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.
In separate incidents, two Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officers have freed whitetail bucks in recent days — using firepower.
In Cook County, CO Darin Fagerman of Grand Marais received a call of a buck with its antlers wrapped in a hammock.
“It was dark and the deer was extremely tangled in the hammock, but the buck was still on its feet and able to move,” Fagerman said.
Killing the deer was the last thing he wanted to do, Fagerman said, but after surveying the situation he saw no alternatives.
Approaching the deer with his sidearm, he shot, intending to kill the deer. But he missed when the buck pulled back at the last moment.
Which was lucky for the deer.
“The gunshot startled the buck, which then pulled straight back on the hammock, exposing about two inches of the antler just above the base of the head,” Fagerman said. “Thankfully, the buck stayed still and I was then able to shoot the antler off. The deer, wasting no time, then ran off into the darkness,” Fagerman said.
“Conservation officers never know what they may encounter.”
The second buck-saving incident occurred when CO Jeremy Woinarowicz of Thief River Falls answered a call Dec. 28 that two bucks were locked up by their antlers in a field near Warren in Polk County.
When Woinarowicz arrived at the scene, he saw that the larger buck had already died and the live buck was frantically trying to break free.
“I did not have any assistance and I did not want the buck to stay attached any longer. I recalled that several years ago CO Greg Oldakowski of Wadena used his sidearm to shoot the antlers and free a couple of bucks that were locked together,” Woinarowicz said.
“I didn’t know if the buck that was still alive would survive the stress of roping, hog tying and sawing of antlers, so I decided to use the ‘Oldakowski Method.’ ”
That method resulted in some of the bucks' tines being shot off. But the live deer still wasn't free.
A bigger gun was needed.
“I retrieved my duty shotgun from my patrol vehicle. A single well-placed slug on the dead buck’s antlers did the trick. The antlers flew apart and the live buck bounded away with one antler attached, and lived to fight another day,” Woinarowicz said.
Waterfowl and other birds would benefit greatly under a plan to restore Marsh Lake in western Minnesota that the Army Corps of Engineers moved closer to reality on Thursday.
The Corps announced that its chief engineer signed off on the project, moving it an important step closer to submission to Congress for funding.
"This is great news in what has been a years-long process,'' said Dave Trauba, Department of Natural Resources manager at Lac qui Parle Wildlife Area near Appleton, Minn.
Marsh Lake lies entirely within the massive, 30,000-acre state area. The restoration project would restore 5,000 acres of the lake, while also restoring flows to the historic channel of the Pomme de Terre River.
Project cost is estimated at $10 million, with 65 percent paid by the federal government and the rest by the state.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council has recommended state funding for the project from Legacy Act money.
At one time, Marsh Lake was a major continental stop-over spot for ducks and other migratory waterfowl. Today, it's turbid and carp-filled, and only rarely used by large concentrations of ducks and geese.
However, adjacent to it — as shown in the photo above — is a specially designed "moist soil management area'' constructed by the DNR, along with Ducks Unlimited and other groups. Using pumps, the area, which is closed to hunting, mimics seasonal flooding and drawdowns, providing a rich plant environment for ducks and other birds.
Despite its problems, Marsh Lake remains home to the largest breeding colony of pelicans in North America.
"The chief's report is important,'' Trauba said. "Now it's up to our citizens, along with our congressional delegation, to stress the importance of the project to the health of the western Minnesota ecosystem.''
Historically, spring snow melt joined seasonal rains to fill the lake, welcoming migratory birds on their northward flights.
In summer, the lake naturally drew itself down, exposing mud flats frequented by shorebirds, while also providing an important drying period for aquatic plant germination.
In autumn, rains again filled the lake , and sego pond weed, wild celery and other foods favored by migrating waterfowl flourished.
"The Corps has undertaken a number of important ecosystem restoration projects around the country, and this would be another,'' Trauba said. "It's been a long process to get to this point''
Smaller grants that are part of Legacy Amendment funding for the state's environment and fish and wildlife habitats have been awarded.
The grants, 20 in all, total $1.83 million.
These are the smaller grants funded by the Legacy Amendment intended to involve local conservation groups, as well as government entities.
“Every year, Minnesotans envision new projects that can make our lands healthier and our waters cleaner for fish and wildlife habitat,” said Ed Boggess, director of DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division. “The CPL program is funded by appropriations from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and enables people to convert these dreams into realities.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation was among those awarded funds, receiving $48,000 to restore and enhance 100 acres of oak savanna on state wildlife management areas (WMAs)./
Also, the Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club received $17,000 to restore native grasses to 178 acres of current cropland on new federal Waterfowl Production Areas.
And Minnesota Pheasants-Blue Earth Chapter received $10,000 to remove encroaching woody vegetation on 110 acres of prairie on the Maple River WMA.
A complete list of successful grant applications can be found here. (NOTE: The same 20 winning groups/entities are listed seven different ways on the attached PDF, preceded by a summary. The first listing of the 20 groups is by "Project ID number.'' The second is by amount ((see green shaded area of each listing)), the third by habitat type, the fourth by type of activity, the fifth by planning area, the sixth by group type and the seventh by land or water ownership type.)
Boggess encouraged nonprofit organizations to take advantage of the program.
“Funds are available,” Boggess said. “The application process is easier than ever. It’s a great way to leave a conservation legacy in your local community.” Remaining funds will be awarded in a second round of applications that will be announced soon.
Since the program began, more than 100 grants totaling $9.7 million have been awarded. The program is an outgrowth of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which recommended its creation to the Legislature.