Minnesota crane hunt returning after 94 years

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 19, 2010 - 12:19 AM
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Hunters pursue sandhill cranes as they do geese, deploying decoys. Minnesotans haven’t hunted the birds since 1916.

Photo: Chris Welsch, Jm - Star Tribune

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It's official: Minnesota will have a sandhill crane hunting season this fall for the first time in 94 years.

The season will run from Sept. 4 to Oct. 10 and only in the northwest goose zone, which includes parts of about six counties in far northwestern Minnesota. The daily bag limit will be two birds, with a four-bird possession limit. Nontoxic shot will be required.

Why a crane hunting season?

Ten other states in the flyway already allow crane hunting, some since 1960, and Minnesota was one of the few holdouts. The midcontinent crane population, averaging over 450,000 birds, has been healthy and above goals.

"It's an additional hunting opportunity we can provide," said Bill Penning of the Department of Natural Resources.

That midcontinent population migrates through the northwest part of the state, which is why hunting will only be allowed there. The eastern crane population, a separate subspecies common elsewhere in Minnesota, isn't as numerous and will remain protected.

Hunters pursue cranes as they do geese, locating birds and then putting decoys out in fields to try to attract them. And taste? "I've never eaten them, but everyone says they're delicious," Penning said.

Minnesotans haven't hunted cranes here since 1916, when migratory bird hunting restrictions were imposed, he said.

Treaty protest update

More than two months after two Leech Lake Band of Chippewa members placed fishing nets in Lake Bemidji, challenging state fishing regulations and the state's interpretation of an 1855 treaty, no charges have been filed.

And it's uncertain when, or if, they will be.

Band members claim that the 1855 treaty the Chippewa signed with the federal government doesn't restrict their off-reservation rights to fish, hunt and gather over a large swath of northern Minnesota. During a protest on the eve of Minnesota's fishing opener, they deliberately violated state law to force a legal challenge.

Because the violations were gross misdemeanors, the two band members weren't cited. Instead, Department of Natural Resources conservation officers turned over evidence to the Beltrami County Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

Because of the statewide implications, County Attorney Tim Faver has reportedly twice asked Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson to handle the case. She has declined. A spokesperson said last week that the jurisdiction to charge gross misdemeanors lies with county attorneys, not the attorney general.

Faver hasn't returned repeated phone calls, but the cost of prosecuting such a case is likely a huge concern. In the 1999 Mille Lacs treaty case, in which tribes succeeded in a nine-year legal battle over treaty rights, a federal judge told the state to pay the bands almost $4 million in legal fees.

"What his [Faver's] decision will be now, knowing he has to handle it, I don't know," said Audrey Thayer of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Bemidji. She supports the band's challenge and has said her group would defend those charged.

But Thayer said she doesn't think the treaty issue will go away. "I don't think some people will allow it to," she said.

Lottery spending

The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) has recommended to the Legislature how $50.6 million in lottery dollars should be spent next year. The commission selected 92 environmental and natural resources projects. Among them: $3.4 million for habitat conservation; $3.4 million for metropolitan habitat corridors; $3.2 million for scientific and natural areas acquisition; $3 million for Vermilion State Park development; $3 million for state parks and trails acquisition; and $2.2 million for metro park acquisition. The commission also set aside $250,000 to deal with migratory bird impacts from the Gulf oil spill. For the list of recommendations, see www.lccmr.leg.mn.

Hot-shot angler

An angler fishing from shore on Prior Lake recently snagged -- not a fish, weeds or an old boot -- a small-caliber handgun in a case. Conservation officer Adam Block happened upon the surprised angler and said the partially rusted gun, which probably had been in the water no more than a year, was turned over to the Sheriff's Department.

"I must admit, snagging a gun is a rare catch," Block said.

See ya later, alligator

Talk about weird: Conservation officer Alex Gutierrez of Forest Lake investigated a report alleging a person with an alligator planned to release it into an area lake. Gutierrez found the 3-foot alligator in a large tank with a metal grate over it outside a house and talked to the homeowners. They said they were looking for a new home for the legally purchased gator and would continue feeding and caring for it. Gutierrez offered some advice to make sure it was secured in the tank.

Did you know?

• More evidence that lakeshore violations are hurting Minnesota's lakes: DNR wetland enforcement officer Larry Hanson recently found a case at Yankton Lake in Lyon County where about 270 feet of rip-rap was put in along a shore, and cattails and other aquatic plants were removed, all without permits.

• Be careful if you're boating on Whiteface Reservoir near Aurora. Officer Mark Fredin took a call about a boat that hit a reef there and sank. He found it and pulled it to shore. "There have been numerous reports of people hitting rocks on this lake due to the low water conditions," he reported.

• It's a common occurrence in Minnesota: non-married couples illegally buying husband-wife combination licenses to save a few bucks. Conservation officer Jeff Johanson of Osakis reported that he encountered "numerous" such couples recently. The licenses were invalidated and he took enforcement action.

• More on the new drain plug law for Minnesota boaters: While working at a public access in the Walker area, officer Gary Sommers encountered one boater who said: "I don't see how this will work. It will do more harm than good when people forget to put their plug in when they launch their boat." The boater, of course, had the plug in his boat (illegally) when he arrived at the access.

• Wild blueberries and raspberries are ripe in many areas of Minnesota, and the picking has begun.

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