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.

Moose population at Voyageurs National Park stays steady

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 8, 2014 - 12:19 PM

The moose population at Voyageurs National Park remains steady, even as the iconic animal's overall population in the northeast has fallen.

And officials aren't sure why.

Here's the National Park Service news release:

Wildlife biologists at Voyageurs National Park recently completed an aerial survey of the park's moose population in Feb/Mar, 2014.  The 2014 population estimate for the Kabetogama Peninsula was 40 moose, similar to estimates from 2009-2013 of 41-51.  The Kabetogama Peninsula is a 118-square mile roadless area that contains almost all of the park’s moose population. 

Fewer calves were observed in 2014 than in the previous 3 surveys, and the calf:cow ratio of 0.23 was also lower than estimates from 2010-2013 of 0.54-0.61.  Two adult collared moose moved from the park into Ontario a few weeks before the survey began and another died during the survey.  If those moose had been present during the survey, the 2014 estimate would have been inside the range of past counts.  Biologists also confirmed the presence of at least 3 moose in the southern portion of the park.

The continued apparent stability of the low-density population in Voyageurs is corroborated through ongoing monitoring of GPS-collared moose.  Only 1 of 14 collared adult moose has died since the last aerial survey was completed in 2013.  Overall, mean annual mortality of adult moose in Voyageurs National Park has been 10% since monitoring began in 2010.  By comparison, annual mortality of adult moose in the declining northeastern Minnesota moose population in recent years has been around 20%. 

Voyageurs National Park is at the current southern extent of moose range in North America.  Warmer annual and summer temperatures may be stressing moose populations in the region.  The moose population declined by about 50% between 2006-2014 in northeastern Minnesota and several areas in adjacent Ontario have also documented recent declines.  There are likely multiple factors involved in the observed declines including climate-related stresses on health and reproductive status, diseases and parasites, predation, and changes in habitat.  Moose in Voyageurs experience all of these factors, including the brainworm parasites and high densities of wolves and bears.  It is unclear if population dynamics in the park are indeed different from those in adjacent areas or if the park, at the western and southern edge of these other populations, will experience similar declines in the near future.  Park biologists are continuing studies to understand the complex relationships that drive moose population dynamics in the park.

The National Park Service will continue to monitor the Voyageurs National Park’s moose population on an annual basis.  In addition, Voyageurs National is investigating other aspects of moose ecology in collaboration with University of Minnesota-Duluth, Bemidji State University, Lakehead University, and other partners. Other studies include how moose behave in response to high temperatures and other weather events, how and why moose use wetlands for foraging and temperature regulation, and the interactions of moose, deer, beavers and wolves.

The 2014 Voyageurs National Park Moose Population Survey Report can be downloaded from the NPS website:

Send us your fish tales, photos

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 12, 2014 - 12:35 PM


Starting this week our Wednesday Outdoors page will focus on fishing for the next four months, and we are seeking 2014 photos and fishing tales from readers.

 Here are the guidelines:

• Size of the fish isn’t important; the quality of the photo is. High-resolution JPEG files are preferred.

• Include the angler’s name and hometown and a brief tale of the catch, and send to

• You can also post your photographs on our website at

Liberal deer hunting proposed for Duluth area to reduce conflicts

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: May 1, 2014 - 12:48 PM



Unlimited harvest of antlerless deer would be allowed in the Duluth area to boost whitetail harvest and reduce deer-human conflicts, under a Department of Natural Resources proposal.

Duluth and the surrounding communities would be designated a metro deer management area, where the firearms season also would be extended a week, under the plan.

“Deer-human conflicts are common in the area, while hunter access is limited,” said Chris Balzer, DNR area wildlife manager in Cloquet. “Designating the area a metro deer management area emphasizes just how different this area is from other permit areas and gives local governments more flexibility to manage deer populations.”

The DNR would allow unlimited harvest of antlerless deer during any open deer season in the area that now comprises deer permit area 182. Communities affected would include Duluth, Hermantown, Proctor, Esko and Cloquet. Local governments would determine whether hunters could use bows, firearms or both within their jurisdictions.

The issue will be discussed at a public meeting  from 7-9 p.m. on May 8 in Duluth at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gitchee Gumee Conference Center.

The DNR said deer populations and hunting are managed the same way in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, which is designated as deer permit area 601. The area in question in and around Duluth would become the state’s second metropolitan deer management area.

Hunter access is limited in the area because most land is privately owned or located within city boundaries, creating refuge-like areas where deer can isolate themselves from hunters.

“Despite a change in 2005 that altered boundaries so deer harvest could be set higher in this area, deer populations remain high,” Balzer said. “The hope is that allowing hunting for an additional week and directly involving local governments will result in more deer being harvested.”

City officials from Duluth and representatives of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance will provide additional details and discuss their perspectives at the meeting, and public comments will be recorded.

More information and an online comment form will be available beginning May 9 on the DNR’s deer management web page at Written comments may be mailed to Chris Balzer, Cloquet area wildlife manager, 1604 Highway 33 South, Cloquet, MN, 55720 or sent via email to The deadline for comments is May 19.

Upper Red Lake summer walleye regs to remain same

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: April 22, 2014 - 10:37 AM

Upper Red Lake's summer walleye regulations will be unchanged from last year.

The regulations allow anglers to keep larger walleye after June 15.

From the May 10 fishing opener to June 14 anglers must release all walleyes 17- to 26-inches long.
From June 15 to Nov. 30, anglers may keep walleye less than 20 inches and must immediately release all walleye 20- to 26-inches long.

The possession limit for both periods is four fish, and only one of those fish can be longer than 26 inches.

The DNR says the more restrictive size limit is necessary for the early season when angler catch rates are high and mature walleye are extremely vulnerable. As the open water season progresses, catch rates and fishing pressure decline, reducing the impact of harvesting larger walleye.

Winter regulations will not be finalized until open water harvest is determined. Winter regulations will be announced in late summer and will be posted on the DNR website at

Iowa finds first case of chronic wasting disease in a wild deer

Posted by: Doug Smith Updated: April 9, 2014 - 4:27 PM

Iowa has its first case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a wild deer, and the infected whitetail was found in a county that borders southeastern Minnesota.

The deer was reported as harvested in Allamakee County in northeastern Iowa  in early December. Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources said they are working to obtain as much information as possible about the infected deer to implement its CWD response plan.

“We have been testing for CWD in Iowa’s deer herd for more than a decade and are optimistic, given the extensive data we have collected, that we have caught this early,” said Chuck Gipp, DNR director.

“The next step will be to focus our monitoring efforts in the area where the animal was harvested and work closely with local landowners and hunters to gather more information.” said Gipp.

CWD had been detected in every bordering state, including Minnesota, where the only wild deer infected with CWD was killed by a hunter in 2010 near Pine Island. Other cases in Minnesota have occurred in pen-raised deer and elk.

The most recent Minnesota case of CWD occurred in a captive European red deer in North Oaks.

Minnesota DNR officials said Wednesday that they will test deer killed by hunters this fall in an area adjacent to the Iowa county to see if any more deer have CWD.

 The DNR sampled deer killed along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border after a deer with CWD was found near Shell Lake, Wis., in 2011. Officials didn't find any additional CWD-positive deer.

“With CWD in all the states around us, we have understood the possibility of a positive detection in the wild deer herd for some time” said Gipp of the Iowa DNR.

CWD is a neurological disease affecting primarily deer and elk. It is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion that attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions. Signs include excessive salivation, thirst and urination, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head. The only reliable test for CWD requires testing of lymph nodes or brain material.

There is currently no evidence that humans can contract CWD by eating venison. However, the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that hunters do not eat the brain, eyeballs or spinal cord of deer and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game and boning out meat for consumption.


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