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From the Minnesota DNR:
Minnesota’s new deer plan sets a new statewide harvest target, increases citizen participation in deer management, and outlines ways to keep the population and habitat healthy.
The Department of Natural Resources is taking online public comments on the new plan now through Wednesday, May 9. Also, the DNR will hold 35 public meetings in April around the state so people can talk to wildlife managers, ask questions and provide input.
“We’re setting a course for deer management that encourages more dialogue among stakeholders, the public, and DNR staff,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Our ultimate goal is to support our hunting traditions, better engage the public, and to maintain sustainable, healthy deer populations throughout Minnesota.”
Part of the plan outlines strategic ways the DNR will prioritize its resources and activities to meet the plan’s eight key goals, which range from keeping Minnesota deer healthy to ensuring biological and societal factors are considered in management decisions.
“The plan recognizes the diversity of interests, considers multiple objectives, and is informed by the best available science,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR acting wildlife populations and programs manager. “It also factors in ways to reduce the negative impacts deer can have on people and the landscape.”
The plan establishes an annual statewide harvest target of 200,000 deer. Although only one of several performance measures outlined in the plan, the harvest target will help communicate how the DNR is meeting overall population goals through time.
In general, annual harvests less than 200,000 will indicate a need for more conservative regulations to rebuild deer populations. Harvests greater than 200,000 will suggest hunting regulations need to be liberalized so more deer are harvested to reduce populations.
“It’s important for people to know we’ll be measuring our performance in a variety of ways, from increased opportunities for public engagement to improving deer habitat and limiting disease,” McInenly said. “That strategy will inform us if objectives are being met and what areas need more work.”
McInenly added that the plan doesn’t address the details of specific regulations or operational issues, but rather plots a long-term strategic direction for managing the herd.
For more than a year, a 19-member citizen’s advisory group helped the DNR draft the deer plan. The group’s members had knowledge of deer management, interests related to deer and familiarity with different areas of the state.
“I want to express the agency’s great appreciation for the substantial public input and work of committee members in developing the plan,” McInenly said.
Public can now comment on new plan
The public can comment on the proposed plan on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/deerplan.
A questionnaire asks people to indicate their level of satisfaction with the purpose, mission, vision and goals of the plan and provides opportunity for people to give additional feedback on whether the plan reflects the conversation and public input over the last few years.
Also, the DNR’s 35 open-house meetings in April will help people understand the deer plan. “The open houses provide an opportunity to learn more about the plan, ask questions, and meet the local staff who help manage wildlife and habitat,” McInenly said.
There will be no formal presentation at the meetings. Instead, local wildlife staff will provide handouts explaining the deer plan and process and will talk with attendees individually and in small groups. All meetings are scheduled from 6-8 p.m. and people can arrive anytime during the two-hour time frame. Meetings are scheduled at the following locations:
For those who can’t make the meetings, DNR is encouraging the public to contact their local wildlife manager for additional information or to address any questions they may have about the deer plan. A list of area wildlife offices is available online at mndnr.gov/areas/wildlife.
Information about the deer plan, scheduled open houses, background information and a link to submit online comments are on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/deerplan.
Anglers fishing Upper Red Lake this spring will again be able to keep four walleye of which only one may be longer than 17 inches, continuing the same regulation that was in place this past winter and the previous 2017 open water season.
Harvest under the four-fish bag limit, one-over-17 regulation resulted in about 152,000 pounds for the winter season – a record high for winter harvest since reopening walleye fishing in 2006 – and there remains room within the target harvest range to allow this regulation to continue into the open water season.
“Anglers really like the current opportunities to keep lots of walleye on Upper Red Lake,” said Gary Barnard, area fisheries supervisor in Bemidji for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “These regulations serve a specific purpose now, but we want to be clear that eventually we may need to pull back.”
Red Lake’s walleye harvest is managed under a joint harvest plan, revised in 2015 by the Red Lakes Fisheries Technical Committee. An Upper Red Lake Citizen Advisory Committee reviewed previous season harvest totals and regulation options and recommended continuation of the current walleye regulation for the state waters of Upper Red Lake.
The revised harvest plan recommends an aggressive approach when walleye spawning stock is in surplus, as it currently is. The one-over component of this regulation replaced a protected slot limit in December 2015, and has been used ever since in combination with either a three- or four-fish bag limit.
Surplus spawning stock means that there are more adult spawners than needed for good reproduction. Removing some of the excess is good for the population since it will improve growth and survival of young fish.
Adjustments to size or bag limits may be needed in the future if the spawning stock needs more protection. “For now, the regulations meet our objectives by spreading harvest over a wide range of sizes and removing some of the surplus spawning stock,” Barnard said.
More information on Red Lake fishing regulations are available at mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing.
Minnesota’s elk range in northwestern Minnesota has three herds with a total of 97 elk, according to the annual aerial elk population survey completed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Kittson, Marshall and Roseau counties.
Past surveys recorded 79 elk in 2017 and 83 elk in 2016.
“People often are surprised to learn we have wild elk in Minnesota,” said Doug Franke, Thief River Falls area wildlife supervisor. “As biologists, our annual elk surveys are one way we collect information we can use to manage these large and often elusive animals.”
Year-to-year, the survey results vary depending on the movement of the Caribou-Vita herd that travels back and forth across the Minnesota-Manitoba border. Meanwhile, the smaller Grygla herd in Marshall County remains at low numbers.
“We continue to be concerned about low numbers of elk in the Grygla herd, which has not been hunted since 2012 and remains below our population goal,” Franke said.
In Marshall County, observers counted 15 elk in the Grygla herd, down from the 17 elk counted last year and 21 elk in 2016. The current population goal range for the Grygla elk herd is 30 to 38 animals.
Another elk herd, the Kittson-Central herd, is located near Lancaster in Kittson County. Observers counted 75 elk compared to 61 elk in 2017 and 52 elk in 2016. The current population goal range for this herd is 50 to 60 animals.
Aerial surveys are a snapshot in time, meaning they are only an estimate of the population, not an exact number. The DNR counts elk only on the Minnesota side during its aerial surveys.
Border herd results
This year, the DNR was again able to conduct a joint aerial elk survey with Manitoba Conservation for the Caribou-Vita elk herd, also known as the border herd. The survey was completed on March 11 and March 12 for the areas close to the border. Manitoba Conservation wildlife staff counted 80 elk near the border, down from the 108 elk counted last year. There were 46 elk counted slightly north of Vita, Manitoba, which is down from the 55 elk counted there last year.
Observers counted a total of 126 elk on the Canadian side of the border, down from the 163 total elk counted last year. The Caribou-Vita herd is Minnesota’s largest herd, with a current population goal range of 150 to 200 elk inhabiting both sides of the border.
Depending on the year and day of the survey, elk numbers on the Minnesota side can greatly vary. Observers in Minnesota counted only seven elk this year in the Caribou-Vita herd. One elk was counted in 2017 and 10 animals were counted in 2016 in the state.
In 2016, the DNR radio-collared 20 cow elk in Minnesota’s three herds to begin research into elk movements and habitat use that should help managers improve the effectiveness of elk population surveys, the knowledge of Minnesota elk biology and movements, and elk depredation management. The study is being conducted by researchers from the DNR and Minnesota State University-Mankato. It will run through June 2018.
This research project is the first of its kind in Minnesota. The goal is to improve understanding of the species and ultimately develop management programs that benefit elk and their habitat, while also minimizing conflicts with landowners.
Funding for the project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources and approved by the state Legislature. The DNR and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are also providing funding.
More information on Minnesota’s elk management can be found at mndnr.gov/elk.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced plans for the 2018 walleye fishing season on Lake Mille Lacs that seek to maximize fishing opportunities for anglers while protecting the health and sustainability of Mille Lacs’ improving walleye population.
When anglers hit the water on Mille Lacs for the fishing opener on Saturday, May 12, catch-and-release only regulations will again be in effect. The lake’s spawning walleye population has improved from last year, so no mid-season closures are planned.
Similar to prior years, night closure for the 2018 walleye fishing season will be in effect on Mille Lacs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning Monday, May 14. The night walleye closure remains in effect throughout the entire open-water season, which ends Nov. 30.
The catch-and-release summer season and night walleye closure are part of the DNR’s continued strategic efforts to understand and improve the walleye population in Lake Mille Lacs.
The population has undergone a decline over the past two decades that has coincided with significant aquatic system changes including increased water clarity and decreased walleye productivity; the introduction of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny water fleas; a changing zooplankton community that may be altering the aquatic food web; and declines in certain forage species, including tullibee.
“Improving the walleye population on Mille Lacs is a top priority for the DNR,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “We want to see as much walleye fishing on Mille Lacs as possible this year. Anglers have had a very good winter walleye season on the lake and we will be able to continue that trend into the open-water season with no mid-season closure planned.”
DNR Fisheries Chief Don Pereira said DNR analyses as well as external review indicate that the walleye spawning stock has increased significantly in Mille Lacs and the lake can support a larger safe harvest level of walleye in 2018, as long as a catch-and-release rule is in place.
“Implementing a catch-and-release policy this season is important not only for the sustainable growth of Mille Lacs’ walleye population, but for area anglers, businesses, and Mille Lacs area communities,” Pereira said. “We want anglers to get out and enjoy the abundant fishing opportunities on Mille Lacs.”
Pereira added that a catch-and-release season should also allow the state to account for a portion of the excess walleye kill in 2016 and 2017. With catch-and-release measures in place this summer, some of the fish caught and returned to the water may die, a condition known as hooking mortality. The likelihood of fish suffering hooking mortality increases as water temperatures warm. Fish that die as a result of hooking mortality are counted against the state’s harvest allocation.
State and tribal allocations
The state of Minnesota and Chippewa bands that cooperatively manage Lake Mille Lacs have yet to set the safe harvest level for 2018 and discussions are ongoing. These discussions follow the process outlined in protocols and stipulations arising from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1999 to uphold the bands’ treaty rights.
Seeking new solutions to improve and sustain a healthy walleye fishery
In June 2017, the DNR announced that a new external review team of scientists would take a fresh look at Lake Mille Lacs walleye fishery. Led by walleye expert Dr. Chris Vandergoot of the U.S. Geological Survey, this review showed that the DNR’s survey methods met or exceeded accepted best practices, and that interpretations of changes in the lake are correct. A summary of the team’s conclusions and recommendations will be available later this year. DNR staff are currently exploring the feasibility of implementing some of these recommendations.
Bass, northern, and muskellunge regulations
In addition to walleye, the DNR encourages all Minnesotans to visit Lake Mille Lacs to fish the other abundant species that the lake has to offer. The lake is nationally recognized as one of the nation’s top smallmouth bass and muskellunge fisheries. In 2017, Mille Lacs was named the number one bass fishing lake in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine. The lake hosted the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in 2016 and 2017.
Bass season opens Saturday, May 12, but is catch-and-release only through Friday, May 25. Beginning on Saturday, May 26, Mille Lacs’ bag limit will be four bass per angler. All smallmouth and largemouth bass between 17 and 21 inches must be immediately released. Anglers may keep only one bass over 21 inches.
Lake Mille Lacs has special regulations that exempt it from the new statewide northern pike zone regulations. The northern pike season opens May 12 and anglers may keep up to five fish. All pike between 30 and 40 inches must be immediately released. Only one northern over 40 inches may be included in the bag limit of five.
For muskellunge, the season opens on Saturday, June 2, with the statewide rules of a one fish bag and a minimum length of 54 inches.
Beginning June 2, anglers may fish for muskellunge and northern pike at night, but may only possess and use artificial lures or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Bowfishing for rough fish also is allowed at night but possession of angling equipment is not allowed and only rough fish may be in possession.
More information about fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, ongoing DNR management and research, and Mille Lacs area recreation opportunities is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.
To protect Lake Superior’s naturalized rainbow trout population, genetically screened steelhead-strain fish, originating from wild runs in the big lake itself, will replace the hatchery-raised Kamloops trout strain the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources now stocks to bolster fishing opportunities near Duluth.
New advances in genetic testing confirm Kamloops interbreed with wild rainbow trout. When that happens, fewer young survive and the overall steelhead population is reduced.
The change from Kamloops to stocking wild-sourced steelhead lets fisheries managers improve fishing opportunities on area streams while continuing the rehabilitation of the wild fish population.
“We have worked hard to develop a solution that respects what our diverse group of rainbow trout anglers have told us is important to them – harvest opportunities in both the stream and the boat fishery, as well as high quality catch-and-release opportunities for wild steelhead,” said Cory Goldsworthy, the DNR’s Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor.
Since 1976, the DNR has stocked the Kamloops strain of rainbow trout in Lake Superior’s waters near Duluth. Stocking increased angler opportunity and reduced harvest pressure on wild steelhead. The action helped Lake Superior’s wild rainbow trout recover from the detrimental effects of invasive sea lampreys and overfishing.
Despite only localized stocking, the stocked Kamloops genetics have shown up in samples taken from many North Shore streams, the Wisconsin Bois Brule River and Michigan waters of Lake Superior.
“These discoveries confirm that interbreeding is widespread well beyond Minnesota waters,” Goldsworthy said. “It would be irresponsible for the Minnesota DNR to keep stocking these fish that research has shown negatively impact Lake Superior’s steelhead population.”
Numerous genetic studies on the North Shore all point toward the negative impacts of interbreeding on wild steelhead populations, but DNR researchers were never able to confirm genetic interbreeding in the wild even with genetics work done as recently as the 1990s.
“With new tools, we now know without question that we can’t have a goal to rehabilitate wild steelhead populations while at the same time stock the Kamloops strain for harvest,” Goldsworthy said.
The steelhead the DNR stocks will have an adipose fin clipped off, just like Kamloops did. That process, which doesn’t harm the fish, allows anglers to easily determine what can be harvested. Unclipped, wild steelhead will continue to remain catch-and-release only – as they have been since 1997. Because of this, the stocking change means anglers will see the same harvest regulations.
The 1995, 2006 and recently revised 2016 fisheries management plans for the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior all discuss the need for continued monitoring for interbreeding between Kamloops and wild steelhead as well as re-evaluation of using the Kamloops strain should interbreeding be confirmed.
More information about the Lake Superior fishery, including the 2016 Fisheries Management Plan for the Minnesota Waters of Lake Superior can be found on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries/lakesuperior.
New regulations for catching and keeping northern pike will be the most significant change anglers will see when they open up the 2018 Minnesota Fishing Regulations Booklet being distributed throughout the state.
“Anyone who wants to keep pike in Minnesota’s inland waters needs to take a close look at these regulations and be prepared to measure the pike they want to keep starting on the Saturday, May 12, fishing opener,” said Al Stevens, fisheries program consultant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The new fishing regulations have three distinct zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota. While not designed to manage for trophy pike, the new regulations are meant to restore pike populations for better harvest opportunities across the state for sizes that make good table fare, up to around 28 inches or so.
“It’s almost go-time and we’re happy to be at this point after years of discussion on these issues with pike,” Stevens said. “This has been a long-running topic of conversation and is becoming reality in the 2018 fishing season.”
The move toward new regulations was a response to anglers’ concerns about the over-abundance of hammer-handle pike in much of central to north-central Minnesota; the low numbers of pike present in southern waters; and a desire to protect large pike in the northeastern part of the state.
The new pike harvest regulations apply to inland waters of the state.
Darkhouse spearing regulations for pike change slightly and those regulations are listed in the spearing section of the regulations booklet.
Meanwhile, the new pike regulations do not affect border waters fishing regulations and special regulations that cover individual lakes, rivers and streams.
For more information on the new zone regulations visit mndnr.gov/pike or contact a local area fisheries office. Contact information can be found in the fishing regulations booklet, available online at mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced it has set a new 10-year sustainable timber harvest at 870,000 cords offered for sale annually from DNR-managed forest lands. This represents an 8.75 percent increase in the harvest target.
The DNR will also launch a special five-year initiative that could offer up to 30,000 additional cords of ash and tamarack in response to the threat posed by emerald ash borer and eastern larch beetle, two invasive species that kill ash and tamarack trees.
The DNR manages 5 million acres of forest lands – 29 percent of the state’s total forest lands. Timber harvesting occurs on 2.75 million acres of DNR-managed lands that are in state forests, wildlife management areas, and school and university trust lands. These lands provide about 30 percent of the state’s wood supply for a forest products industry that employs 64,000 people and has a $17.1 billion annual economic impact.
The new sustainable harvest was determined after more than a year of scientific analysis, discussions with stakeholders -- including conservation organizations and the forest industry -- and public input.
“The DNR conducted a rigorous analysis of our state’s sustainable timber supply. We are confident this new harvest level strikes the right balance between the needs of clean water, wildlife, the forest industry, and recreation,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “This decision reflects careful consideration of the multitude of uses, habitat needs and ecological benefits that come from DNR-managed forest lands.”
For the past 15 years, the DNR’s annual sale target has been 800,000 cords of timber. Given that forests are dynamic, ever-changing systems, it was time to do a new, full-scale assessment of the timber harvest levels.
In 2016, Gov. Mark Dayton called for an updated assessment to ensure DNR forest management meets the state’s goals of commercial timber production, wildlife habitat, biodiversity, clean water, and recreation.
The DNR sells a variety of tree species from the land it manages, including aspen, red, white, and jack pine, maple, red and white oak, ash, white and black spruce, cedar, and tamarack.
Over the past two decades, the DNR has worked to reduce an oversupply of older-aged aspen on DNR-managed forest lands. That oversupply has been largely eliminated and these lands now have a more desired age distribution of aspen that will support valuable wildlife populations and water quality. As a result, future aspen harvest levels will gradually decrease from 400,000 cords annually to 360,000 cords. However, harvest of some other species will increase.
The final report and more information about the analysis are posted on the DNR’s project webpage at www.mndnr.gov/forestry/harvest-analysis.
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