Wildlife lands won't be opened to grazing

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2012 - 10:39 AM

With much of Minnesota withering under the drought, some farm groups have suggested opening state wildlife management areas to grazing.

That has raised eyebrows among hunters, who covet the 1.3 million acres of public lands, most of which is planted with prairie grasses for wildlife and is open to hunting.

But while the Department of Natural Resources is experimenting with some limited grazing of cattle on some wildlife management areas, it can't open them to widespread grazing or haying -- even if it wanted to -- said Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife division director.

"It would be legally very problematic,'' he said.

Some of the lands were purchased or managed with federal dollars intended for wildlife purposes, he said. "The purpose of WMAs is to provide wildlife habitat and public hunting and other compatible uses, like bird watching and wildlife watching,'' Boggess said.

Where the DNR is experimenting with it, fencing and water must be provided for livestock. Grass disturbance through grazing can provide benefits -- just as burning can.

"We're empathetic to the plight of farmers, but we have to stay consistent with the purpose of those lands,'' Boggess said.

Walk-in lands

Still, hunters this fall likely will find some lands enrolled in the new walk-in access hunting land have been mowed.

The Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) last week authorized emergency haying and grazing of Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) acres. About 250,000 acres are enrolled in the program, but less than half would be eligible to be hayed or grazed, officials said.

And only 50 percent of the grasslands on a parcel could be mowed.

Some of those RIM acres also were enrolled in the walk-in access program, which pays landowners to allow public hunting. If landowners elect to hay or graze those walk-in lands, the DNR will reduce their payments by 25 percent.

"Some of that will undoubtedly occur,'' Boggess said.

The DNR has enrolled 15,000 acres -- 6,000 more than last year -- in the walk-in program, mostly in southwestern Minnesota. It's unknown how many acres might be hayed or grazed.

Roadside stops

The DNR is continuing its random roadside stops of boaters, checking for invasive species violations.

And the violation rate remains high, officials say.

Fifteen vehicles towing boats were stopped off Hwy. 16 near Cross Lake in Crow Wing County on July 27. Two citations and four warnings for vegetation of drain plug violations were issued -- a 40 percent violation rate.

Another check station was held July 18 in Lincoln County near Lake Benton. Sixteen vehicles were stopped and five citations were issued -- a 30 percent violation rate -- all for failing to remove drain plugs.

Did you know?

•Madison Whitcomb of Litchfield caught the biggest catfish during last weekend's Franklin Catfish Derby Days, landing a 24-pound, 7-ounce monster. Low water levels cause some problems for anglers.

•A lakeshore cabin owner was cited by officer Shane Osborne of Evansville for dumping raw sewage into a lake. The cabin owner told him they had no running water or septic system, so they used a bucket from time-to-time, and emptied it in the lake.

•Some Lake Superior anglers are reporting water temperatures in the lower 70s, "which is virtually unheard of for the big lake,'' reported conservation officer Darin Fagerman of Grand Marais. Anglers have been catching salmon on the lake recently, Fagerman reported.

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