When the Department of Natural Resources announced last week that it was merging its divisions of Ecological Resources and Waters into a single division, it might not have anticipated much reaction.

After all, those divisions generally aren't nearly as visible as the Fish and Wildlife Division.

But Jeff Broberg noticed.

Broberg, a geologist, president of the Minnesota Trout Association and a member of the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources, immediately fired off a protest letter to DNR officials.

"I would expect that the hard-nosed water managers are already planning to flush ecology down the tubes," he wrote. "In my opinion, putting Waters in charge of the proposed transition to oversee aquatic ecosystems will result in more ethanol plants, fewer trout streams and the loss of our remaining fens."

He said Waters managers "place the right to use, contaminate and deplete water above the need for a sustainable water supply or the need for healthy ecosystems."

DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten disagrees.

"Will you see more ethanol plants? I don't know," he said. "Will you see less trout streams because of this merger? No, it's the other way around."

If ethanol plants win out over trout streams, "that's not because of the Division of Waters, it's because of the laws that regulate water that the Legislature writes," Holsten said. "You can't divorce us from the statutory laws that we're bound by."

Sharpshooters begin

About a dozen federal sharpshooters began killing deer last week in an area of northwestern Minnesota where bovine tuberculosis has plagued cattle and deer. Later this month, sharpshooters will shoot deer from helicopters to further reduce the herd and the chance of spreading bovine TB. The sharpshooters are using copper bullets -- not lead -- because field-dressed carcasses that show no signs of infection are being given to the public. If you want one, call 218-222-3747.

CSI: Brainerd?

The case wasn't as dramatic as those handled by TV forensic crime-solvers.

But the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension laboratory and DNR conservation officer persistence recently helped solve a mystery involving the shooting death of a horse near Brainerd.

The horse was killed in November 2007 during the deer hunting season. DNR conservation officer Jim Guida interviewed adjacent landowners and discovered two hunters who said they fired at doe running through the woods that day. But neither were aware their bullets might have struck the horse, said Guida.

Guida knew that if he could recover the bullet, forensic experts could determine whether either of the men's guns had fired the fatal bullet. Fellow DNR officer Greg Verkuilen of Garrison sliced open the horse carcass and eventually found the spent bullet. The BCA lab recently confirmed it came from one of the men's rifles.

Case closed. "It was awesome," Guida said.

The hunter was cited and paid about $500 in restitution and fines. The horse was valued at about $1,400, and the owner's insurance covered the rest.

Walleyes are a gas

Fishing on Upper Red Lake has been good lately, reports conservation officer Robert Gorecki of Baudette. Too good, apparently. Gorecki checked an angler who had one walleye in a bucket and said fishing had been slow. But something smelled fishy. After searching the fish house and the area outside, Gorecki found an empty 20-pound propane tank. He noticed that the bottom came off, and inside, he found nine more walleyes. The angler was cited and faces license revocation.

Did you know?

• The four finalists for the job as DNR Enforcement Division chief are Roger Tietz, DNR enforcement operations support manager; Jim Konrad, DNR enforcement acting administrative manager; Jeff Thielen, retired DNR enforcement manager; and John Bolduc, Brainerd police chief. One will replace Col. Mike Hamm, who resigned last year.

• Fishing regulations this year on Lake Mille Lacs will be the same as last year: An 18- to 28-inch protected slot, with one trophy fish over 28 inches allowed in a four-fish bag limit.

• Conservation officer Stuart Bensen of Erskine received several calls recently from people who reported hearing cougars, but no evidence of their presence was found.

• How do you release a wolf caught in a trap? Carefully. Officer Al Peterson of Osage helped a trapper free a wolf from a leg hold trap recently. It ran off with minor injuries, he reported.

• The big Walker Eelpout Festival was last weekend, and conservation officer Sam Hunter of Park Rapids encountered a man who fell off the back of a snowmobile. When asked if he was OK, the man said "I think I'm just going to lie here for a minute.'' When asked if he needed a doctor, he said, "I am one.''

• An angler on Lake Waconia recently caught a 10-pound walleye.

• Anglers in the Marshall area told conservation officer Matt Loftness that this was one of the slowest winter walleye bites in recent years.

• The panfish bite turned hot in the Waseca area recently. One angler was caught with 86 crappies and numerous sunfish, which cost him $1,800 in fines and restitution.

• The Marsh Lake Chapter of Ducks Unlimited was named to the President's Top 100 list, one of DU's top fundraising chapters out of 3,500 in the nation.

• Herman Becker of Okabena, Minn., a legendary Heron Lake waterfowl hunter, guide and conservationist, died last week at 92.

• The Twin Cities Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society will hold a "meet and greet'' organizational meeting from 6-7:30 p.m. at Joe Sensor's Bar and Grill in Roseville. For more information, contact regional director Dave Johnson at 715-492-5858.

• Two southeastern Minnesota men have been ordered to pay $1,600 each and they've lost their hunting privileges for three years and were put on probation for two years after pleading guilty to poaching four deer by spotlight in a closed season near Claremont, Minn., in late 2007. John D. Lurken, 19, Owatonna, and Jacob L. Marquette, 20, West Concord, also were also ordered to complete 30 hours of community service and complete a DNR firearms safety class.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com