DNR to close Mille Lacs walleye season Sept. 6
Estimated hooking mortality harvest exceeds quota by more than 16,000 pounds
After eight Chippewa bands expressed strong concerns, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will close the Mille Lacs Lake catch-and-release walleye season on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
Warm water temperatures and high catch rates on Mille Lacs during July and August led to higher-than-expected hooking mortality rates -- an estimate of the number of fish that die after being caught and returned to the water. The state’s current estimated walleye harvest is 45,276 pounds, exceeding the original state quota by 16,676 pounds.
The state decided earlier this month to keep walleye fishing open out of concern for the impact of an early closure on the area economy. The catch-and-release-only regulations on Mille Lacs are successfully conserving the lake’s future spawning population of walleye.
Given the strong concerns of band leaders, the state will close the lake’s walleye season after the Labor Day holiday weekend.
The 2016 allocation established by the bands and the DNR in January was 40,000 pounds – 28,600 for state-licensed anglers and 11,400 for tribal fishing. Eight Chippewa bands hold treaty fishing rights to Mille Lacs Lake.
“Although the state’s estimated overage does not pose a conservation risk to the lake’s walleye population, we recognize the impact that continued fishing could have on our relationship with the bands,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
As of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, the lake’s catch-and-release-only walleye season will close. Fishing for other species remains open. The closure will remain in effect through Wednesday, Nov. 30.
In addition to its reputation for world-class walleye fishing, Mille Lacs has also become a premier location for northern pike, muskie and small mouth bass fishing, and in September will host the Bassmaster Elite Series angler of the year championship.
“We certainly encourage anglers to continue visiting the Mille Lacs area this season to take advantage of the phenomenal fishing for other trophy species,” Landwehr said. “Last fall, a world-record muskie was caught and released on Mille Lacs by a fly-fisherman, and anglers are reporting excellent catch rates again this year.”
As in past years, the DNR will conduct fall walleye assessments to determine the health of the walleye population. Data from those surveys will help determine future seasons.
The DNR continues to invest in research to enhance its understanding and management of the lake’s fishery, including ongoing advanced research on hooking mortality, the addition of water temperature gauges at more locations and deeper depths, and additional technical work examining the changing ecology and food web of Mille Lacs, including the potential effects of invasive species.
Additional information about Mille Lacs fisheries management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake. This year’s fishing regulations are on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn.
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DNR begins work on statewide deer management plan
Citizen participation encouraged
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has begun work on a new statewide deer management plan – a multi-phase project that will emphasize opportunities for citizen input and involvement.
“The DNR values the statewide significance and cultural traditions surrounding deer, and recognizes the importance of hearing from all citizens who have a stake in how deer are managed,” said Adam Murkowski, DNR big game program leader.
Overall goals of the deer plan include setting a statewide harvest objective, describing the DNR’s responsibilities and activities related to deer management, addressing regional variations in deer habitat and populations, and guiding the agency’s management of deer into the future.
The DNR has already had early conversations about the plan with interested groups. A statewide deer plan advisory committee will be formed this fall, and opportunities for citizen input will be announced. The DNR aims to complete the plan by the spring of 2018.
“To ensure the deer plan best reflects statewide interests, we’ll be actively soliciting input from the general population in addition to our invested stakeholder groups,” Murkowski said. “The ultimate success of the plan will depend largely on citizen participation in this process. Hunters are a primary stakeholder group and they will be actively involved, as will other interests, to ensure that decisions best serve the public.”
The deer plan advisory committee will include representatives from a wide array of interested groups as well as open, nonaffiliated seats. The committee is expected to begin work before the end of 2016 and meet monthly for the duration of the planning process.
“We’re currently working on the selection process and will announce in September how individuals can apply for committee membership,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski added that the planning process will include opportunities for citizen participation beyond the advisory committee, including public meetings, online comments and small group discussions. DNR staff will also be talking with participants about ways to stay involved and engaged in deer management even after the deer plan is implemented.
To stay informed about the deer management planning process, opportunities to get involved, and other deer-related topics, visit www.mndnr.gov/emailupdates and subscribe to the Deer Management email list.
For more information about deer management and hunting in Minnesota, visit www.mndnr.gov/deer.
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Small game hunter survey results released
About the same number of small game hunters took to the field in 2015 compared to the year before. By species, the number of pheasant hunters was up slightly, with duck hunters stable and grouse hunters down slightly, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources annual small game survey.
In 2015, the number of pheasant hunters was 63,350, representing an increase of 10 percent from 2014.
An estimated 76,243 people hunted ducks, essentially the same as last year.
Ruffed grouse hunter numbers were estimated at 79,058 a decrease of 5 percent from 2014.
Statewide estimates show small game hunters harvested about 243,176 pheasants (up 59 percent), 663,811 ducks (down 5 percent), and 267,997 ruffed grouse (down 11 percent) in 2015 with margins of error in the results of between 9 and 14 percent.
With the exception of pheasant, individual hunter success rates were comparable to 2014. Pheasant hunters harvested an average of 3.8 pheasants in 2015, which was 41 percent higher than 2014 when 2.7 pheasants were taken per hunter. Duck hunters harvested an average of 8.7 ducks in 2015 compared to 9.3 in 2014. Woodcock hunters harvested 3 birds per hunter, compared to 2.7 in 2014. Ruffed grouse hunters harvested an average of 3.4 grouse in 2015, compared to 3.6 in 2014.
The DNR annually surveys small game hunters to make estimates of both hunter numbers and harvest trends. For the 2015 season, 7,000 small game license buyers were surveyed of which 3,485 surveys were returned and usable.
The complete report is on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/publications/wildlife.
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Minnesota’s wolf population remains stable
Results from the latest wolf population survey show no significant change in Minnesota’s wolf population during the past four winters, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The latest survey results estimate that within Minnesota’s wolf range there were 439 wolf packs and 2,278 wolves last winter, compared to 374 packs and 2,221 wolves the year before. There has been no biologically or statistically significant change in the size of the statewide mid-winter wolf population over the past four years.
“The consistent wolf population surveys over the last several years are further evidence of the health and stability of Minnesota’s wolf population,” said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR.
The population survey is conducted in mid-winter near the low point of the annual population cycle. Immediately following birth of pups each spring, the wolf population typically doubles, though many pups do not survive to the following winter.
Minnesota’s wolf population remains above the state’s minimum goal of at least 1,600 wolves and is above the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400.
Although the population estimate was not significantly different from last year, survey results suggest wolf packs used less area on average than the previous year (62 versus 73 square miles), resulting in an increase in the estimated number of packs. This pattern is consistent with the increase in deer numbers observed in many parts of wolf range.
According to John Erb, DNR wolf research scientist, when prey numbers change, wolves must eventually re-adjust to the new conditions.
“In recent years we’ve observed a decline in prey that translated into larger wolf pack territories, and the reverse is now to be expected if deer numbers continue to increase,” Erb said.
The survey estimated an average of 4.4 wolves per pack, down from an average pack size of 5.1 wolves per pack in last year’s survey. The slight drop in average pack size from last winter could be a result of many factors, although pack size is not as correlated with prey density as is territory size. The late start and early end to winter snow cover reduced the amount of time available for wolf pack counts, which could contribute to a lower estimate.
“Regardless of the explanation, over the past 30 years, average mid-winter pack size has not shown much variability, ranging from 5.6 to 4.3,” Erb said. “Counts are assumed to represent minimum estimates given the challenges with detecting all members of a pack together at the same time.”
The DNR’s goal for wolf management, as outlined in the state’s wolf management plan, is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while addressing wolf-human conflicts. Wolves in Minnesota returned to the federal list of threatened species as a result of a Washington, D.C. federal district court ruling in December 2014.
Visit the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/wolves to find the full report, an FAQ and an overview of wolf management in the state, including the wolf management plan.
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Zebra mussels confirmed in 5 Minnesota lakes
Personal responsibility key to preventing spread
The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed five new reports of zebra mussels in central Minnesota lakes.
Infested waters signs have been posted at DNR accesses on West Battle Lake and Otter Tail Lake in Otter Tail County, Lake Florida in Kandiyohi County, Pocket Lake in Douglas County, and a network of abandoned mine pits in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in Crow Wing County.
“While any new infestation is serious, it’s important to note that more than 98 percent of Minnesota lakes are not listed as infested with zebra mussels,” said Ann Pierce, section manager for the DNR's Ecological and Water Resources Division. “Boaters and anglers, DNR-trained watercraft inspectors and enforcement officers, lake associations and many others are working to keep it that way.”
DNR invasive species staff found one adult zebra mussel in the area of an initial citizen report and three adult zebra mussels about three miles from the initial report location on West Battle Lake. The DNR will monitor downstream lakes in Glendalough State Park.
A swimmer found a zebra mussel on a native clam in Otter Tail Lake. DNR invasive species staff searched more than 3,000 objects in the lake and did not find any other zebra mussels. They continue to conduct dock and lift searches, and ask the public to check their equipment and contact the DNR to report anything suspicious.
DNR researchers found zebra mussel veligers (larvae) in Lake Florida while doing other work in the lake. Veligers can be inadvertently but illegally transported in water from an infested lake as ballast, in live wells or in bait water. Boaters and anglers are required by law to open all drain plugs and drain all water when leaving any Minnesota lake or river and to keep drain plugs out during transport.
A swimmer reported a zebra mussel in Pocket Lake. No other zebra mussels were found during extensive snorkel searches by DNR invasive species staff, while connected lakes downstream have had relatively heavy infestations for some time.
Alert divers contacted the DNR upon finding numerous zebra mussels in two abandoned mine pits in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. The DNR is surveying other mine pits in the area. Divers and all lake users are reminded to carefully clean and check their gear when leaving or entering any lake or moving from pit to pit, whether or not it is infested.
Reports from citizens are frequently the first indication of a new infestation, and the DNR appreciates the partnership of lake users, county watershed districts and lake associations.
To protect the state’s waters from the spread of invasive species and the environmental, recreational and economic damage they cause, Minnesota law requires boaters and anglers to:
- Clean their watercraft of aquatic plants and prohibited invasive species.
- Drain all water by removing drain plugs and keeping them out during transport.
- Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.
In 2016, there are more DNR-trained watercraft inspectors and more decontamination units on Minnesota lakes than ever before. Watercraft inspectors check to ensure that boaters and anglers follow clean, drain, dispose laws and may deny access if necessary. Decontamination stations provide a free and thorough process of removing aquatic plants and animals.
More information is available at www.mndnr.gov/AIS.
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