A walleye crisis on Lake Mille Lacs that gave way to an unprecedented, midseason shutdown of fishing topped a year of major outdoors news in Minnesota that also included the launch of an ambitious plan by Gov. Mark Dayton to return pheasant hunting to its past glory.
At several junctures throughout the year, the governor paired his interest in wildlife conservation with an urgent campaign to stop farm-related water pollution. He beckoned the 2015 Legislature to pass a law mandating vegetative buffer strips around rivers and streams while also setting the stage for $800 million worth of perpetual conservation easements on private land for prairie grass restoration and wetland preservation.
The Mille Lacs decision that closed walleye fishing Aug. 3 was easily the most dramatic news of the year, chafing anglers and resort owners who criticized the DNR for its management decisions. The state has vowed to revive the walleye fishing mecca as quickly as possible while trying to minimize local disruption. Still, it will take years for enough smaller walleyes to grow up into a class capable of supplying a sizable harvest while also contributing to future reproduction, the agency has said.
The problem of too few whitetail deer also drew attention in 2015. With bucks scarce in northern Minnesota, legislators were pressured to shake things up. They ordered an audit of the DNR’s management practices due by spring.
Meanwhile, this year’s deer harvest was up 14 percent by the end of November, aided by mild weather and early herd-management results.
In other Minnesota outdoors news this year, independent bear researcher Lynn Rogers of Ely won back his right to place web cameras in bear dens; DNR enforcement officers surveilled and arrested a Dawson man in a major deer poaching case now tied up in court; the DNR unveiled a new elk plan to grow one of three herds in northwestern Minnesota and cold-weather Mille Lacs anglers caught two potential world-record muskies in November. Each fish was measured, photographed and released.