program, and receive a Federal North American Wetland Conservation Small Grant, the Stearns County PF chapter provides leadership to the entire state on what is possible for an individual chapter to accomplish."

Other Stearns County PF chapter accomplishments include:


Participated and volunteered for the Pheasants Forever Minnesota State Convention and District Meetings

Supported and lobbied for increased state and federal conservation policy

Enhanced habitat management on public lands

Offered and supported multiple area youth conservation events, youth mentored hunts and supported scholastic shooting teams

The first chapter to partner with Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, USDA - NRCS, Minnesota DNR, Minnesota BWSR, and Stearns SWCD in funding a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist to Stearns County. This biologist's role is to assist landowners in designing, developing, and funding habitat improvements on private lands.

Two of the chapter's committee members were also recognized at the awards banquet. Charlie Opitz was the recipient of Pheasants Forever's Dedication Award, and Ralph Feld was inducted to the Pheasants Forever's Long Spur Society for being instrumental in the creation and continuation of the chapter as well as playing an essential role in the development of chapter programs.

"Stearns County PF is fortunate to have a passionate group of committee members," said Steve Sellnow, SCPF chapter president. "We want to thank all the volunteers, spouses, banquet attendees, and sponsors who have enabled us to achieve these milestones; without their support, none of this would be possible."

The Stearns County Pheasants chapter was the first chapter formed in 1983, just one year after Pheasants Forever was founded. For more information, please contact Steve Sellnow at (320) 266-1004 or email Steve.

Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 135,000 members and 720 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Chapters are empowered to determine how 100 percent of their locally raised conservation funds are spent, the only national conservation organization that operates through this truly grassroots structure.

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