Minnesota hunters likely will get a chance to hunt Canada geese next August in an attempt to reduce the state's burgeoning resident goose population.
And the three-year whitetail antler-point restriction (APR) experiment in southeastern Minnesota could be continued or maybe even expanded to other areas.
Meanwhile, some anglers suggest the state's minimum size limit for muskies -- now 48 inches -- be increased to 56 inches.
Those were just some of the many fisheries, wildlife and natural resource issues discussed at the Department of Natural Resources' annual "roundtable" meetings in St. Paul over the weekend. The annual two-day, invitation-only event, attended by about 300 citizens and 75 DNR employees, was Friday and Saturday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Other topics included grassland protection, grazing livestock on public wildlife lands, invasive species and moose research.
Summer goose hunting
It's likely the DNR will offer an August Canada goose hunt in a large swath of west-central Minnesota where geese have caused crop depredation. The bag limits likely would be 10 to 15 birds daily.
"Last spring we had a record 434,000 breeding geese," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. "Our population goal is 250,000.''
In an electronic poll of the 50 or so people at Saturday's discussion, 33 supported the idea. Some suggested, though, that hunting not be allowed over water because that might disturb ducks before the waterfowl season. Other questions: Would people hunt geese in August, and would they want 10 or 15 birds a day?
Antler point restrictions
"Setting politics aside, the southeast antler-point restrictions worked," said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. Buck harvest fell 35 percent in the first year of the experiment, but it was off only 17 percent last fall. "If we do it one more year, buck harvest will nearly be back to normal," Cornicelli said.
About 50 percent of southeast hunters originally supported the idea of a four-point minimum for one antler, but Cornicelli said support and satisfaction seem to have increased. A random survey of the 40,000 southeast deer hunters is being done now, and if support is strong, the DNR could seek legislative approval to continue the regulations.
Seeing the success in the southeast, hunters elsewhere have expressed interest in APR, Cornicelli said.
Other waterfowl changes
The DNR also is considering allowing open-water hunting on some larger waters. Since 1915, waterfowl hunters on the water must be partially concealed in natural vegetation. Among the water bodies where it might be allowed: Lake Superior, Lake of the Woods, Lake Pepin and Lake Mille Lacs. Forty-three of the 50 people at Saturday's session either supported the idea or were neutral. The group was about evenly split on whether to maintain existing restrictions on spinning wing decoys, or relax them.
A 56-inch muskie?
John Underhill said many muskie anglers believe too many 50-inch-plus muskies are being harvested from Minnesota lakes.
"There are fish 53 to 56 inches coming out of lakes," said Underhill, of Rochester. "We can't sustain that.''
Underhill is a member of a committee that advises the DNR on muskie and northern issues and also is a member of the Minnesota Muskie and Pike Alliance.
He suggests the DNR consider expanding minimum muskie size to perhaps 56 inches. Underhill said muskie anglers already are having a harder time catching those big fish. He acknowledged that a 56-inch minimum size would nearly make muskies a catch-and-release fishery, though anglers could still keep a record-size trophy, he said.
Underhill's group suggested the agency consider giving anglers an incentive to take smaller northerns from some lakes. Allowing them to take six northerns under 22 inches, in addition to their normal three-fish limit, would improve the fisheries in those lakes, he said. "The goal is to reduce the number of small pike in those lakes," said Underhill, who added that it also could boost the average size of northerns and increase the number of walleyes, too.
But Tim Goeman, a DNR regional fisheries manager, said research shows that won't work. An overabundance of small northerns "is one of the biggest problems in fish management," with no apparent solution.
"It's a tough nut to crack," he said.