MINNESOTA DNR NEWS #49 June 30, 2014
Breeding duck numbers down, Canada goose population similar to last year
Along with another unusual spring and late ice-out, Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down slightly from last year while other species saw higher declines, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 257,000, which is 12 percent below last year’s estimate of 293,000 breeding mallards, 1 percent below the recent 10-year average and 13 percent above the long-term average.
The blue-winged teal population is 102,000 this year compared with 144,000 in 2013 and remains 53 percent below the long-term average of 215,000 blue-winged teal.
The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 116,000, which is 53 percent lower than last year and 35 percent below the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands was 343,000, up 33 percent from last year, and 28 percent above the long-term average.
“While we’re seeing declines in this year’s counts, the survey results can be affected by weather and visibility of waterfowl from aircraft,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “Continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and may provide a better indicator of what hunters could expect this fall.”
The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.
A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.
This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 244,000 geese, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 250,000 geese. This does not include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
“Although this year’s population estimate is similar to last year’s estimate, goose production, or the number of goslings that hatch, will be better than last year,” Cordts said. “This year’s colder than normal temperatures delayed some goose nesting, particularly in the northern portions of the state.”
The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.
“Although colder than normal, the lack of snowfall in April this spring allowed geese to begin nesting only about a week later than normal,” Cordts said. “However, more nests were initiated this year than in spring of 2013, when snow remained on the ground in many parts of Minnesota well into May and goose production should be about average to slightly below average this year.”
The DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer. The Minnesota waterfowl report is at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 30, 2014
Ruffed grouse counts see increase, possibly signaling uptrend
Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly higher than last year across most of the bird’s range, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“Ruffed grouse drums increased 34 percent from the previous year, with the increase happening in the northern part of the state,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “This may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase.”
The increase is consistent with changes typical of the 10-year grouse cycle. The most recent peak in drum counts occurred in 2009. The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of the state, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.
Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting.
Compared to last year’s survey, 2014 survey results for ruffed grouse indicated increases in the northeast survey region, which is the core of grouse range in Minnesota, from 0.9 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014. Drumming counts in the northwest increased from 0.7 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.2 in 2014. Drumming counts did not increase in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.8 and 0.3 drums per stop, respectively.
Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.1 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2012 and 2013 were 1.0 and 0.9, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.
Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.
One reason for Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state's 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.
For the past 65 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year,
Sharp-tailed grouse counts stay steady
Overall, sharptail populations have declined in some areas as a result of habitat deterioration. In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive. This habitat management is important for healthy sharp-tailed grouse populations.
The DNR’s 2014 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, will be available soon online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.
NOTE: A chart of annual ruffed grouse drumming counts is attached.
Applications are available wherever Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hunting and fishing licenses are sold. The deadline is Friday, Aug. 15.
“Having a prairie chicken hunt raises awareness of this unique species and how heavily these birds rely on healthy prairies and grasslands,” said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife populations and regulations manager. “Having hunters take an interest in prairie chickens is beneficial because prairie conservation and prairie chickens go hand in hand.”
The nine-day prairie chicken season, which will begin on Saturday, Sept. 27, is open to Minnesota residents only. Hunters will be charged a $4 application fee and may apply individually or in groups up to four. Prairie chicken licenses cost $23. Apply at any DNR license agent; the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul; online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense or by telephone at 888-665-4236. An additional fee is charged for Internet and phone orders.
The hunt will be conducted in 11 prairie chicken quota areas in west-central Minnesota between St. Hilaire in the north and Breckenridge in the south. Up to 20 percent of the permits in each area will be issued to landowners or tenants of 40 acres or more of prairie or grassland property within the permit area for which they applied.
The season bag limit is two prairie chickens per hunter. Licensed prairie chicken hunters will be allowed to take sharp-tailed grouse while legally hunting prairie chickens.
Sharptails and prairie chickens are similar looking species. The general closure on taking sharp-tailed grouse by small game hunters in this area is to protect prairie chickens. Licensed prairie chicken hunters who want to take sharptails must meet all regulations and licensing requirements for taking sharp-tailed grouse.
In 2013, an estimated 96 prairie chickens were harvested, with 60 percent of hunters taking at least one bird. Hunter success varies considerably from year-to-year, especially when poor weather prevents hunters from going out in the field.
“Prairie chickens need large tracts of native prairie and grasslands, but unfortunately prairie conservation is challenging,” said Merchant. “That’s why the DNR has been a partner along with the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, The Nature Conservancy and numerous others in developing and implementing the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. This plan aims to protect Minnesota’s remaining native prairie, and restore and manage grasslands, and the prairie chicken should benefit as a result.”
For more information on the prairie chicken, search “prairie chicken” at the DNR’s rare species guide at www.mndnr.gov/rsg. For more information on the Minnesota Prairie Conservation plan, see www.mndnr.gov/prairieplan.
For many anglers, moments like these are a direct result of skill, persistence and sometimes a little luck. But often, there is another important ingredient – fish stocking by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Without the process of taking fish eggs and putting the newly hatched fry or small walleye fingerlings into lakes, these fish generally could only be caught on large rivers and on 260 lakes predominantly in the northern half of the state. But after stocking, walleye can be found in around 1,300 Minnesota lakes.
“This spring we took more than 600 million walleye eggs. From those, 270 million fry were stocked in 277 lakes,” said Neil Vanderbosch, DNR fisheries program coordinator. “Crews worked in some pretty rough weather including snow this year during egg take. Falling temperatures delayed spawning activity and egg take for a few days, but in the end we met quotas.”
Despite the stocking effort, natural reproduction accounts for the majority of walleye caught and harvested by anglers in the state. An estimated 85 percent of all the walleye harvested in Minnesota result from natural reproduction, with most of these fish are pulled from popular walleye lakes like Lake of the Woods, Leech, Red and Winnibigoshish.
“While most walleye caught result from natural reproduction, stocking provides anglers throughout the state the chance to catch walleye on medium and small lakes,” said Vanderbosch.
Here’s a rundown of this year’s walleye stocking effort that started April 19 in Detroit Lakes and ended May 6 in Cut Foot Sioux in Grand Rapids and Pike River in Tower.
In all, the DNR stocks about 1,050 lakes that can’t maintain a walleye population through natural reproduction. Stocking usually takes place in lakes every other year, and about half of the stocking uses fry, which are newly hatched fish that are a few days old and about a third of an inch long.
To get the fry, eggs and semen are squeezed out of fish and combined in dishes of water. The resultant fry are stocked directly into lakes, and also into rearing ponds. When the fish grow to be 4- to 6-inches long, they are called fingerlings, and fingerlings from rearing ponds are stocked in the fall.
Factors like weather, habitat and winterkill are taken into account in lake management plans when planning where and when to stock fish.
“It’s no accident that anglers are never far from a walleye lake in Minnesota,” said Vanderbosch. “Fish stocking is a core function of the DNR because we know that well-maintained fish populations make for better fishing. And stocking is paid for by hunting and fishing license dollars.”
However, within each lake there is a stocking sweet spot. At a point, stocking more walleye fry or fingerlings does not mean more walleye in the future due to factors like habitat, the amount of forage fish for walleye, and the hungry-teenager effect – that is, young adults tend to eat more compared to older, larger fish. Competition for food between stocked fish can decrease fish growth, leading to decreased survival and ultimately fewer fish for anglers to catch.
“While our stocking program is successful, within each lake there’s an ideal range we aim for when we stock fish,” said Vanderbosch. “The bottom line is smart stocking means better fishing.”
Those who want to give additional support to walleye fishing can purchase the Minnesota walleye stamp wherever DNR licenses are sold. Proceeds from sales of the stamp, which is not required to fish for or keep walleye, are used to maintain and enhance Minnesota walleye fishing. The stamp costs $5, and the dollars flow into a dedicated account for walleye stocking.
Fish stocking is also not limited to walleye. The DNR rears catfish, muskellunge, lake sturgeon and northern pike in 12 warm-water hatcheries, and stream trout, lake trout, and splake in five cold-water hatcheries spread throughout the state.
To provide youth fishing opportunities, the DNR stocks bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, perch and walleye in numerous Twin Cities metro area lakes through the DNR Fishing in the Neighborhood program. See a list of recently stocked FiN waters at www.mndnr.gov/fishing/fin/stocking.html.
For stocking information about individual lakes, enter the lake name on LakeFinder at the DNR Fish Minnesota page, www.mndnr.gov/fishmn.
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 30, 2014
5 camper cabins open at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park
Just in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, five new camper cabins will be open to visitors at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance, starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday, July 2.
The cabins can be reserved online at www.mndnr.gov/reservations or by calling 866-857-2757. They will rent for $55 nightly Sunday-Thursday and $60 nightly Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 31, then $60 on weeknights and $70 on weekends starting in 2015.
The five “cart-in” cabins, two of which are wheelchair accessible, were built a short distance from the park’s main campground, with wagons available near the parking lot.
“Overnight visitors can load up their gear in the wagons and haul it to their cabins, which are just 150 to 530 feet down the trail,” explained Mark White, park manager. “Each of the cabins has a name and theme,” he added, “with interpretive information posted inside.” Visitors have their choice of the Trout, Owl, Mink, Pine or Lily cabin.
Set in the blufflands of southeastern Minnesota, the park is a popular destination for fishing in spring-fed trout streams, horseback riding and cave tours. Mystery Cave is the longest cave in Minnesota, spanning more than 13 miles underground. Scenic tours, led by park naturalists, provide opportunities to see stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone fossils and beautiful underground pools.
Visitors staying at camper cabins need to bring their own sleeping bags or other bedding. They cook meals outside over a fire ring just like at regular campsites. The cabins have electricity but no indoor plumbing. Drinking water and vault toilets are available year-round. At Forestville, the cabins are “an easy walking distance” from the showers and flush toilets in the main campground, White said.
The park is located near Preston, about 120 miles southeast of the Twin Cities metro area. For more information about the cave tour and the park, including directions and an interactive virtual tour, visit www.mndnr.gov/forestville.
Matching grants of $2,500 to $10,000 are available to city, county and regional parks for constructing backstops, berms, bow racks, fencing and other features deemed essential to creating an archery range.
“The goal is to increase opportunities for families and individuals to get outdoors and enjoy this popular activity,” said Jay Johnson, DNR hunting recruitment and retention coordinator.
The application deadline is Aug. 29. Projects must be completed by June 30, 2015.
The new archery grant program is a response to growing interest in archery and bowhunting. Johnson said youth and adult archery hunting licenses have increased in recent years. DNR Archery in the Parks programming has been a hit. And, hundreds of thousands of Minnesota students have launched arrows at targets through the state’s National Archery in the Schools Program during the past decade.
“Awareness and interest in archery has been on the rise,” said Johnson. “If we can help communities provide another family-friendly activity in their park system, that’s a good thing.”
DNR archery grants require an equal match. A total of $50,000 is available during the next 12 months. Applications will be scored and ranked. Winners will be announced in September.
DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 30, 2014
“Youth accompanied by a parent, guardian or mentor can hunt in select state parks and other refuge areas during these annual opportunities,” said Mike Kurre, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources mentoring coordinator.
Of the 17 special hunts, 15 are firearms hunts for youth ages 12-15; two are archery hunts for youth ages 12-17.
Participating in a youth deer hunt does not preclude the youth from participating in the regular firearms deer season, but any deer harvested do count against the youth’s season bag limit. An adult parent, guardian or mentor must accompany the youth at all times while hunting, but only the youth may hunt. Youth and their mentor must attend a mandatory pre-hunt orientation clinic.
A limited number of either-sex permits are available for the following hunts:
Youth must apply for the hunt of his or her choice, which can be done at any DNR license agent; the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, or online at
If the number of applications exceeds the number of permits, a lottery will be conducted. Youth may only apply for one archery hunt and one firearms hunt.
Successful applicants also must meet all firearms safety requirements, purchase all appropriate licenses and follow hunting regulations.
In addition to the 17 application-only hunts in state parks and refuge areas, any youth ages
For more information, visit www.mndnr.gov/discover and click on youth deer hunts.
DNR QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Q: Is there commercial fishing in Minnesota?
A: Commercial fishing in Minnesota for walleye and other game fish was eliminated in 1983. Today, commercial harvest is mostly limited to rough fish such as common carp, buffalo and freshwater drum. These fish are harvested primarily using large seine nets up to 3,000 feet long and 20 feet deep.
On Lake Superior, the DNR issues a maximum of 25 commercial licenses each year. The main harvest on Superior is ciscoes, also called lake herring, with some permitted harvest of whitefish and lake trout. Commercial fishing on Lake Superior is primarily done with gillnets.
On average, Minnesota’s commercial harvest each year is about 4.5 million pounds of fish, valued at close to $1 million.