I'm back from a two-week canoe-fishing trip in northern Ontario, where the bugs and fish were biting and moose were around every bend of the river we paddled. Here's some news:

Duck hunters buy federal duck stamps. They have to, of course, to legally hunt.

But sales are down in recent years, possibly reflecting a decine in the duck population and a decline in the number of hunters.

Now a volunteer group of Duck Stamp supporters is encouraging hunters and others – including birders – who enjoy the wildlife benefits from the stamps sales to buy them. The group has developed a series of public service announcements and ads -- like the one shown above --  to promote the $15 stamps.

Sales were 1.44 million in 2006-07 – the most recent year figures are available. That's the lowest since 1993-94. They have been trending down since 2000-01, when 1.69 million stamps were sold.

Since 1934, the sales have generated more than $750 million, which has been used to help purchase or lease over 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S. – lands now protected in the U.S. Fish&Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Refuge System. Federal officials point out that waterfowl are'nt the only wildlife to benefit from Duck Stamp dollars. Numerous other bird, mammal, fish, reptile, and amphibian species that rely on wetland habitats have prospered. The stamps allow free access to national wildlife refuges.

Birding big business

Speaking of birding: A report released today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows one of every five Americans watches birds – and they contributed $36 billion to the U.S. economy in 2006, the most recent year for which economic data are available. The report - Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis -shows that total participation in birdwatching is strong at 48 million, and remaining at a steady 20 percent of the U.S. population since 1996.

And Minnesota remains a birding hotbed. The five top states with the greatest birding participation rates include Montana (40 percent), Maine (39 percent), Vermont (38 percent), Minnesota (33 percent) and Iowa (33 percent).

Invasive species crackdown

The DNR announced that its officers have issued about a dozen citations and several warnings in the Lake Mille Lacs area recently. Most citations were for transporting aquatic vegetation and failing to drain water. Mille Lacs, of course, is infested with both Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels.

The officer's also distributed educational materials in a stepped-up effort to reduce the spread of invasive species that threaten native fish and wildlife, and water recreation.

"We hope these citations and warnings will raise awareness that this state looks at invasive species very seriously," Capt. John Hunt, DNR water resource enforcement manager, said in a statement. "Once a species like the zebra mussel gets into our waters, it's very unlikely we can eliminate it. That's why prevention is critical."

The DNR said increased enforcement effort will include a greater presence at public water accesses, where officers will look closely for violations. Officers will also give out informational cards, which explain laws on transporting infested water and aquatic invasive species, to all boaters.

I reported last week (in a story that appears elsewhere at this site) that critics say the actions by the state simply aren't enough to prevent the spread of zebra mussels and other invasive species in Minnesota's lakes.

Among the DNR's recommendations:

•Clean all aquatic plants, zebra mussels and other aquatic animals from boats, equipment and trailers before leaving the water access.

•Drain water from bilges, live wells, and bait containers before leaving the water access.

•Dry boats and equipment for five days, or spray with high pressure and hot water before transporting to another lake or river.

Hunt said in the news release that intercepting invasive-contaminated boats at landings is just a small part of the solution, because it will take the combined efforts of citizens, businesses, visitors, and other law enforcement agencies to contain the spread of these harmful species.

"Any success in controlling the spread of invasive species will rely heavily on boat owners taking responsibility for their boats," Hunt said. "It's important that they know what to look for and thoroughly clean their boats."


Meanwhile, a

fter finding zebra mussels recently in Lake Le Homme Dieu at Alexandria, the DNR has boosted enforcement efforts at some lakes in the northwest. This Thursday, Friday and Saturday, more conservation officers will be patrolling Otter Tail and West Battle lakes in Otter Tail County.

Officers will be telling boaters to drain bait buckets, bilges and live wells before leaving any water access, and remove weeds and mussels from boats and trailers.

Under Minnesota law, it is illegal to transport aquatic plants, zebra mussels, other prohibited species.and water from infested waters. Violators could face fines up to $500.

Next weekend, the intensive enforcement will target Lake Minnewaska in Pope County.


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DNR seeking catfish anglers

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State waterfowl hunters surveyed on hunting regs