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.

Blue-green algae, a killer for dogs, is beginning to show up in Minnesota

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: June 26, 2014 - 11:34 AM

Blue-green algae is a killer for dogs, and the recent warm weather is spurring algae growth in Minnesota.

A dog died last weekend after swimming in a Sherburne County lake that had developed areas of heavy algae growth, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported.

 Officials suspect blue-green algae killed the dog and advised pet owners to check water conditions when dogs are playing in lakes or slow-flowing streams.

Here is more from a MPCA news release:  

Last weekend, Brock Tatge and his family, who live on Prairie Lake in Sherburne County, were enjoying a beautiful Sunday on the lake when their dog, Copper, suddenly became very ill. Copper had been fetching his tennis ball from the lake, one of his favorite games.

“We noticed that Copper went on shore, began vomiting and panting very hard, and just looked very sick,” Tatge said.  “I carried him to my truck and brought him to the vet’s office.” Sadly, Copper’s condition deteriorated and he died at the veterinarian’s office.  While the cause of Copper’s illness has not been confirmed, the veterinarian who examined him believed that he became ill after ingesting toxins from blue-green algae.

Blue-green algae “blooms” have a thick, cloudy appearance that can look like green paint, pea soup, or floating mats of scum. Some, but not all, species of blue-green algae contain potent toxins that can be deadly to dogs, livestock, and other animals within hours of contact.

In this case, though most of the visible algae on Prairie Lake was not blue-green algae, MPCA staff found some blue-green algae mixed in with the more benign species.

If possible, dog owners should keep their pets away from algae-laden water entirely. If animals do enter water with heavy algae growth, they should be hosed off right away, before they have a chance to lick themselves clean. Animals become ill when they ingest the toxins, so preventing them from drinking affected water or licking toxins from their coat is key to preventing illness.

If someone is concerned that their pet has been exposed to harmful blue-green algae, they should take the animal to a veterinarian immediately.

Blue-green algae blooms can occur anytime during the summer, though they are normally associated with warm weather and low rainfall.  Algae are a natural part of the ecosystem, but under certain conditions, algae populations can “bloom” with dramatic growth. Most blue-green algae are not toxic, but there is no way to visually identify whether a particular bloom contains toxins that are harmful to people or animals.

Algal blooms occur when lakes develop high levels of nutrients such as phosphorus. “This year’s unusually heavy rainfall has carried tremendous amounts of nutrients into Minnesota lakes,” said MPCA scientist Steve Heiskary. “If the rain slows down and we move into a period of hot, dry summer weather, we could see an exceptional number of algal blooms across the state in the coming weeks, even in lakes that do not normally experience them.”

The best way to prevent algal blooms over the long term is to reduce the amount of nutrients that run off into lakes from fertilizers and organic materials like leaves and yard waste. Once a bloom has developed, there is no way to correct it. Blooms often come and go quickly, so the best option is to stay away from the water until rainfall, wind shifts, or cooler temperatures disrupt the algae’s growth.

If humans are exposed to toxic blue-green algae, they can experience skin irritation, nausea, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. People should never swim in water if they suspect a blue-green algae bloom.  Human deaths from exposure to blue-green algae are extremely rare, since the unpleasant odor and appearance of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water.

More information on harmful blue-green algae can be found at

Bowfishermen urged to dispose of rough fish properly

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: June 24, 2014 - 2:34 PM

Bowfishing for carp and other rough fish has become increasingly popular, but so, too, have problems with improperly disposed fish arrowed by archers.

“We’re seeing a few too many cases where people are just dumping the fish,” said Capt. Greg Salo, DNR central region enforcement supervisor. “Not only is that pretty disgusting, it’s littering, a misdemeanor that carries a $150 fine.”

Said conservation officer Jeff Johanson of Osakis: “The public is not happy about this activity and calls seem to come in on a weekly basis.’’

Curt Cich, president of the Land of Lakes Bowfishing Association, said the practice also gives bowfishing a bad image. “These activities by a few people don’t reflect the practices of the majority of bowfishers, who practice their sport ethically and responsibly,” Cich said.

Cich recommends that all bowfishers have a disposal plan before practicing the activity.

Billions of bugs: Spring midge hatch at Lake Mille Lacs is quite a sight (and sound)

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: June 13, 2014 - 5:52 PM

A friend and I were driving along Lake Mille Lacs on Thursday evening when we heard what sounded like rain hitting our truck.

But it wasn't rain, it was clouds of midges that had recently emerged from the lake. So we pulled into a public access to experience the amazing annual phenomenon.

And it was amazing. We almost needed head nets to breathe. At the time, I mistakenly thought the bugs were mayflies, but Rick Bruesewitz, DNR area fisheries manager, said they were midges – commonly called fish flies or lake flies – a smaller variation of the flying bugs.

Black clouds of them hung over the highway and the lake, and, of course, quickly covered us. The billions of bugs produced a loud, eerie hum.

"It is an incredible thing,'' said Brusewitz. "It happens just about every year. They (clouds of bugs) look like tornadoes. You'll have spirals of them above trees or roads. Some nights are worse than others.''

Like mayflies, the midges emerge from their larval stage at the bottom of lakes, then float to the surface and eventually fly away. Fish gobble them up in the water, and birds do likewise once the bugs are airborne.

Wisconsin's ruffed grouse population declines again

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: June 10, 2014 - 2:38 PM

Ruffed grouse populations in Wisconsin have dropped slightly again this spring as the population heads for the bottom of its boom-to-bust cycle.

Wisconsin's roadside grouse survey showed a 1 percent decline from last year.

"This decrease is quite minor, and isn't unexpected at this point in the population cycle,'' said Brian Dhuey, DNR wildlife surveys coordinator.

 Ruffed grouse populations are known to rise and fall over a nine to 11 year cycle. The last peak in Wisconsin's cycle occurred in 2011

"We are headed to the low point in the cycle, which usually occurs in years ending in a 4, 5, or 6, so we are either at the low point or getting close; only time will tell," Dhuey said.

Minnesota's spring grouse drumming survey was recently completed, but the results won't be available until next month. Minnesota's population, too, is on the downswing, but grouse fans are hoping the snowy winter helped more birds survive. Grouse burrow in light, fluffy snow for safety.

In Wisconsin, one of the primary regions for grouse in the state, the central region, showed a 24 percent drop in the number of drums heard per stop. A second primary region in northern Wisconsin showed a 3 percent increase.

Here's more from a DNR news release:

According to Scott Walter, DNR upland wildlife ecologist, maturation of southern Wisconsin's forest community in recent decades and the resulting loss of dense, brushy areas that grouse need for cover has led to a lower ruffed grouse population.

"Ruffed grouse are closely linked to young forest habitats that develop following disturbances, notably logging activities," Walter said. "While we often focus as hunters on grouse numbers in a single year, it's important to remember that the long-term health of grouse and other early-successional wildlife is dependent upon the availability of the dense young cover they require. In Wisconsin, we need to ensure that enough timber harvests are occurring to meet the habitat needs of ruffed grouse and other early-successional dependent wildlife"

In regard to the slight increase in northern Wisconsin, Gary Zimmer, coordinating biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society, points to this past winter's harsh weather.

"While cold temperatures and deep snow are generally hard on resident wildlife populations, ruffed grouse often thrive in winters like the one we just experienced," noted Zimmer. "Grouse roost under the snow, which can effectively serve as a blanket to hide them from predators' view and keep them warm even during very cold periods. It might be well below zero out in the open, but under even a few inches of snow the temperature might only be a few degrees below freezing. Grouse also utilize tree buds as food during winter, so snow cover doesn't reduce food availability."

Zimmer continues, "Weather conditions, especially during the brood rearing period in late May and early June, also play an important role in the fall ruffed grouse numbers. Newly-hatched grouse chicks are very sensitive to chilling, and warm, dry conditions allow high survival during the first few weeks of life."

"Grouse hunters are used to the cyclic nature of ruffed grouse populations, and know that during low periods grouse can still be found in the best cover. Hunters might have to work a bit harder to flush birds, but sunny October days with your dog in the north woods are tough to beat, and Wisconsin still has some of the best grouse hunting in the country," Zimmer said.

Complete survey results can be found by visiting and searching for "wildlife reports." For more information on ruffed grouse in Wisconsin, search "ruffed grouse hunting."

Concerned over dramatic habitat loss, Pheasants Forever to open office in South Dakota

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: June 9, 2014 - 11:10 AM

Concerned over a dramatic loss of habitat and pheasants in South Dakota – the nation's top pheasant state -- Pheasants Forever plans to open its first regional headquarters office in Brookings, S.D.

Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s long-time vice president of government affairs, will permanently move to South Dakota becoming the organization’s point person in the state. The move comes as the organization ramps up efforts to address substantial habitat losses and land use changes in South Dakota, which have resulted in a dramatic decline in pheasant numbers.

“South Dakota is the epicenter of pheasants in the United States. Unfortunately, South Dakota is also the epicenter of grassland habitat loss,” explained Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever’s president and chief executive officer. 

According to a 2012 South Dakota State University (SDSU) study, 451,000 acres of South Dakota grasslands were converted to agricultural production from 2006 to 2011. Last year, the state's pheasant index dropped 64 percent, which officials blamed on habitat loss coupled with poor weather conditions during nesting season.

Here's more from PF news release: 

In naming Nomsen to the South Dakota post, Vincent said, “Dave has a 30-year track record of conservation victories, he’s a former South Dakota resident, graduate of South Dakota State University, and served on the faculty of SDSU’s Wildlife Department. He’s moving to South Dakota because we need to reverse the habitat decline there and he’s the perfect guy for the job.”

Pheasants Forever was formed in St. Paul, Minn. in 1982 and has always been, and will continue to be, headquartered in the Twin Cities. While the organization employs field representatives throughout the country, it’s never operated a regional headquarters. Nomsen intends to find office space in Brookings and will be working to strengthen relationships with federal, state and private groups in the state.

“Pheasants are such an important part of the state’s culture that there is a rooster pheasant flying over Mount Rushmore on the commemorative South Dakota quarter,” explained Nomsen. “South Dakota’s pheasant traditions are at risk because of habitat loss. We intend to work with landowners, hunters, and our partners to help ensure South Dakota remains the pheasant capital of the world.”   

The South Dakota Department of Tourism estimates pheasant hunting generates $223 million in retail economic impact annually and an additional $111 million in salaries annually. Those revenues are the result of 76,000 resident and 100,000 non-resident pheasant hunters purchasing licenses, fuel, food and lodging during the state’s three-month hunting season. The season’s opener is also acknowledged as the busiest weekend of the year at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport. In fact, the state estimates there are 4,500 jobs linked directly to the pheasant hunting industry and related tourism.  Plain and simple, pheasants are big business in South Dakota. 

Nomsen is a Clear Lake, Iowa native, where his father was the chief pheasant biologist for the Iowa Conservation Commission (now the Iowa Department of Natural Resources). Following his father’s conservation lead, Nomsen received a master’s in wildlife management from South Dakota State University. He has been with Pheasants Forever since 1992, where he began as PF's wildlife biologist for Minnesota. Nomsen has spent the last two decades as the organization's voice on Capitol Hill and one of the most respected and knowledgeable advocates in support of federal farm conservation programs; including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). With extensive experience in wetlands conservation, Nomsen also worked with South Dakota’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit during the 1970s and has served on the North American Wetlands Conservation Council for the last two decades and under three different presidents. 


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