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OutdoorsWeekly.com Minnesota Archived News
Minnesota News

April 2016

 

Live bait will be allowed on Mille Lacs Lake starting with opener

DNR works with local advisory committee to reconsider live-bait restriction

All Mille Lacs Lake anglers will be able to fish with live bait when the season opens Saturday, May 14.
“This year’s Mille Lacs regulation will not include a live bait restriction due to feedback from anglers and stakeholders,” said Don Pereira, fisheries section chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The DNR is hearing that anglers are accepting of the catch-and-release aspect of the walleye season, but members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee heard clear concerns about the live bait restriction, as did the DNR.”
The DNR decided to allow live bait after committee members and the DNR met Wednesday, April 6, and had a productive discussion about the pros and cons of the live-bait ban.
“Our discussion showed the DNR and the committee are determined to work together to protect the resource while still providing the best recreational opportunities on Mille Lacs for a wide range of users,” said Dean Hanson, who operates Agate Bay Resort in Isle and co-chairs the advisory committee.
All other Mille Lacs regulations announced March 21 remain in place, including the provision that requires all walleye caught to be immediately released.
The new regulations come as the DNR is working to conserve young walleyes so they can mature and become spawners, thus helping the lake’s walleye population to recover. Hooking mortality – an estimate of the number of fish that die after being caught and returned to the water – is a factor in keeping state anglers under this year’s state walleye allotment.
Hooking mortality increases as water temperatures warm and catch rates increase. Both factors are at play in Mille Lacs this year. Studies show anglers using only artificial bait can reduce hooking mortality substantially because fish are less likely to swallow artificial bait and suffer internal damage from a hook.
Pereira said the initial decision to include a live-bait ban for Mille Lacs regulations reflected the desire of anglers and area businesses to keep walleye fishing open as long as possible.
Removing the live bait restriction does not pose any conservation risk because the state’s walleye allotment of 28,600 pounds established by the DNR and eight Chippewa bands remains in place. A federal court decision requires that walleye fishing on Mille Lacs be suspended if anglers exceed the limit.
Anglers and the Mille Lacs Advisory Committee members said live bait is an important part of the Mille Lacs fishing experience. Concerns about the live-bait ban were expressed locally around the Mille Lacs community as well as from members of the public visiting the Northwest Sports Show, which concluded April 3.
DNR staff learned that it would be difficult for some anglers to adapt to using only artificial bait, and it could particularly discourage young anglers. Bobber fishing with live bait has a long tradition on the lake. Those concerns prompted Wednesday’s meeting between the DNR and the Mille Lacs Lake Advisory Committee.
Hanson said he believes this discussion shows the advisory committee process is working. “We focused on prolonging the walleye season as long as possible by whatever means were available,” said Hanson. But stakeholders told the committee they found the live bait restriction objectionable.
Pereira agreed that the advisory committee process is working well. “The framework was established to communicate information from the public to the DNR, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “The committee’s leadership and commitment were crucial to the DNR’s decision-making process.”
Information about Mille Lacs Lake is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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3-walleye limit on Upper Red Lake continues from winter

Less restrictive walleye regulations put in place on Upper Red Lake this past winter will continue when the 2016 open water season opens on Saturday, May 14, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The daily bag and possession limit will be three walleye, with one fish longer than 17 inches allowed.
“The new angling regulation and the abundance of 13- to 19-inch walleye in the population should combine for a great fishing opener on Upper Red Lake,” said Gary Barnard, Bemidji area fisheries supervisor with the DNR.
Walleye harvest on Upper Red Lake is managed on an annual basis by a harvest plan, which was updated before the most recent winter fishing season.
“We will be able to continue into the 2016 open water season with the less restrictive regulations because the new harvest plan allows more harvest when spawning size fish are in surplus,” Barnard said. “We have heard reports that the ‘one over’ regulation has been a popular change from the previous protected slot limits.”
Creel survey information suggests that the regulation is also meeting the DNR management objective of distributing the harvest over a broader size range and removing some of the surplus spawning-sized fish from the population.
Future harvest adjustments could include increasing the bag limit this summer.
“Safeguards are built into the current rule package in case spring harvest is excessive. But given a lower winter harvest, a June 15 adjustment to a four-fish bag limit is very likely,” Barnard said.
Total harvest for the 2015-16 winter season was about 113,000 pounds, which fell below the 140,000 pounds harvested during winter 2014-15, even though less restrictive harvest regulations were in place for the 2015-16 winter season.
One likely reason harvest declined was that fishing pressure shifted to later in the season due to poor early season ice conditions. Catch rates are typically lower later in the season. Still, this was the third highest winter harvest in the past 10 years since the walleye fishery reopened in 2006 after being closed in 1999 due to overharvest.
The DNR has not made a decision regarding the early season fishing closure on the Tamarac River. This decision will be made in late April when biologists are able to assess the status of the walleye spawning run. The DNR closes the spawning locations to fishing only where habitat is limited and fish are very concentrated in one location.
The DNR and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa developed a joint harvest plan that governs walleye harvest, and harvest restrictions are necessary to comply with the harvest plan agreement. Upper Red Lake fishing regulations are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing.

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Minnesota Bill Would Ban Wolf Management

Sportsmen's Alliance Reports
Ignoring overwhelming evidence that wolf populations are on the rise, a Minnesota senator has introduced legislation that would prohibit the establishment of a hunting season for gray wolves. Current law prohibits the state from opening a hunting season unless the gray wolf is removed from the federal endangered species list. Senate Bill 2969 removes that stipulation, resulting in a total prohibition on gray wolf hunting regardless of their populations.
These decisions are typically made by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, after consultation with biologists. Senate Bill 2969 removes scientific management of wolves from the department and instead implements a political decision that makes it much harder to repeal should management ever be needed in the future. The bill has been sent to the Senate Committee on Environment and Energy.
The Great Lakes population of wolves has greatly exceeded population targets set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would normally trigger their delisting from endangered status, which would then allow the states, including Minnesota, to actively manage the species. However, a lawsuit brought by anti-hunting groups has led to a federal judge ordering the species to be relisted against the wishes of federal wildlife officials. Congress is considering legislation that would order USFWS to delist the recovered wolves yet again.
With the population of wolves continuing to rise unchecked, the authors of SB 2969 seek a permanent ban on a wolf hunt. In the meantime, the over populated segment of Great Lakes wolves continues to cause damage to both livestock, pets and other wildlife, including moose, deer, cattle, and dogs.
Take Action: Contact your state senator and ask for NO Vote on SB 2969. Tell your Senator that wildlife decisions should be made by experts. Let them know that hunters play a key role in conservation including the control of overpopulated wolves. Click HERE to obtain contact information for your Senator.

About the Sportsmen's Alliance:The Sportsmen’s Alliance is a 501 (c) 4 organization that protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is a 501 (c) 3 organization that supports the same mission through public education, legal defense and research.  Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible. Stay connected to Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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2016 Mille Lacs regulations designed to keep walleye fishing open

Regulations designed to protect the fish needed to rebuild Mille Lacs Lake’s walleye population will require that walleye anglers use only artificial bait and immediately release all walleye when Minnesota’s 2016 fishing season opens Saturday, May 14.
“A catch-and-release walleye season allows us to protect future spawners yet acknowledges the desire that fishing remain open,” said Don Pereira, fisheries chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Not allowing harvest is a difficult decision but it provides our best option.”
From May 14 to Thursday, Dec. 1, anglers targeting walleye must use artificial bait and immediately release all walleye caught. Anglers targeting northern pike and muskellunge may possess and use sucker minnows longer than 8 inches but all other anglers must not possess any other bait that is live, dead, frozen or processed.

Other changed regulations for the 2016 season on Mille Lacs include:

  • Walleye: Night closure beginning Monday, May 16, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and continuing through Dec. 1. Muskellunge anglers may fish at night but all baits, live or artificial, in possession must be at least 8 inches long.
  • Northern pike: Five fish with only one longer than 40 inches. All northern 30-40 inches long must be immediately released.
  • Bass: Four fish with only one longer than 21 inches. All fish 17-21 inches long must be immediately released.

“These new regulations reflect the DNR’s commitment to continue providing world-class fishing at one of Minnesota’s premier vacation destinations,” Pereira said.
Last year on Mille Lacs, walleye anglers could use live bait and keep one walleye 19-21 inches long or longer than 28 inches. Walleye fishing closed in August when fishing pressure, the number of fish caught and temperatures combined to push the state over its 28,600 pound walleye limit. Fishing re-opened on Dec. 1, 2015, with a walleye limit of one 18-20 inches or one longer than 28 inches.
This year’s safe walleye harvest level established by the DNR and Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission remains at 40,000 pounds, with 28,600 allocated to state anglers and 11,400 to tribal anglers. Allowing fishing beyond those limits puts the walleye population at risk and a federal court decision requires that walleye fishing be suspended.
“The possibility of closing Mille Lacs to walleye fishing is greater this year than it was last,” Pereira said. “Even with our catch-and-release approach, the risk remains considerable.”
Concern stems from the additional pressure that hooking mortality – an estimate of the number of fish that die after being caught and returned to the water – has on walleye harvest. Hooking mortality rates also increase as water temperatures warm. Both factors are at play in Mille Lacs this year.
The DNR expects more small- and intermediate-sized fish to be caught, including fish hatched in 2013 that biologists are counting on to rebuild Mille Lacs’ walleye population. These immature fish, which are approaching a more catchable but comparatively small size of 14 inches and longer, need to be protected so they can spawn. Ice is opening on lakes earlier this year, increasing the likelihood that water temperatures will warm faster and sooner.
“A low level of allowed harvest doesn’t necessarily mean slow walleye fishing,” Pereira said. “As we saw last year, factors can combine to alter estimates and require adjustments. We believe that allowing no walleye harvest through catch-and-release is a reasonable yet cautious response based on in-depth analysis and citizen input from the Mille Lacs advisory committee.”
As part of a more comprehensive study to better understand and estimate hooking mortality, the DNR will collect a variety of fishing information on Mille Lacs this summer. Temperature sensors will be placed in different parts of the lake at different depths to more accurately record temperatures where walleye congregate. Information on fishing methods and catches will be collected, too. Part of the information collection aspect of the research program will allow Mille Lacs’ fishing launches to be exempt from the live bait restriction.
“Anglers fish close together on launches, making it extremely difficult to safely cast artificial lures rather than dropping baited lines into the water,” Pereira said. “Since the DNR needs more data to refine its hooking mortality standards, asking launches to provide this data will allow a traditional, popular and enjoyable method of fishing on Mille Lacs to continue.”
Launch operators receiving a permit can use live bait provided they agree to participate in efforts to collect data from fishing trips, launch customers and cooperate with the hooking mortality study. Their permits would be suspended if walleye fishing on Mille Lacs has to be closed.

Bass regulations compromise
Anglers can keep four bass in any combination of largemouth and smallmouth, down from last year’s limit of six fish. The new regulations add a requirement that all fish 17-21 inches be immediately released, and the length restriction for the largest fish an angler may keep increased from 18 to 21 inches.
The early harvest offered on Mille Lacs also was eliminated, requiring that – like the rest of the state – all bass caught during the first two weeks of the season be immediately released.
Mille Lacs’ exemption to the statewide fall closure of the smallmouth bass season remains, meaning that anglers may keep smallmouth bass they catch on Mille Lacs through Feb. 28, 2017.
DNR changed the regulation to balance bass angling groups’ call for stricter regulations to protect Mille Lacs Lake’s world-class smallmouth fishery with the desire and need to provide anglers opportunities to harvest fish.
“Bass regulations are a compromise,” Pereira said. “Last year’s regulations were biologically sound but it was important that DNR also factor in the emerging social aspects in this year’s regulations.”
The ability to exempt large bass tournaments from the size regulation and bag limits remains.

Northern pike regulations change
Mille Lacs anglers can keep five northern pike, only one of which can be longer than 40 inches. All fish 30-40 inches must be immediately released.
The five-fish limit was initially enacted last December. The protected slot limit replaces the provision that allowed anglers to keep only one fish longer than 30 inches.
The earn-a-trophy provision that required anglers to harvest two smaller pike before one larger one was eliminated for the 2016 open water season.
More information about Mille Lacs is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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Report card on pheasant action plan highlights need for support

Actions to improve grassland pheasant habitat and pheasant populations are off to a positive start, but much of the work remains ahead, according to a report card developed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that tracks progress on the state’s Pheasant Summit Action Plan.

“The report card highlights positive action and trends on a number of specific items that  improve pheasant populations and pheasant hunting,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “However, as the 2016 legislative session gets started, we are at a critical fork in the road for the pheasant plan that may decide whether we make meaningful progress or head on a downward trend.”

Legislators currently have several pheasant plan action items on their agenda for consideration, including Outdoor Heritage Fund recommendations, which support pheasant habitat protection and enhancement through a variety of state and nonprofit organization programs; Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding proposal, which increases funding for public land acquisition as well as provides funding for private land conservation through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP); and legislation that boosts the amount of roadside habitat available.

The report card is an important component of the Pheasant Summit Action Plan because it allows the DNR, partners, and the public to monitor progress on the ten strategies and associated action steps in the plan. It also highlights areas that need additional resources.

“Pheasant populations are an indicator of the health of the landscape,” said Kevin Lines, DNR pheasant action plan coordinator. “Pheasant habitat is important not only for hunters, but also for all Minnesotans who care about clean water, healthy soils and our state’s natural heritage.”

While improving pheasant habitat and providing quality hunting opportunity require public land acquisitions from willing sellers, more than 95 percent of the pheasant range is in private ownership. For that reason, private lands conservation programs, such as CREP, are an important component of success.

“The proposed CREP would permanently protect and restore grassland and wetlands on the most environmentally sensitive and beneficial acres,” said John Jaschke, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR). “It’s a multi-benefit approach that will yield significant progress both for Minnesota’s water quality and wildlife needs.”  

The CREP proposal is a five-agency effort led by BWSR that includes the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the DNR.

The 2016 Report Card is available at www.mndnr.gov/pheasantaction. Visit http://www.bwsr.state.mn.us/crep/CREP_Proposal_Summary_Fact_Sheet.pdf for facts and funding figures about the CREP proposal.

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Elk survey results underscore importance of elk research

Fluctuations in the 2016 annual elk population survey illustrate one of the primary reasons wildlife researchers have begun placing GPS collars on elk in northwestern Minnesota and tracking their movements.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ aerial survey counts elk in three herds in the state’s elk range. This year’s survey results show large population swings in two of the three herds that might be caused by elk traveling into and out of Canada – and across the survey boundary.  

“These survey results underscore the importance of upcoming research into elk movements,” said John Williams, the DNR’s northwest region wildlife manager. “The aerial survey is a snapshot in time. Tracking elk movements over a longer time period will provide information that will make our elk survey more effective and allow us to better manage elk.”

In total, survey spotters counted 83 elk in the state’s elk range in Kittson, Marshall and Roseau counties, down from 131 in the 2015 survey.

In the Grygla herd in Marshall County, spotters counted 21 elk, up slightly from the 18 counted last year and 20 counted in 2014. The current population goal for the Grygla herd is 30-38.

“While the number of elk in the Grygla herd remains stable, its status is still of concern,” Williams said. “This herd hasn’t been hunted since 2012.”

In the Kittson-Central herd located near Lancaster in Kittson County, spotters counted 52 elk compared to 34 in 2015 and 37 in 2014. This year’s count remains above the current population goal of 20-30 animals.

In the Caribou-Vita herd (also known as the Cross Border herd or the International herd), spotters also counted 10 elk, down from 79 animals counted in 2015 and 51 in 2014. This is Minnesota’s largest herd, which migrates between northern Kittson County and Manitoba. The Caribou-Vita herd’s current population goal is 150-200 elk inhabiting both sides of the border.

“We continue to see the Cariobu-Vita herd regularly travel between Minnesota and Canada,” said Williams. “We know these animals move back and forth across the border daily, and perhaps intermix with the Kittson-Central herd.”

Elk study begins
The DNR’s recently begun research into elk movements and habitat use stands to help managers speed up and improve the effectiveness of the elk surveys, as well as improve knowledge of Minnesota elk biology and management of the species.

As part of the study that began Feb. 16, the DNR will collar approximately 20 adult female elk, some from each of the three herds.

“This research project is the first of its kind in Minnesota,” said Gino D’Angelo, DNR deer project leader. “Our goal is to improve understanding of the species and ultimately develop management programs that benefit elk and their habitat while also minimizing conflicts with landowners.”

The study is being conducted by researchers from the DNR and Minnesota State University-Mankato and will run through June 2018.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and approved by the state Legislature. The DNR and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are also providing funding.

Elk are managed to maintain a free-ranging, wild population in far northwestern Minnesota. These herds afford recreational and economic opportunities, including wildlife watching and hunting seasons when their populations can sustain a hunt.

Current population goals for each herd were established in the 2009 elk management plan, which DNR developed with local landowner groups. The plan reflects a priority to increase landowner acceptance of elk.

The DNR is in the process of finalizing the 2016-2020 plan. A public input process was completed Jan. 22. The management plan will address population goals, landowner concerns about crop damage and opportuni¬ties to hunt and view elk.

For more information on Minnesota’s elk management, visit www.mndnr.gov/elk.

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Moose population remains low; 5-year population decline improves

Minnesota’s moose population remains low despite a slowing population decline during the past five years, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

Results from the 2016 aerial moose survey indicate that the population change from an estimated 3,450 in 2015 to 4,020 in 2016 is not statistically significant. Northeastern Minnesota’s current moose population could be as high as 5,180 or as low as 3,230.

“Moose are not recovering in northeastern Minnesota,” said Glenn DelGiudice, moose project leader for the DNR. “It’s encouraging to see that the decline in the population since 2012 has not been as steep, but longer term projections continue to indicate that our moose population decline will continue.”

Annual population comparisons are made to 2006 because northeastern Minnesota’s highest moose population estimate of 8,840 occurred that year. Since then, the moose population has declined 55 percent.

Studies have shown that adult moose survival has the greatest long-term impact on moose populations. Northeastern Minnesota’s collective moose population may be reflecting the annual survival rate of moose collared as part of the DNR’s moose mortality research project, which shows that survival of adult moose increased from 81 percent in 2013 to 88 percent in 2014 and 85 percent in 2015.

DelGiudice said more calves surviving beyond their first year also may be slowing the short-term population decline. Data collected in fall and early winter 2015 document the number of calves that remained with their mothers. These data reflect the 2016 population survey estimate that 17 percent of Minnesota moose are calves, up from 13 percent in 2015 and 15 percent in 2014.

This year’s survey involved flying 52 survey plots distributed across northeastern Minnesota from Jan. 4-15. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and 1854 Treaty Authority contributed funding and provided personnel to assist Minnesota DNR with the annual moose survey.

A copy of the aerial survey report and more information about Minnesota moose are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/moose.

 Survey

 Estimate

 90% Confidence Interval

 Calf: Cow

% calves

 % cows
w/twins

Bull: Cow

 2005

 8,160

 6,090-11,410

 .52

 19

 9

1.04

 2006

 8,840

 6,790-11,910

 .34

 13

 5

1.09

 2007

 6,860

 5,320-9,100

 .29

 13

 3

 .89

 2008

 7,890

 6,080-10,600

 .36

 17

 2

 .77

 2009

 7,840

 6,270-10,040

 .32

 14

 2

 .94

 2010

 5,700

 4,540-7,350

 .28

 13

 3

 .83

 2011

 4,900

 3,870-6,380

 .24

 13

 1

 .64

 2012

 4,230

 3,250-5,710

 .36

 15

 6

1.08

 2013

 2,760

 2,160-3,650

 .33

 13

 3

1.23

 2014

 4,350

 3,220-6,210

 .44

 15

 3

1.24

 2015

 3,450

 2,610-4,770

 .29

 13

 3

 .99

 2016

 4,020

 3,230-5,180

 .42

 17

 5

1.03


Table 1.  Estimated moose numbers, 90 percent confidence intervals, calf:cow ratios, percent calves in the population, percent cows with twins, and bull:cow ratios estimated from aerial surveys in northeastern Minnesota, 2005–2016.

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Leech Lake 5-year management plan finalized

A new five-year fisheries management plan for Leech Lake in northern Minnesota has been released by the Department of Natural Resources. The plan covers the period 2016-2020 and outlines management objectives for primary sportfish populations, as well as steps to reach these goals.

The document was developed by combining fisheries science with extensive public input. Management actions in this plan include habitat protection, special regulations, stocking of game fish (when specified population triggers are met),  and continued support for double-crested cormorant control, as well as expanded sampling for other important species such as largemouth bass and tullibee, also called cisco.

“The plan aims to provide a quality sustainable sport fishery in Leech Lake for the long term,” said Henry Drewes, DNR northwest region fisheries manager.

The plan was developed with input from the 16-member Leech Lake Fisheries Input Group representing local and statewide interests in Leech Lake management activities. The group met regularly over a six-month period beginning in March 2015 to discuss sportfish management objectives and how those objectives might be achieved.

“I cannot say enough about how much energy the input group members put into this process,” said Doug Schultz, Walker area fisheries supervisor. “Their efforts contributed immensely to the overall quality of the new management plan.”

The draft management plan was presented for broader public input during September 2015. Over the past few months public comments were collated and the draft plan was revised to reflect some of the common themes that emerged from the public input process.

The final plan, approved by DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/1R9Ird8. Electronic copies of the plan can also be obtained by emailing the Walker area fisheries office at walker.fisheries@state.mn.us.

Leech Lake covers 112,000 acres and is a popular year-around recreation destination. The lake is home to walleye, muskellunge, northern pike, yellow perch, largemouth bass and a number of other fish species sought by anglers.

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