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.

An early teal season could be coming for Minnesota hunters

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: February 1, 2014 - 2:31 PM

An early September teal season could be coming next fall for Minnesota duck hunters.

"There's a very high probability of having a teal season,'' said Steve Cordts, Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist.

Teal and a potential teal season were among the topics Saturday at the Minnesota Waterfowl Association's 17th annual Waterfowl Symposium in Bloomington, attended by about 100 people.

The bag limit likely would be six teal, and the DNR might ask to also allow one "mistake'' duck.

The DNR is expected to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to authorize a September season, which has long been offered in other states. Federal officials probably won't decide until June.

Minnesota hasn't had a special teal season because it's a teal-production state.

But the continental blue-winged teal population has been at record highs recently at around 8 million to 9 million, and wildlife officials have said the population could sustain a higher harvest.

Though federal officials allow 16-day teal seasons elsewhere, Cordts said a Minnesota season likely would be nine days or less, and probably would begin the first weekend in September.

But if it comes, it will raise other issues, such as concern that a teal hunt would disturb other waterfowl before the regular season. Also an early teal season could kill Youth Waterfowl Day, which in Minnesota has been held two weekends before the regular opener.

"There's a possibility we'd drop it,'' Cordts said.

An early season also could conflict with wild rice harvesters, Cordts said.

Other topics at the Waterfowl Symposium included wild rice management, duck migration research using radar, waterfowl photography and duck decoy collecting.

Mille Lacs safe walleye harvest for 2014 is lowest ever

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: January 31, 2014 - 2:11 PM



The safe walleye harvest for Lake Mille Lacs this season will be just 60,000 pounds, the lowest ever, officials announced Friday.

To put that in perspective, in 2006 the safe walleye harvest was 600,000 pounds, the highest ever.

The Department of Natural Resources and tribal officials agreed to the ultra-low harvest because of concern over declining walleye numbers on the lake, long the state's most popular walleye fishery. What that 60,000-pound harvest quota means for fishing regulations when the season opens May 10 has yet to be determined.

The DNR said the regulations likely will be "similar'' to last year. The DNR will meet with the Mille Lacs advisory group before setting next season's regulations.

We'll have much more on our Sunday Outdoors pages. Here's the DNR news release:

Walleye anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will likely see regulations similar to last year when the season opens May 10, based on the safe harvest level announced today by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The 2014 walleye safe harvest level is 60,000 pounds. Of this amount, 42,900 pounds is allocated to the state and 17,100 pounds is allocated to the eight Chippewa bands with 1837 Treaty harvest rights. These allocation amounts were recently agreed upon at a meeting of DNR and tribal natural resource leaders.

DNR Fisheries Chief Don Pereira said a limited harvest under the existing restrictive harvest slot, combined with potential additional more restrictive regulations, will provide the needed protection to the lake’s struggling walleye population. Under existing regulations, anglers are able to keep walleye only between 18- and 20-inches. All others must be immediately released. The possession limit is two, with only one longer than 28 inches.

“Is the walleye population where we want it? Absolutely not,” Pereira said, “but restrictive harvest opportunities this year will not impair the lake’s ability to produce future generations of walleye. Mille Lacs has and always will be a great fishing destination.”

Pereira said the conservative allocations – the lowest since cooperative treaty management of the lake began in 1997 – reflect biologists’ deep concern about the lake’s recent inability to produce large crops of young walleye, despite adequate spawning stock and excellent production of young-of-the-year, fingerling-sized fish. The lake has not produced a strong year class of walleye since 2008.

The Mille Lacs safe harvest level has ranged from a high of 600,000 pounds in 2006 to this year’s low of 60,000 pounds. Actual harvests, however, have been very low in some previous years. In 2003, for example, state anglers took only 66,492 pounds of walleye and similar situations occurred in 2004 and 2008.

“We have not yet finalized size or bag limit regulations for the 2014 fishing season and won’t until we confer further with citizens later in February,” Pereira said. “Meanwhile, we will continue to seek answers to the perplexing problem of young walleye survival and will also open our entire fisheries management books to a newly formed “blue ribbon” panel of nationally recognized fisheries experts.”

Pereira said the agency is exploring new ways to engage citizens this year because it will seek input on harvest reduction options in addition to walleye slot length and bag limit regulations. These options, such as an extended night fishing ban, would help to ensure the walleye safe harvest level is not exceeded.

“Nothing has been decided other than we need to have this discussion with anglers and affected interests,” Pereira said. “We want to identify a variety of regulatory options because regulations are how we manage harvest.”

In contrast to walleye, northern pike continue to increase in abundance, with record catches of young fish in the last two assessments. The total harvest cap will be increased for the coming fishing season to 100,000 pounds with equal allocation between the state and the bands. The DNR will also explore expanded angling opportunities for both pike and smallmouth bass.

Pereira also said Brad Parsons, the DNR’s central Minnesota regional fisheries manager and a long-time research biologist, has been assigned to lead the DNR’s efforts to turn the Mille Lacs walleye population around as quickly as possible, while minimizing negative impacts to the local community and economy. “Brad is a strong leader who brings a fresh set of eyes to this effort, as well as extensive walleye research and management experience,” Pereira said.

Final 2014 Mille Lacs open water fishing regulations will be announced in March.

For more information about Mille Lacs Lake, go to

Farm Bill includes key conservation measures, though cuts are included

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: January 30, 2014 - 3:19 PM

There's good news and bad news for hunters, anglers and other conservationists in the new Farm Bill, which could be approved by Congress soon.

The good news is that farmers and ranchers will have to apply conservation measures in exchange for federal crop insurance on highly erodible land and wetlands.

The linkage of "conservation compliance" to crop insurance was a key provision sought by conservation groups, such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.

Said Bill Wenzel of the Izaak Walton League: "Ensuring conservation benefits are retained as part of the taxpayer-supported financial safety net for farmers is the League's No. 1 priority.''

The bill also includes a "sodsaver" provision that limits crop insurance subsidies for the first few years in areas where land is newly converted to cropland. That's meant to discourage farmers from tilling native grasslands. The provision is limited to lands in Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

However, the bill also cuts $6 billion from conservation over the next decade, consolidating 23 conservation programs into 13. It is expected to lower the maximum number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to 24 million acres; the maximum was 32 million acres under the last farm bill.

CRP, in which landowners take marginal lands out of production and usually plant them to grass, has been hailed as a windfall for wildlife, especially ground-nesting birds such as pheasants and ducks. Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota have lost hundreds of thousands of acres of CRP in recent years as farmers pulled out of the program, plowed up the grass and planted corn and soybeans.

Last fall, there were about 25.6 million acres in CRP, but 9 million acres are set to expire over the next five years.

Enrollment into the continuous CRP program, which targets the most environmentally sensitive acres, would continue.

A House-Senate conference committee reached an agreement Monday night on provisions of the massive Farm Bill. The House was expected to vote on the bill on Wednesday, and the Senate could take it up soon afterward.

The 2008 Farm Bill expired 15 months ago, but Congress has been unable to agree on provisions for a new bill, until now.

Makeup of South Dakota pheasant advisory board criticized

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: January 9, 2014 - 3:37 PM


South Dakota's governor has appointed a group to examine ways to develop more pheasant habitat in South Dakota, in response to a 64 percent decline in the ringneck population in 2013.


Gov. Dennis Daugaard held a "pheasant habitat summit'' last month, seeking ideas on how to stem a loss of habitat and a decline in the pheasant population.

He named 13 members to a group this week that will explore ideas and make recommendations. But already the makeup of that group is being criticized.

Eric Nerland of Minneapolis, whose family has a farm in eastern South Dakota and who hunts pheasants often in South Dakota, said the governor should have included at least one nonresident hunter from Minnesota, which sends about 20,000 ringneck hunters there each fall.

"They have a resource funded by non-resident license fees, and yet they don't have anyone from that group on the panel,'' said Nerland.

South Dakota routinely tries to entice Minnesota hunters west, yet it includes no typical nonresident hunters on the panel trying to solve the pheasant habitat dilemma, Nerland said.

The Daily Republic newspaper in Mitchell, S.D., had a similar complaint. In an editorial this week, the newspaper complained that there were too many bureaucrats and not enough "everyday folks'' from south-central South Dakota, the heart of pheasant country.

"This board needs a few bureaucrats and government insiders,'' the newspaper wrote. "Those are people who can get things done. A few elected officials are good, too, for the same reason.

"But this board needs more representation from everyday folks who hail from Ground Zero. It wasn’t a good idea to overload it with government insiders, and it was a terrible idea to exclude more representation from the pheasant belt.''

The thirteen pheasant habitat work group members are:

  • Pam Roberts, Pierre (Chair), retired Secretary of S.D. Department of Labor and Regulation.
  • Barry Dunn, Brookings, dean, College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at South Dakota State University.
  • Tim Kessler, Aberdeen, Pheasants Forever board of directors, former Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) Commission chair.
  • Mary Duvall, Pierre, state representative.
  • Jason Frerichs, Wilmot, farmer, Senate Minority Leader.
  • John Cooper, Pierre, GFP commissioner, former GFP secretary.
  • Steve Halverson, Kennebec, farmer, owner of Halverson Hunts.
  • Jan Nicolay, Chester, former state representative.
  • Jeff Zimprich, Huron, USDA-NRCS state director.
  • Doug Deiter, Faulkton, farmer.
  • Jeff Vonk, Pierre, GFP secretary.
  • Lucas Lentsch, Pierre. S.D. Secretary of Agriculture.
  • Nathan Sanderson, Pierre, governor's policy advisor for agriculture and GFP.

The group is charged with developing recommendations to the governor that focus on practical solutions for maintaining and improving pheasant habitat. A final report is expected by late summer.

Members of the public may submit ideas for encouraging pheasant habitat development to, or by phone at 605.223.7660.

DNR launches 'recreational compass' site so people can locate public lands

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: January 9, 2014 - 12:04 PM

The Minnesota DNR is unveiling a new website that employs extensive mapping resources to help users locate hunting lands, state parks and forests and a wide range of other recreational areas on mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

The mobile “Recreation Compass” features more than 5.5 million acres of public lands administered as state forest, wildlife management areas, state parks and recreation areas, waterfowl production areas, aquatic management areas, and scientific and natural areas.

It also includes state trails, including water trails, Walk-In access areas, hunter walking trails and nearly 3,000 public water access sites.

The site is up and running at



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