Photo by Dennis Anderson Star Tribune
Pheasants and pheasant hunters take note:
North Dakota's net loss of about 650,000 Conservation Reserve Program acres heads an all-star list of states with significant net losses of federal set-aside lands, following the latest program sign-up offered by the USDA.
Next is Montana, with 435,335 net acres lost, followed by Minnesota, with a net loss of 190,231 acres.
Minnesota lost about 66 percent of all CRP acres whose contracts expired.
The bailout from the nation's top wildlife and soil conservation program was also in high gear in South Dakota, where 169,284 program acres were lost.
High crop prices, corn particularly, are causing farmers to leave conservation programs and put their lands under the plow instead.
Grasslands throughout the Dakotas are also falling victim to high commodity prices, as new, genetically modified corn strains are now able to be planted in areas of little rainfall.
To see a spreadsheet showing details of the latest CRP signup, including number of acres offered and accepted, and net losses, state by state, click here.
Notice that more and more ducks seem to be migrating through Minnesota after the season has closed?
Perhaps your impressions are correct, according to a new study by Delta Waterfowl that says many waterfowl are being taken by hunters significantly later in the year than in previous decades.
The Delta Duck Migration Study was written by Delta science director Dr. Frank Rohwer, Louisiana State University graduate student Bruce Davis and Delta's senior director of U.S. policy John Devney.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has collected comprehensive harvest data from hunters since 1961, and the study examined data from its annual Parts Collection Survey.
"With few exceptions, harvest dates for mallards throughout the mid-latitude and southern states have become consistently later," Rohwer said in a Delta press release. "Mallard harvest is on average ten days later in Arkansas, fifteen days later in California, sixteen days later in Illinois, and twelve days later in Virginia."
Here's more from the release announcing the study:
Most migrant duck species, including gadwall, ring-necked, pintails and green-winged teal, have significantly later harvest dates now than historically has been the case. Blue-winged/cinnamon teal and mottled ducks were the only species to run against the trend.
"Hunters have suspected this was happening, and for the first time, we've seen the data that confirms this on a big scale," says Rohwer. "As usual, hunters seem to know more than we give them credit for."
The report examined whether later hunting seasons were a simple explanation for later harvests. While it's true that most states have extended their seasons from the 60's, the report found this was not the 'sole driver' for shifts in harvest dates. For example, non-migrating mottled ducks in Texas and Louisiana are being harvested at about the same time as 50 years ago. But hunters in those states are harvesting mallards much later in the year, suggesting that Mallards – which are strictly migrants from the north - are arriving later.
So does a later harvest mean ducks are actually migrating later?
Dr. Rohwer says the best way to evaluate shifts in migrations would be a history of waterfowl counts throughout the flyways. Unfortunately, comprehensive fall migration surveys do not exist.
"The beauty of the Parts Collection Survey is that it has been conducted in the same manner since 1961 and records the date, location and species of duck killed. It provides a good general sense of when duck harvest is taking place, which we suspect is a reasonable surrogate for timing of migration."
A hot topic in southern duck blinds is whether changes in northern agriculture that provide additional food may be holding ducks longer in northern states. The theory goes that field-feeding ducks like mallards and pintails will stay longer; fatting up on left over corn and soy beans in higher latitudes.
If food was the driver of migration and harvest dates, says Dr. Rohwer, then gadwall and ring-necked ducks that never feed in fields should migrate and be harvested at the same time as in prior decades. The harvest data, however, shows that all four species show similar shifts in delayed harvest. The idea that northern agriculture is holding ducks back is 'unlikely', concludes the report.
The report also had a preliminary look at whether or not migration may be delayed because of the potential effects of climate change. While the report concluded it's 'plausible', the harvest data can neither prove nor disprove any connection between migration and climate change.
Waterfowl hunters are obviously interested in the timing of migrations, says Dr. Rohwer. The importance for the outdoor industry, tourism and waterfowl management make a compelling argument for more research into migration.
"Hunters, the outdoor industry and resource managers are not passive observers," says Dr. Rohwer. "They are expecting an answer to the deceptively simple question: Are ducks migrating later. They are holding policymakers and the scientific community accountable for an answer, as they surely should."
The Delta Migration Study is available in its entirety at on Delta Waterfowl's web site (www.deltawaterfowl.org/pressrelease/120529-MigrationStudy.pdf) or www.seasonsend.org.
My friend Dave Zentner of Duluth went prospecting in northern Wisconsin on Wednesday to see what he could see, in advance of spring steelhead fishing.
Here's his report:
"Saw two long strings of tundra swans in south Superior, headed, I think, toward Spirit Lake in St. Louis River. I’d guess their normal arrival time would be April 10-15, assuming they were tundras. Could have been trumpeters, but I doubt it.
"Lake Nebagamon is wide open, as are all small ponds. Usual ice out for them? I’d guess sometime after 15 April.
"Goldeneyes, mallards, scaup, wood ducks, ringneck and black ducks all were prevalent. I've also heard reports of green wings that are back. Often I don't start to see ringnecks until late April or early May. It has been common to have scaup hanging around the first two weekends of walleye season in the past. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see blue wings and shovelers!!
"Also saw lots of sparrows.
"Came home with three wood ticks.''
Hunters and anglers fund management of game animals and game fish — work that often carries over to benefit non-game species such as swans and songbirds.
But money to manage non-game species is always at a premium, and each year the Department of Natural Resources reminds taxpayers of their opportunity to help wood turtles, ospreys, piping plovers and other species by making a voluntary donation on their tax forms.
DNR nongame wildlife program supervisor Carrol Henderson says the program is facing financial challenges.
“The tough economy has affected our budget, and donations are down by more than 10 percent,” Henderson said. “It is critical to the survival of the Nongame Program that donations maintain or increase.
“Every year, the number of people donating to the checkoff decreases, with fewer than one person in 35 households remembering wildlife at tax time. While we appreciate those who currently donate to our program, we need help from more Minnesotans.”
Donations are voluntary and tax deductible and pay for more than 80 conservation projects, including monitoring of loon populations, wood turtles, ospreys, timber rattlesnakes and dragonflies. Also paid for are frog and toad research, habitat restoration and protection, monitoring of heron rookeries, and management of habitat for bald eagles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons and other wildlife.
The opportunity for taxpayers to donate to nongame wildlife first appeared on state tax forms in 1981.
Taxpayers can contribute through the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff fund on their tax forms, or donate online at: www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/nongame/checkoff.html.
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr on Friday detailed conservation priorities and challenges his department has identified for 2012.
Landwehr spoke at the agency's annual round table meetings, held this year in St. Paul. He followed Gov. Mark Dayton to the podium Friday morning to open the gathering.
Dayton had urged the hundreds of sportsmen and sportswomen who had traveled to St. Paul from throughout the state to work together to respond to threats facing the state's environment and resources.
Citing an African proverb, the governor said, "If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.''
Before yielding the stage to Landwehr, Dayton urged DNR employees to listen to those in attendance. Then the governor gave out his home phone number, welcoming complaints.
Landwehr began his presentation by listing accomplishments and challenges that defined the DNR in 2011, including not only forest fires and massive blowdowns, but receipt of record mining royalties and acquisition of a new state recreation area. Then he detailed conservation hurdles that lie ahead, including:
• An acknowledgement that the state's fight against aquatic invasive species will only intensify, as the DNR seeks from the Legislature expanded authorities to stop the spread of zebra mussels and perhaps carp and other critters.
• An emphasis on prairie/grassland conservation as a new federal Farm Bill is developed in Washington. In 2012, Minnesota will lose still more Conservation Reserve Program acres, Landwehr said, adding, "We are facing a head wind like we've never faced before. We need to get aggressive about putting grass back on the landscape.''
• The inevitability that the Game and Fish Fund will go broke without a hunting and fishing license fee increase.
• The possibility that the Legislature will remove from DNR authority management of 2.5 million acres of School Trust Land, with possible impacts to hunters and others who now recreate on these properties.
• Execution of a state wolf management plan that recognizes the species "is an asset to the state.'' "We take this conditional opportunity (to manage the wolf) seriously and we want to demonstrate to Minnesotans and the federal government that we can do it right.''
The annual DNR round table is attended by invited conservation leaders.