Looking at 2014

I’ve got no crystal ball, but there are several big outdoors issues that are bound to make news in 2014:

 

Habitat

The continued loss of wildlife habitat, particularly grasslands and wetlands. Hunters, especially those who cherish pheasants and ducks, will be watching to see if Congress passes a new Farm Bill with strong conservation components that could reverse the trend. Even if a new Farm Bill includes billions of dollars for extending the Conservation Reserve Program, will it pay landowners enough to idle marginal lands rather than plant them to corn and soybeans?

 

Game birds

Pheasants and ruffed grouse — the two most popular gamebirds in the state — were on the decline in 2013. And so 13,000 fewer pheasant hunters went afield last year. Loss of habitat (see above) hurt pheasants, as did poor weather. Already, the winter is off to a rough start. But the critical spring nesting season could make or break the season next fall. Meanwhile, the ruffed grouse population is likely to continue to slide downward on its 10-year boom-to-bust cycle.

 

Invasives

Despite increased enforcement and education efforts to fight the spread of invasive species, more Minnesota lakes — including some big ones — became infested with zebra mussels last year. There is no sign that trend is changing. And recent reports that electric barriers installed to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes might not be effective increases the concern over our waters.

 

Wolves

The outcome of a lawsuit filed in federal court challenging the removal of the wolf from the federal Endangered Species list likely will determine whether Minnesota’s controversial wolf season will continue to be an annual event. That suit is expected to be heard in 2014.

 

Mining

Will controversial copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota move a step toward becoming a reality in 2014? We should find out. Public comments are being accepted on an environmental study, and three public hearings are scheduled for this month.

DOUG SMITH