Weather, and its impact on wildlife and recreation, was a major theme for 2014. But other outdoor issues helped make the year a newsy one for outdoor enthusiasts. Here are some highlights.
It was a long, snowy winter everywhere in Minnesota — great news for snowmobilers and skiers, but bad news for wildlife. It was especially nasty in the north. The Department of Natural Resources’ winter severity index — used to predict winter’s impact on wildlife — shattered records there. And the deer herd suffered, with many reports of dead and dying whitetails. Some estimated 20 percent or more of the deer herd died.
WHITETAILS IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Because of the deep snow and frigid temperatures, the state’s first emergency deer feeding program in 18 years was launched. It was controversial. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association pushed for the program, funded through deer license money, but the DNR opposed feeding, saying it would do little to help the overall deer population. That issue could rise again as officials try to figure out what the policy will be in case this winter offers a repeat performance.
DEER HARVEST TRIMMED
The tough winter, combined with an already reduced deer population because of overharvest, led the DNR to hold one of the most conservative deer hunts in memory in an attempt to restore the whitetail population. That means many hunters won’t get to feast on venison this winter. The final deer harvest tally hasn’t been completed, but the kill likely will be less than 140,000 — the lowest in at least 25 years.
LATE ICE, COLD SPRING
The frigid winter and unusually cold spring were great for ice anglers; they were able to fish late into the season. But winter refused to release its grip on some northern lakes in time for the May 10 fishing opener — the second consecutive opener with ice.
STRUGGLES OF THE PHEASANT
The long, cold winter was bad enough for pheasants, but then came record precipitation in June during the critical nesting season. (The timing of those rains likely hurt ruffed grouse production, too.) Of course, loss of pheasant habitat still gets much of the blame for the downward spiral of both the population and hunter numbers. Gov. Mark Dayton called a “pheasant summit’’ earlier this month in hopes that citizens can offer some ideas to at least stem the trend.
MILLE LACS — AGAIN
Lake Mille Lacs was again in the news in 2014. In an attempt to help the lake’s struggling walleye population recover, the DNR, in an unprecedented move, banned late-night fishing. The ban was lifted in late July. But fishing pressure, and walleye harvest, were both down substantially in 2014. Some good news: For the first time since 2008, walleyes surviving into their second year remain abundant, the DNR said.
MY FAVORITE STORIES
• Lore & Legends: Gull Lake’s renowned history, which includes Indian chiefs, gangsters, gamblers and resort visionaries. http://tinyurl.com/our5s9b
• Serving those who served: Able-bodied and disabled, younger and older, veterans were treated to a day on the water at Camp Ripley’s Trolling for the Troops event. http://tinyurl.com/oah9ozx
• Foul play: Dog’s encounter with a skunk can simply stink. http://tinyurl.com/nlb674u
• Point and shoot: Love of the outdoors lured a California woman to Minnesota, where grouse is her passion. http://tinyurl.com/kwakg3l
• Roughing it: Minnesotans cherish camping. http://tinyurl.com/nrq9557
• Star of the North: Late-summer trip to BWCA is family tradition. http://tinyurl.com/pdnrfxv
• Counting critters: Tracks in dirt and snow help the DNR assess Minnesota’s carnivore populations. http://tinyurl.com/pr8qxnp
• On track: Boxcar deer hunting shack near Motley is a treasured relic. http://tinyurl.com/mldj6lx