Deer in parts of northern Minnesota are experiencing something they haven't felt for a decade: a severe winter.
Bitter cold and heavy snow likely have resulted in increased whitetail mortality, wildlife officials say. And that likely will bring tighter deer hunting regulations in those areas next fall.
The hardest-hit area has been northeastern Minnesota, including Cook County, most of Lake County, northern St. Louis County and northern Koochiching County, said Mark Lenarz, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife researcher in Grand Rapids, Minn.
"We very likely will see deer mortality in those areas,'' he said.
Tom Rusch, DNR area wildlife manager at Tower, said workers there have found some dead deer this winter, and it's evident deer are hurting.
"We've found dead fawns primarily, but also some adult bucks and does, too. When you get a winter with dead adults, you know you're having more than an average winter.''
Winter in the worst areas has been "moderately severe or severe,'' Lenarz said, based on the DNR's Winter Severity Index (WSI). The index gauges snow depth and temperature. Scores under 100 are mild; scores 100 to 180 are considered moderate, and anything over 180 is considered severe. The WSI at Tower was 170 last week; it peaked at 139 last year. Other WSI scores last week: Snowbank Lake west of Ely, 159; Isabella, 162; International Falls, 164; and Poplar Lake near Grand Marais, 169. The WSIs at all but Poplar Lake were considerably higher than in 2008.
"It's pretty clear this is the most severe winter in that part of state since the mid-1990s,'' Lenarz said. Said Rusch: "It's a long winter, and it isn't over yet.''
Lenarz said hunting zones in that region likely will see a shift away from liberal categories and more hunters will have to apply in lotteries to get a doe tag.
"It isn't all bad,'' he said. "We've been wanting to decrease the population in that area anyway. This certainly is not going to wipe out the population.''
Lessard Council list moves on
About $70 million in fish and wildlife habitat projects recommended by the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council passed their first test Friday in the state Senate, where the Environment and Natural Resources Committee chaired by Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, unanimously voted its approval.
Lessard Council chairman Mike Kilgore, a natural resources professor at the U, along with council members Darby Nelson (a retired college professor), Bob Schroeder (a forester and former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Tim Pawlenty) and Jim Cox (a business owner and past president of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association), explained the "science-based'' process the council undertook to determine the 19 habitat projects it recommended, from 99 the council received.
Even representatives of conservation groups that didn't receive council recommendations endorsed the final project list. Twelve members serve on the Lessard Council, eight citizens and four legislators.
Other committees also will hear the bill in the Senate, where chances the measure will be approved without significant changes rose following Friday's hearing, some observers said.
Meanwhile, a companion bill is expected to be heard Monday in the House. "Our experience with the House is that members there are more likely to drag their feet and play politics with it,'' said SportsmenForChange.org executive director Garry Leaf.
Turkey hunting dogs?
Turkey hunters in Minnesota this fall will be allowed to use dogs for the first time to help them bag a bird.
"We're going to start allowing dogs for fall turkey hunting only,'' said Bill Penning, DNR farmland wildlife program leader. "More than half the states allow it now, and we don't see any reason why we shouldn't.''
Penning said turkey hunters can use a dog to try to locate a bird and flush them like a pheasant.
"Or you can do what they call 'turkey-dogging,' where the dogs help bust up a flock of birds,'' Penning said.
The hunter then sits down with the dog and tries to call the turkeys back in.
"That's how they do it in the South,'' he said.
The DNR hadn't allowed dogs for fall hunting because when it comes to turkey management, it has erred on the side of caution since hunting was re-established in the 1970s, Penning said. The intent is to change regulations to allow the change this fall. Dogs won't be allowed during spring hunts.
The typical woodcock hunter is a 40-plus-year-old man who hunts woodcock primarily while going for other game, hunts woodcock 10 days or fewer each year and shoots 10 or fewer each season, according to a survey conducted by the Ruffed Grouse Society.
The survey, mailed to 2,025 hunters nationwide, showed that 19 percent hunt woodcock in more than one state or Canadian province. The survey showed most woodcock hunters appear satisfied with the current season and bag limit structure.
Dennis Anderson contributed to this notebook.