Doug Smith

Even if the fish aren’t biting, the ducks aren’t flying and the pheasants aren’t flushing, Doug Smith says any day spent outdoors is a good day. A Minnesota native, he’s been covering the outdoors for the Star Tribune since 1995. He considers walleyes fried over a campfire to be gourmet cuisine.

Wisconsin asks public to help survey deer herd

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: July 29, 2014 - 1:03 PM

Wisconsin officials are asking for the public's help to survey the state's whitetail deer population.

The DNR will launch Operation Deer Watch this week – asking the public to report the number of deer they see from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.

"This is a fun and useful opportunity for the public to be the daily eyes and ears for wildlife managers throughout Wisconsin," says Brian Dhuey, DNR surveys coordinator. "To become personally involved and committed to the well-being of Wisconsin's deer herd is a unique opportunity that should not be missed."

Here's more from a DNR news release:

During their assigned period, participants will record all bucks, does and fawns they see using an online tally sheet. Observations can be submitted at the same website.

In 2014, 14,000 randomly selected deer hunters received an invitation to participate in Operation Deer Watch. Those who were not selected to participate are encouraged to submit their observations and help provide insight into Wisconsin's deer herd.

This unique collaboration of data from the public, along with deer observations collected by DNR staff, provides valuable information regarding the reproductive status of Wisconsin's deer herd in 2014. The program first began in 2010 with more than 14,000 individual citizen observations logged.

For more information, videos, and past results, go to the DNR website and search "deer watch."

To boost deer herd, hunters face conservative deer season

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: July 23, 2014 - 12:43 PM

As Minnesota deer hunters expected, the DNR announced a conservative deer hunting season for next fall in an attempt to boost the whitetail herd.

That means the taking of does will be restricted in large parts of the state.

Here's the DNR news release:

Hunters can expect a conservative 2014 deer season designed to rebuild deer numbers across much of the state, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

“Hunters should check the 2014 hunting regulations closely because only one deer can be harvested in 95 percent of the state,” said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the DNR. “To shoot a doe, hunters may have to apply for a permit in areas where they haven’t in the past and, in some places, no antlerless harvest will be allowed.” 

In 69 of Minnesota’s 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer. Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas. In 38 areas, hunters have the choice of shooting a doe or a buck. Bonus permits allowing hunters to shoot more than one deer may only be used in seven permit areas and for some special hunts.

“Many hunters voiced concerns about current deer densities and their hunting experiences in recent years. We heard from hunters at the listening sessions we conducted, in the online comments we solicited and by contacting us directly,” McInenly said. “This past winter only added to those concerns so this year’s conservative approach will protect more antlerless deer, reduce the statewide harvest and allow the population to rebound.”

Northeastern Minnesota hunters will feel the greatest impact from a bucks-only season. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses. McInenly said that most of these areas are now below goal and that this year’s conservative approach is consistent with the DNR’s long-term commitment to manage deer populations at established goal levels.

Hunters can enter the lottery for antlerless permits beginning Friday, Aug. 1. The deadline to apply is Thursday, Sept. 4. Hunters may apply using both their firearm and muzzleloader licenses. If hunters are selected for both licenses, they must select the one season in which they want to shoot an antlerless deer.

Deer hunting licenses, lottery applications and special hunt applications are available at any DNR license agent, by telephone at 888-665-4236 or online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense. Lottery winners will be notified in October.

Permit area breakdown

Bucks-only deer areas in 2014 are deer permit areas 108, 117, 118, 119, 122, 126, 127, 169, 176, 177, 178, 180, 181 and 199.


Lottery deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 101, 103, 105, 110, 111, 152, 155, 156, 159, 171, 172, 173, 179, 183, 184, 197, 203, 208, 213, 229, 234, 237, 238, 242, 246, 247, 250, 251, 252, 253, 258, 259, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 265, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298 and 299.

Hunter choice deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 157, 201, 209, 210, 214, 215, 218, 219, 221, 222, 223, 224, 225, 227, 230, 232, 233, 235, 236, 239, 240, 241, 248, 249, 254, 255, 256, 257, 292, 293, 338, 339, 341, 342, 344, 345, 347 and 348.

Managed deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 114, 287 and 343.

Intensive deer areas in 2014 are permit areas 182, 346 and 349.

The DNR strongly advises hunters to review new deer hunting regulations, permit area designations and boundary changes before applying. Current and up-to-date information is available online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer. Information about deer management and upcoming deer population goal setting during the next two years is available at www.mndnr.gov/deer.

Iowa officials: Sunfish found in Mississippi River likely a rare one

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: July 22, 2014 - 5:16 PM

Officials in Iowa recently found a fish species in the Mississippi River that possibly hasn't been seen there in more than 80 years.

State and national scientists are working to identify a fish, believed to be a longear sunfish.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff collecting fish for a fishing clinic in early July captured the fish.

“If this proves to be a longear sunfish it will be the first time since 1932 the species has been positively identified in Iowa,” said DNR fisheries technician Adam Thiese, who collected the fish.

 “How it got here and where it came from remains to be determined. For those that work in the fisheries field, both state and nationally, anytime an uncommon species can be documented, it’s an exciting discovery.”

Leading national ichthyologists believe it is a longear sunfish. A fin clip has been collected to verify. Once listed as common in bayous around Muscatine, they have been extirpated from the state for more than eight decades.

Longear sunfish are present in some Minnesota lakes.

Officials don't know how the fish got there, but one theory is it may have been the result of flooding. The fish was from a pond that had been inundated with floodwater from the Mississippi.

Historically, the longear sunfish was primarily found in backwaters, many of which no longer exist.

Continental duck population up 8 percent, to record high

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: July 4, 2014 - 10:42 AM

Continental duck populations have increased over last year to record levels, and
their habitat conditions have improved, according to a U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service report released Wednesday.

The preliminary estimate for the total duck population is 49.2 million
birds, an 8 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 45.6 million
birds, and 43 percent above the long-term average.

It's also the highest population recorded during the annual surveys.

“This spring, as has been the case for the past several years, saw abundant moisture across much of North America's most important duck breeding areas,” said DU Chief Biologist Scott Yaich.

“That bodes well for duck breeding success this summer and, we hope, for hunting this fall. But we remain concerned with the continuing and escalating loss of nesting habitat in these areas.''

Added Yaich: "Because ducks need water, wetlands to hold the water and upland habitats to successfully raise their young, the ongoing loss of grasslands and wetlands across the Prairie Pothole Region will increasingly impact the number of ducks in the fall flight in the long-term.”

Meanwhile, the report also provides abundance estimates for individual duck species,
including mallard, blue-winged teal, northern pintail, American wigeon,
lesser and greater scaup, and canvasback, all of which are similar to or
slightly above last year’s totals. Most species’ populations, such as
mallard and blue-winged teal, remain significantly above the long-term
average, while others, including scaup and pintail are still below.

Here are some details:

 * Estimated mallard abundance is 10.9 million birds, similar to last
   year’s estimate of 10.4 million birds and 42% above the long-term average.

  * Blue-winged teal estimated abundance is 8.5 million, which is 10%
   above the 2013 estimate of 7.7 million, and 75% above the long-term average.

   * The northern pintail estimate of 3.2 million was similar to last
   year’s estimate of 3.3 million, and remains 20% below the long-term average.

   * American wigeon were 18% above the 2013 estimate and 20% above the
   long-term average.

   * The combined (lesser and greater) scaup estimate of 4.6 million was
   similar to 2013 and 8% below the long-term average of 5 million.   The
   canvasback estimate of 685 thousand was slightly lower than the 2013
   estimate of 787 thousand, but was 18% above the long-term average.

The annual duck survey encompasses more than 2 million square miles of waterfowl habitat across Alaska, north-central and northeastern U.S. states, and south-central, eastern and northern Canada. The survey area doesn't include Minnesota.

Here's more from Fish and Wildlife Service news release:

Habitat conditions assessed during the survey were mostly improved or
similar to last year as a result of average to above-average annual
precipitation. The total pond estimate (prairie Canada and U.S. combined)
was 7.2 million ponds, 40 percent above the long-term average.  The
majority of Canadian prairies had below to well below average winter
temperatures and average precipitation. Southern Manitoba benefitted from
last year’s higher summer and fall precipitation, whereas southern
Saskatchewan and most of Alberta were aided by higher spring 2014
precipitation.  In the U.S. prairies, habitat conditions improved in the
western Dakotas and Montana from 2013, but remained similar in the eastern
Dakotas.

The annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey guides the
Service’s waterfowl conservation programs under authority of the 1918
Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Waterfowl population surveys and monitoring
programs are critical components of successful waterfowl management, and a
reflection of the Service’s commitment to generating high quality
scientific data to inform conservation planning.

For more information about the surveyed areas, the survey methodology and
the estimates, the " Trends Report in Duck Breeding Populations, 1955-2014" can
be downloaded from the Service’s website at www.fws.gov/migratorybirds.
Visit www.www.flyways.us/status-of-waterfowl/pilot-reports for pilot
biologists’ flight blogs.
 

Minnesota's mallard, teal populations down; ruffed grouse up

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: June 30, 2014 - 12:28 PM

 

 

Well, it's not great news for waterfowl hunters, but it's better news for ruffed grouse hunters.

 Minnesota's breeding mallard and blue-winged teal populations are down. The Canada goose population is stable.

Meanwhile, the state's ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly higher than last year across most of the bird’s range, which was surprising.

“Ruffed grouse drums increased 34 percent from the previous year, with the increase happening in the northern part of the state,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “This may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase.”

Here's more from DNR news releases:

Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down slightly from last year while other species saw higher declines, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 257,000, which is 12 percent below last year’s estimate of 293,000 breeding mallards, 1 percent below the recent 10-year average and 13 percent above the long-term average.

The blue-winged teal population is 102,000 this year compared with 144,000 in 2013 and remains 53 percent below the long-term average of 215,000 blue-winged teal.  

The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 116,000, which is 53 percent lower than last year and 35 percent below the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands was 343,000, up 33 percent from last year, and 28 percent above the long-term average.

“While we’re seeing declines in this year’s counts, the survey results can be affected by weather and visibility of waterfowl from aircraft,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “Continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and may provide a better indicator of what hunters could expect this fall.”

The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.

CANADA GEESE

This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 244,000 geese, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 250,000 geese. This does not include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“Although this year’s population estimate is similar to last year’s estimate, goose production, or the number of goslings that hatch, will be better than last year,” Cordts said. “This year’s colder than normal temperatures delayed some goose nesting, particularly in the northern portions of the state.”

RUFFED GROUSE

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts increased 34 percent from last year, which may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle, according to a DNR survey.

The increase is consistent with changes typical of the 10-year grouse cycle. The most recent peak in drum counts occurred in 2009. The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of the state, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.

Compared to last year’s survey, 2014 survey results for ruffed grouse indicated increases in the northeast survey region, which is the core of grouse range in Minnesota, from 0.9 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014. Drumming counts in the northwest increased from 0.7 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.2 in 2014. Drumming counts did not increase in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.8 and 0.3 drums per stop, respectively.

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.1 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2012 and 2013 were 1.0 and 0.9, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.

Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state's most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

One reason for Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state's 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.

For the past 65 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 11 organizations surveyed 121 routes across the state.

 

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