What's the state of Minnesota's vast wildlife community?

Minnesotans have an opportunity to get answers from state specialists next week. On Aug. 17, the Department of Natural Resources says it wants the public's questions — any questions — about wildlife and habitat in Minnesota. Managers at 35 offices across the state will field calls, emails and visits from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Perhaps the stakes have never been higher for Minnesota's wildlife, owing to habitat loss and mounting signs of climate's impact.

Have a say

The "Talk About Wildlife" session is an evolution of the deer open houses organized by the DNR. The DNR's Cory Netland would like to see more Minnesotans weigh in.

Netland, area wildlife supervisor in New London, Minn., said the public's involvement has been at times disappointing. The aim — and hope — with the current session is to diversify the topics.

Netland noted that while he'd like input on the management of a high deer population in permit area 277, for example, the preservation of grassland habitat in his region also is top of mind. He said the public's insights can help inform his work and that of his colleagues across the state.

"A lot of changes are happening out there, and we'd like to hear about that and their concerns," he added.

Topics are vast

In that context, perhaps Star Tribune's recent coverage can inspire questions:

*Habitat at wildlife management areas: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) this week said the DNR had violated terms of habitat grants it receives by allowing timber sales on some wildlife management areas without properly documenting possible logging's impact on wildlife. DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said she has "zero concerns" that the agency can come up with the necessary documentation. Meanwhile, the FWS is holding up $22 million in grant money.

*Moose: The majestic creature has all manner of threats, from habitat loss to wolf predation. Now, an exploding tick population linked to climate change is another.

*Fish: Where do things stand with the millions headed toward upgrading the state's fish hatchery system, including the Waterville Hatchery in Le Sueur County?

And what about the trend toward hotter weather and rising water temperatures, knowing fish sensitivities?

*Deer: Last winter was another one of suffering for whitetails up north. What's their status looking ahead? Bag limits were recently lowered in 38 deer hunting permit areas to help the population.

*Turtles: What about the commercial harvest of wild turtles in Minnesota and its impact on their population? It prompted a ban, beginning Jan. 1.

*Cougars: Wonder about the mythic cat's existence in Minnesota? What about speculation about an established population? Or is possible evidence of cougars that of transient males passing through in search of mates?

How to connect with wildlife specialists

From Aitkin to Windom, here is the list of area wildlife offices across Minnesota and how to reach them. Here also is a helpful PDF with the offices and their supervisors.

A final thought

While Aug. 17 is a designated day to connect, Netland encouraged more contact — anytime.

"I urge everyone who cares to call and have your voice heard regarding any issue or concern related to wildlife in the state.

"We are here to listen, and comments do get documented. Decisions are made based on the very limited input we receive. This is an effective means of communicating with DNR, whereas lobbying complaints on social media is not," he said.