2012 outdoors in review: Wet and wild

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 1:33 AM

The St. Louis River raged out of control in June. Among the damage done in northeastern Minnesota was the wiped-out swinging bridge in Jay Cooke State Park.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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From balmy winter temperatures that cut the ice-fishing season short, to the controversial inaugural wolf hunting season, to new roadside checks for boaters — for outdoors enthusiasts, 2012 was a year to remember.

Here’s a look at some highlights:

Wolves targeted

The state's first managed wolf hunt was expected to be controversial, and it was. But there were surprises: More than 23,000 people applied for 6,000 licenses. And when the Legislature required the wolf hunting season to coincide with the firearms deer season, some thought deer hunters with wolf licenses wouldn't have much luck bagging the canines. Wrong. They killed 147. The historic season is almost over -- more than 300 wolves have been killed -- but the controversy isn't. One lawsuit has been filed to try to stop the season, and another is expected. Legislators also could weigh in.

Checking boats

The DNR ramped up efforts in 2012 to stop the spread of invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian water milfoil. Officers checked nearly 18,000 boaters and issued 2,500 citations and warnings -- a 14 percent violation rate. And for the first time, officers conducted random roadside checks, where the violation rate was 31 percent. Bottom line: A significant percentage of the state's 2.3 million boaters are still violating the law, risking the spread of invasive species to other waters.

Invasive species spread

Zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species continue to spread to Minnesota waters. This year, officials found zebra mussels in a small Iron Range mine pit lake ominously close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. And they were confirmed in Lake Minnewaska -- the first in the Minnesota River watershed to be infected. And more Asian carp -- bighead, silver and grass -- are showing up in Minnesota's rivers, too.

Weird weather

Thawed by unseasonably warm temperatures, many Minnesota lakes shattered ice-out records last spring, ending the ice-fishing season early. Bummer. The ice was gone so quickly that the Legislature considered, but rejected, moving up the fishing opener by a week. Then a torrent in June flooded northeastern Minnesota, while drought gripped much of southern Minnesota.

Saying farewell

We lost some giants in the outdoors world in 2012. Among them: Ray Ostrom, 85, of Bloomington, and business partner Ron Weber, 84, of Edina, who changed fishing forever when they began importing hand-carved Rapala baits in 1959. Also Don McMillan, 74, of Mendota Heights, former president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, all-around good guy who promoted Minnesota's Legacy Amendment and the constitutional amendment to preserve hunting and fishing.

Other news

• Mille Lacs walleyes were again in the spotlight: DNR gill-net surveys showed a declining number of male walleyes and a drop in the overall walleye population to the lowest levels in 40 years. Officials are trying to figure out what's happening.

• Three miles of Mississippi River shoreline and 2,000 acres of woods in Crow Wing County will be protected and open for public use, using $11 million in Legacy Act money.

• State waterfowl hunters saw, for the first time, three separate hunting zones and split seasons. The goal was to maximize hunting opportunities.

Where are the deer?

Total deer harvest for 2012 isn't yet known because archers remain in the field until Dec. 31, but there is little doubt the whitetail kill will be less than in 2011. And last year's harvest was 7 percent less than in 2010. Officials expected the decline this season because fewer antlerless permits were issued in many areas -- an attempt to reduce harvest to boost deer numbers. Officials think it's working.

From balmy winter temperatures that cut the ice-fishing season short, to the controversial inaugural wolf hunting season, to new roadside checks for boaters -- for outdoors enthusiasts, 2012 was a year to remember. Here's a look at some highlights:

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