Rivers and lakes: cold water and moving fast
As Minnesotans get their fishing gear and boats ready for the 2014 fishing opener, the Department of Natural Resources is urging anxious fishermen and women to keep in mind that lake and river levels are high and the temperature of that water is still cold.
A no-wake zone is currently in effect on the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls to Prescott. Keller and Spoon lakes in Ramsey County and Crystal Lake in Dakota County are also no-wake. The Minneapolis locks on the Mississippi River are closed to both recreational and commercial traffic.
“People should always wear their lifejackets every time they step on a boat and especially during times of high and cold water,” said Kara Owens, DNR boating safety specialist. “High water levels mean a fast and strong moving current, which many boat operators are not used to, and that can create dangerous situations.”
The swift current also makes it more difficult for even an experienced swimmer to swim or stay afloat – especially in cold water – if their boat or canoe capsized.
More than 30 percent of boating fatalities in Minnesota happen in cold water – water below 70 degrees – with a victim not wearing a life jacket.
On April 19, a man died after his canoe capsized in Blue Earth County. The victim is the first boating death of 2014. Thirteen people died in boating accidents in 2013.
Falling into icy water can be deadly because many boaters do not think about the effects of cold water immersion, Owens said.
The shock of the cold water causes an involuntary gasp reflex. It takes less than a half cup of water in the lungs to drown. The shock of sudden entry into the water can also cause cardiac arrest, even for people in good health.
The DNR recommends these safety tips for boaters:
- Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket.
- Do not overload the boat.
- If boat capsizes, try to reboard or stay with it until rescuers arrive.
- Tell someone fishing destination and planned return time.
For more information, visit DNR website at:
Ask a friend to go fishing
Want to learn how to fish? Consider asking a friend for help.
“Ask another angler and they’ll likely take you fishing,” said Mike Kurre, mentoring coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The number one thing is to ask. Fishing with someone else can simply be more fun.”
To start, anglers might not need to buy gear or a license because in most cases, Minnesotans don’t need a license to fish in Minnesota state parks and fishing kits can be checked out through a free loaner program. For locations, seewww.mndnr.gov/state_parks/loaner.
Classes for kids and adults are listed on the DNR Take a Kid Fishing page at www.mndnr.gov/takeakidgfishing. They include:
- I Can Fish! Classes led by a naturalist. Discover what it takes to start fishing. Rods, reels and bait provided.
- I Can Trout Fish! Classes provide fishing gear. License requirements are waived. Learn about trout, the food they eat, and how to catch and release trout.
- Fly fishing classes introduce the fundamentals, including how to cast or cast more accurately.
Classes are scheduled from Sunday, May 25, to Saturday, Aug. 30.
If an angler has caught a walleye in an east metro lake any time over the past couple decades, chances are they can thank Donn Schrader. Around the St. Paul area office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, he’s sometimes referred to as “Papa Walleye.”
While lakes in central and northern Minnesota can rely upon nature to create a healthy walleye fishery, very little natural walleye reproduction occurs in metro lakes. Add in the heavy angling pressure in the metro region, where some 385,000 licensed anglers reside, and it’s clear nature needs a helping hand.
“Without stocking we wouldn’t really have a walleye fishery in the metro region, other than in our rivers,” said Dave McCormack, central region assistant fisheries manager. “If you catch a walleye in an east metro lake, it’s probably a fish that came through this facility.”
Each spring, Schrader – who has worked at the hatchery since 1987 – receives around 30 million fertilized walleye eggs that have been taken by DNR crews from one of several locations in the northern part of the state. The eggs arrive in large heavy-duty plastic bags filled with water. As hatchery manager, it’s his job to make sure that as many of the eggs as possible turn into baby walleyes. On average, about three out of four eggs hatch after three weeks, with water temperatures kept at 50 degrees. The dark little squigglers, known as fry, are then transferred into large water jugs and sent out into the world.
Roughly 30 to 40 percent of the fry are put into any of about 20 rearing ponds, which are small basins without other fish. There, they’ll grow to fingerling size by fall, when DNR fisheries crews return to net them and stock them in larger, fishable lakes. Each year, east metro lakes are stocked with about 8,000 pounds of walleye fingerlings. Between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds of fingerlings are added to lakes across the entire seven-county metro region. The other 60 to 70 percent of the fry go directly into the region’s lakes where, if they’re not eaten by bigger fish or die otherwise, they’ll grow to catchable size in about three years.
Whether a particular basin receives fry or fingerlings, how often and how many, are decisions all based on a lake’s management plan, which takes into consideration the types of other fish present, its size and depth, type of lake bottom, water quality, data from fish surveys, and past experience. Stocking fry is less costly, and it can produce good results, especially in lakes that have experienced winterkill, as many did this year. But fry are vulnerable to being eaten by other fish, and don’t do well everywhere. Centerville Lake in Anoka County, for instance, has built a respectable walleye fishery with regular stockings of walleye fry. But Forest Lake has done better being stocked with fingerlings every other year. To some extent, it’s a matter of trial and error.
“In some lakes fry do well, and in some lakes fingerlings do well,” said T.J. DeBates, DNR east metro fisheries manager. “All of our stocking efforts are based on management plans. We don’t just stock willy-nilly.”
In addition to walleye, the St. Paul hatchery produces about 300,000 pure strain muskellunge fry and some hybrids. Situated just below the bluffs of Mounds Park, the facility is located on the site of the state’s first fish hatchery, established there in 1878 because local springs provided a ready supply of cold clean water, and the nearby railroad tracks made it easy to ship fish all around the state. The hatchery operations were significantly downsized starting in the 1960s, and now the site and buildings serve as headquarters for the DNR’s central region.
Successful recovery of lake sturgeon continues
More research underway to determine current status
The recovery of lake sturgeon on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River is a true success story that dates back to the enactment of the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Such achievement has allowed for the expansion of a lake sturgeon recreational fishery providing anglers with a rare opportunity to fish for this dinosaur-like fish during defined fishing seasons.
“This is really something special for anglers in the spring season and throughout the latter half of the summer,” said Henry Drewes, DNR northwest region fisheries manager. “It represents a truly unique opportunity for Minnesota anglers to catch a fish upwards of 100 pounds.”
Since the early 1980s, fisheries biologists in Minnesota and Canada have engaged in research and management of the fisheries resources along the U.S.-Canada border. Cooperatively, the Border Waters Lake Sturgeon Committee drafted short- and long-term goals for the lake sturgeon population. The underlying objective was to re-establish and then maintain a self-sustaining lake sturgeon stock in all suitable habitats within the Minnesota–Ontario border waters.
In 2012, Minnesota and Canadian fisheries biologists celebrated a major milestone in the recovery efforts of the lake sturgeon population on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River when short-term population recovery goals were met.
“Interest in this unique fishery has increased dramatically in the past 20 years,” said Kevin Peterson, DNR area fisheries supervisor in International Falls. “The fact that the sturgeon population has continued to expand both in numbers as well as size and age distribution under ever increasing angling pressure is a real credit to those who worked together to bring about this recovery.”
Sturgeon, one of the oldest species of fish in existence, grow larger and live longer than any other North American freshwater fish. With few natural predators besides humans, these fish can live 150 years and reach 400 pounds. They spend their lives at the bottom of lakes and rivers, stirring sediment with their long, rubbery snouts and taking in crayfish, nymphs and other small aquatic animals with their sucker-like mouths.
The abundance of sturgeon and a lack of fishing regulation led to heavy exploitation when European settlers arrived in the area in the 1800s. On Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, where sturgeon were fished heavily, the annual commercial harvest reached nearly 2 million pounds between 1883 and 1893.
Like most long-lived species, sturgeon mature slowly and reproduce infrequently. The population couldn’t reproduce fast enough to sustain the harvest, and it crashed before 1900.
With recovery efforts and careful management, Peterson and his counterpart, Phil Talmage, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Baudette, now report seeing bigger fish every year. Both know from past history that these waters are capable of producing some real behemoths as long as they protect their habitat and let them live long enough.
Still, while sturgeon fishing is better than anyone could have expected, the population remains in recovery mode. Continued monitoring and management is needed and described in management plans for the system.
Recently, fisheries biologists began a research project on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River to obtain current information on the abundance and size structure of the lake sturgeon population in the system. Previous estimates of the population size and size structure were obtained in 1988 and 2004. Those estimates showed an increasing population and an expanded size structure with larger lake sturgeon.
STURGEON STUDY UNDERWAY
In mid-April, in cooperation with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Rainy River First Nation, DNR fisheries biologists began setting nets to capture and tag lake sturgeon. The study area consists of all 82 river miles of the Rainy River below the International Falls Dam, Fourmile Bay, and a large portion of Big Traverse Bay and the Inside Channel located on the southeastern part of Lake of the Woods. The tagging effort includes help from anglers that are targeting lake sturgeon within the study area.
“Anglers who catch a lake sturgeon can voluntarily participate in the study by allowing DNR staff (in boats) to take the fish, tag it and release it,” said Talmage. “These folks can be a valuable part of our research efforts.”
Tagging will end mid-May. In mid-June through July, lake sturgeon will be recaptured in gill nets placed at randomly determined sites within the study area. During the recovery phase, a ratio of tagged to untagged lake sturgeon will be obtained. This ratio is then used to estimate the number of lake sturgeon within the study area.
Lake sturgeon fishing regulations for 2014 on the Minnesota side of Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River allow anglers to purchase a lake sturgeon harvest tag that allows them to harvest one lake sturgeon between 45 and 50 inches or one more than 75 inches, per calendar year.
Immediately after harvesting a lake sturgeon, the tag must be validated and attached to the fish. The angler must mail in the registration slip within 48 hours of harvesting a lake sturgeon. Party fishing for lake sturgeon is illegal. Gaffs may not be used to assist in landing lake sturgeon. Anglers may not target or harvest lake sturgeon from the Ontario waters of Lake of the Woods and Rainy River.
The spring harvest season on the Rainy River runs April 24 to May 7. From May 8 to May 15, anglers can fish for lake sturgeon, but must release all fish they catch. The fishing season for lake sturgeon is closed May 16 to June 30. There is a second harvest season that runs July 1 to Sept. 30. Anglers can catch and release lake sturgeon any time, except May 16 to June 30 when the season is closed to protect spawning fish.
Lake sturgeon fishing regulations are detailed in the Fishing Regulations guide or online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/regulations/fishing. For more information, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/minnaqua/speciesprofile/lake_sturgeon.
Hunting plan aims to reduce deer-human conflicts in Duluth area
Reducing deer and human conflicts in Duluth and surrounding communities by extending the firearm deer season for one week each fall will be discussed from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, May 8, in Duluth, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.
The meeting will be at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gitchee Gumee Conference Center, 6201 Congdon Boulevard.
“Deer-human conflicts are common in the area, while hunter access is limited,” said Chris Balzer, DNR area wildlife manager in Cloquet. “Designating the area a metro deer management area emphasizes just how different this area is from other permit areas and gives local governments more flexibility to manage deer populations.”
The DNR would allow unlimited harvest of antlerless deer during any open deer season in the area that now comprises deer permit area 182. Communities affected by the change would include Duluth, Hermantown, Proctor, Esko and Cloquet. Local governments would determine whether hunters could use bows, firearms or both within their jurisdictions.
Deer populations and hunting are managed the same way in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, which is designated as deer permit area 601. The area in question in and around Duluth would become the state’s second metropolitan deer management area.
Hunter access is limited in the area because most land is privately owned or located within city boundaries, creating refuge-like areas where deer can isolate themselves from hunters.
“Despite a change in 2005 that altered boundaries so deer harvest could be set higher in this area, deer populations remain high,” Balzer said. “The hope is that allowing hunting for an additional week and directly involving local governments will result in more deer being harvested.”
City officials from Duluth and representatives of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance will provide additional details and discuss their perspectives at the meeting and public comments will be recorded.
Additional information about the proposed change and an online comment form will be available beginning Friday, May 9, on the DNR’s deer management web page at www.mndnr.gov/deer. Written comments may be mailed to Chris Balzer, Cloquet area wildlife manager, 1604 Highway 33 South, Cloquet, MN, 55720 or sent via email firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for comments is Monday, May 19.
DNR’s Norrgard receives prestigious national wetlands award
A Minnesota wildlife biologist will soon receive a prestigious national award for his efforts in advancing waterfowl and habitat conservation.
Ray Norrgard, wetland management program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, will receive the 2014 National Wetlands Award for State, Tribal, and Local Program Development on May 8 at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.
He was selected for the award by a national panel of wetland experts. The Environmental Law Institute administers the award, which is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NOAA Fisheries, and the Federal Highway Administration.
“It’s rewarding to see Ray’s work recognized by the institute and national conservation community,” said Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. “His commitment to wetlands and waterfowl has never faltered. His primary concern has always been doing what is best for the resource.”
Norrgard has worked on wetland and waterfowl conservation for nearly 40 years in government and non-profit positions. In his various roles at the DNR, Norrgard has taken a leading role in the development of several wetland programs. This includes, among many others, Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) – an initiative that has generated tens of millions of dollars annually to restoring wildlife habitat on marginal agricultural lands.
“Ray helped develop the RIM Program and worked to get the initiative passed through the state Legislature,” said Bradley Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. “Once passed, he helped develop grant programs that have served as national models for conservation.”
Norrgard has also been a key contributor to several natural resource management plans and reports. He was the primary author of Minnesota’s Long Range Duck Recovery Plan – the most ambitious duck plan in the state’s history. The plan calls for an average duck population of 1 million birds and management of 2 million acres of wetlands and grasslands. He also led the completion of the most comprehensive report to date on the ecology and management of northern wild rice.
Norrgard has also created an extensive legacy of education and outreach in the state. He has written articles, conducted interviews, and spoken at clinics and symposiums for youth, adults, and wildlife management professionals. “Ray has a unique ability to interact and engage with all levels of the conservation community from state conservation leaders to the average duck hunter to kids at Minnesota Waterfowl Association’s youth camp,” said David Scott, assistant regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s migratory birds and state programs in Minnesota. “He is an outstanding communicator with a unique ability to share complex biological concepts with the public.”
He has also volunteered countless hours of his free time to promoting wetlands. “[Ray] has never hesitated to apply the commitment [he has shown in his work life] to his volunteer life as well,” said David Zentner, past national president for the Izaak Walton League of America. “‘Off-duty, Norrgard has also made significant contributions to Minnesota.” This includes working with a citizens group that spearheaded a successful constitutional amendment in 2008 that increased the state sales tax to support habitat and clean water conservation, parks and trails, the arts.
“Quite simply put,” said Peter David, wildlife biologist for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, “there is no one in the region who has done more over their career to steward the wetland resources he dearly loves. Our wetlands – and our wetland professionals – are far better off because of Ray’s tireless dedication, and his legacy will be felt for decades to come.”
Norrgard also received the Minnesota Award at the 2014 annual meeting of the Minnesota Chapter of The Wildlife Society. The Minnesota Award is the TWS’s highest conservation award.
For more information on the national award, visit www.nationalwetlandsawards.org
Bears emerging from hibernation a cause for preparation, not alarm
More bear sightings are being reported in northern Minnesota by Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers as the animals emerge from hibernation and search for food.
Now is a good time for residents who live close to bear habitat to inspect their property for food sources that could attract hungry bears. With berries and vegetation scarce at this time of year, bears may be tempted by dog food, livestock feed, birdseed, compost or garbage.
“When human-related food is easy to find, bears stop seeking their natural foods,” said John Williams, DNR northwest regional wildlife manager. “These bears eventually get into trouble because they return again and again.”
Unfortunately, food-conditioned bears often end up dead bears. Bears that are trapped because they have become a nuisance are destroyed rather than relocated. Relocated bears seldom remain where they are released. They may return to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else.
Experience has shown that removing food that attracts bears resolves problems more effectively than attempting to trap and destroy bears. Bears will not be trapped for causing minor property damage, such as tearing down bird feeders or tipping over garbage cans.
“If a bear enters your yard, don’t panic and don’t approach the bear,” Williams said. “Always leave the bear an escape route. Everyone should leave the area and go inside until the bear leaves on its own.”
Bears are normally shy and usually flee when encountered. But they may defend an area if they are feeding or are with their young.
“Never approach or try to pet a bear, Williams said. “They are unpredictable wild animals. Injury to people is rare, but bears are potentially dangerous because of their size, strength and speed.” A treed bear should be left alone as well. It should leave once the area is quiet.
Some tips for avoiding bear conflicts:
AROUND THE YARD
- Do not leave food from barbeques and picnics outdoors, especially overnight. Coolers are not bear-proof.
- Replace hummingbird feeders with hanging flower baskets, which are also attractive to hummingbirds.
- Eliminate bird feeders or hang them 10 feet up and 4 feet out from the nearest trees.
- Where bears are a nuisance, birdfeeders should be taken down between April 1 and Dec. 1.
- Store pet food inside and feed pets inside. If pets must be fed outdoors, feed them only as much as they will eat.
- Clean and store barbeque grills after each use. Store them in a secure shed or garage away from windows and doors.
- Pick fruit from trees as soon as it’s ripe and collect fallen fruit immediately.
- Limit compost piles to grass, leaves and garden clippings, and turn piles regularly.
- Harvest garden produce as it matures; locate gardens away from woods and shrubs that bears may use for cover.
- Use native plants in landscaping whenever possible. Clover and dandelions will attract bears.
- Elevate bee hives on bear-proof platforms or erect properly designed electric fences.
- Do not put out feed for wildlife (corn, oats, pellets, molasses blocks).
- Store garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or dumpsters. Rubber or plastic garbage cans are not bear-proof.
- Keep garbage inside a secure building until the morning of pickup.
- Store recyclable containers, such as pop cans, inside. The sweet smells attract bears.
- Store especially smelly garbage such as meat or fish scraps in a freezer until it can be taken to a refuse site.
- If bear problems persist after cleaning up the food sources, contact a DNR area wildlife office.