The birds are back

April 16, 2014

After the winter we’ve had, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as seeing a bunch of ducks doing their thing in open water. We’ve seen a whole bunch of drake and hen mallards, and pretty good numbers of wood ducks, too.

The geese honk as they fly over the house early in the morning and in the evening, and swans and shorebirds are frequent visitors to many open wetlands.

Yes, spring has arrived.

In coming weeks, state DNR and federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists will take to the air for the annual waterfowl counts and population estimates, and we’ll learn once again if continental duck populations remain high. That will give us our first indication as to the sorts of hunting regulations that await us this fall.

But for the time being, it seems appropriate to just stare out the window and take in the natural wonder of the new season. (Just as I typed that, a snow squall came by.)

In days gone by, this is the time of year we’d be providing weekly updates about the goings-on at the state Legislature. But lawmakers, for one, are on their Easter breaks this week, and, for two, it’s been a relatively quiet session on the conservation front.

While we can expect money for this project and that, this program and that, there’s little in the way of proposed laws that deal directly with waterfowl. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s a Game and Fish bill that is relatively non-controversial and likely will pass – though floor amendments dealing with wolves could derail it – and the bill that has the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council likely will pass with little controversy.

While we still remain vigilant about what lawmakers are up to, there’s nothing wrong this time of year with taking some time to enjoy the wonder of nature.

Show time
The Minnesota Waterfowl Association will be exhibiting at the Wing Shooting and Wildlife Art Show, which is set for April 25-27 at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

Show hours are 2 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 25; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 26; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 27.
Stop by and see us. For more information, click here.

Raise your hand if you’re tired of winter? OK, just wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page. Luckily, even if we get the big pile we’re forecasted to get on Friday, it won’t stick around long.

Sadly, though, it’s hard to have a conversation these days without at least some reference to the weather. Yeah, we know we get winter in Minnesota. But how many of us signed up for this kind of winter?

Now I’m rambling, but I can’t help but wonder what those Canada geese I keep seeing are going to do when we get the big dump. Grin and bear it, I suppose. Like us, there’s not much else they can do.

But we know spring arrives every year, and it will arrive this year, too. After all, the Northwest Sportshow is the gateway to spring, and we’re just a few days removed from that show. And by the way, we’d like to thank everyone who came and visited the Minnesota Waterfowl Association booth. It was a busy, and fun, few days, and we always enjoy meeting new people and renewing old acquaintances.

Truth be told, there’s not a whole heck of a lot going on in the waterfowl world right now. Lawmakers in St. Paul are in the thick of things, but there’s little that directly affects the hunting aspect of waterfowl, and it’s too early to say exactly what sorts of conservation measures we’ll see by the time it’s all said and done.

When we know, you’ll know.

One thing that’s worth mentioning is it appears the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is going to approve an early teal season for production states, including Minnesota.

But don’t hold your breath that Minnesota will be holding one. The Minnesota Waterfowl Association has come out in opposition to the season, and it doesn’t sound like our state DNR is going to push too hard for one, either. This story in Outdoor News will bring you up to speed on what’s going on, and also includes the Minnesota Waterfowl Association’s perspective.

Got stuff?

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association has the perfect way to help you get rid of it: Our fourth annual rummage sale, which is set for Friday and Saturday, May 16-17, at our state office in Hopkins. The address is 907 1st Street North in Hopkins.

You can help us make the sale a success by donating new and used items that we can sell. So long as the items are clean and in good working condition, we’ll be happy to take them and try to sell them. We’ll provide you with a donation receipt for the items you donate.

What exactly do we want? Well, what do you want to get rid of?

We’re not picky. We’ll take household items; tools; hunting and fishing gear; books; decoys; sporting goods – just about anything so long as it works and is clean.

We had a lot of items at last year’s garage sale, but much of it was in the men’s realm. But we had lots of women stop by, so we’d love to have a more expansive offering this time around. So, guys, don’t forget to ask your wives if they have any items they’d considering donating. We want something for everyone who shops at this year’s rummage sale!

If you have any questions, or want to set up a time to drop off your donations, call Dale Eggert at (952) 767-0320, or send him an email to dale.eggert@mnwaterfowl.com

While we’ll take donations at any time, we’d like to have them all by May 15 – the day before the sale.

Watch our website – www.mnwaterfowl.com – and we’ll post sale hours on May 14.

Sure as winter turns to spring – and it always does, even if right now that seems like a pipe dream – lawmakers descend on St. Paul for the annual legislative session. The 2014 version got under way last Tuesday. Unlike many years, when the session begins sometime in January or early February, things are humming right out of the gate this year as lawmakers try to get all the year’s business done on a compressed timeline.

One of the main agenda items this year is a bonding bill, which could be as big as $1 billion. That bill traditionally has been a good source of funds for conservation, particularly for programs such as Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve. We’re hoping RIM has a strong presence in this year’s bill.

Also, we’re closely watching the Outdoor Heritage Fund bill, which eventually will be rolled into a larger Legacy bill. The Outdoor Heritage Fund bill – HF 1926, authored by Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul – cleared its first House committee yesterday and will be heard in the House Legacy Committee next week. The bill includes more than $100 million for conservation and natural resources projects across the state.

The Legacy bill was a source of great controversy last year, but there are some indications that might not be the case this time around. Stay tuned.

A number of other bills dealing with the outdoors also have been introduced, but at this early time, it’s hard to tell exactly what will move forward and what won’t. So far, there isn’t anything that directly affects waterfowlers in terms of regulations or anything like that.
But keep checking the blog and we’ll keep you posted on the goings on at the Legislature.

We’re fresh off our annual Waterfowl Symposium, conservation awards banquet, and induction of new members into the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame. It was a busy first weekend of February – and the days and weeks leading up to it were jam-packed, too – but now we’ve got a little time to breathe.

But only a little.

The Minnesota Legislature is back in session on Feb. 25. And while it appears a big part of the session will be about removing old and unnecessary laws from the books, we’ll be watching to see what’s happening on the conservation front.

At this time, one of the big issues is a piece of legislation passed last year as part of the Tax bill. Basically, it doesn’t allow local assessors to reduce the property value of conservation easements. So if an acre of farmland is worth $7,500 without an easement, and $1,500 with an easement, then it would be taxed at the $7,500 level.

Our fear – and that of a whole host of other conservation groups – is that such a change will cause people to opt against enrolling in land conservation programs like Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve/Wetlands Reserve Program. And since we can’t buy all the habitat we need, easements on private land are growing increasingly important as we try to conserve habitat.

We’ll keep you posted on how this piece of legislation, and others, play out during the session.

Dates to remember

It seems a little odd to be talking about summer when we’re stuck in this long winter, but just wanted to throw out a couple of dates to remember.

Woodie Camp is set for Aug. 10-16 at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center in Fergus Falls. The application deadline is May 16, 2014. More information is available here.

Also, the Second Annual Minnesota Waterfowl Association golf tournament is set for July 14 at the New Prague Golf Club. We had an awesome time last year, and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different.

Hard to believe we’re only a week away from our annual Waterfowl Symposium. For a link to the agenda, click here. One of the main focuses of this year’s symposium is blue-winged teal. We’ll have biologists from both Minnesota and Wisconsin talk about them.

It’s no secret that teal are really important to hunters in Minnesota. But the main reason we’re highlighting them at this year’s symposium is because of all the chatter surrounding the potential for an early teal season in Minnesota and other production states.

The Mississippi Flyway council, of which Minnesota is part, has recommended that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allow production states to hold early teal seasons. The Service hasn’t said yes to the idea, but, more importantly, it hasn’t said no, either.

The idea is still in the early phases, so it’s too soon to know exactly what an early season would look like in Minnesota. Nevertheless,it’s easy to see a few sides of this issue.

As duck hunters, we all know how many blue-winged teal often are around during September. In some cases, a whole bunch of them have left by the time we get the chance to hunt. An early season would potentially give us an opportunity for some fantastic shooting. And the weather likely would be warm – or comfortable, at least – so it could be a good opportunity to get new hunters into the field under some pretty good conditions.

On the other hand, if there’s one complaint about the Youth Waterfowl Day, it’s the belief some have that it drives ducks out, or at least moving them around. And Youth Waterfowl Day includes about 5,000 hunters. Following that line of thinking, can you imagine what it would be like during an early teal season, when anyone who wanted could head to the marsh?

We’ll have to wait and see how the early teal season turns out. It seems unlikely it would happen as soon as this fall, but you never know. Regardless, we’re looking forward to some pretty good discussion on the topic at this year’s symposium.

The 17th annual Minnesota Waterfowl Symposium will be held in conjunction with the Minnesota Decoy Collectors show on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ramada Airport Bloomington Hotel. The featured topics at this year’s symposium will be blue-winged teal and wild rice.  Leading waterfowl and wetland experts from Minnesota and neighboring states and provinces will give presentations.

The symposium is free and open to the public, but there is limited seating. The programs will address the current status of waterfowl populations, hunting regulations, species management issues, decoys, and the future of waterfowl hunting recruitment and retention. 

The MWA awards banquet is set for 5 p.m., following the symposium. It will include four conservation awards, plus the induction of the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame’s fifth class. The Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame recognizes conservationists, hunters and others who have had a significant impact and lasting legacy on waterfowl hunting and waterfowl conservation in Minnesota. 

Tickets are $45 and can be purchased by calling the Minnesota Waterfowl Association office at (952) 767-0320.

The Waterfowl Symposium is sponsored by the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and is supported by other individuals and organizations.

For more information about the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, symposium details, and the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame visit http://www.mnwaterfowl.com. or contact the Minnesota Waterfowl Association at 952-767-0320.

A look ahead to 2014

January 2, 2014

It’s hard to believe, given how cold it’s been recently, that it wasn’t all that long ago the last of the state’s waterfowl seasons wrapped up. (The final goose season wrapped up in the South Zone on Dec. 28.)

In general, we heard good reports from the duck season – not great, but just kind of consistent. The goose season seemed to be a little different, and we heard very few reports from late in the year. In fact, the most common report was from the late spring time period, when reports of Canada geese just kind of walking around in a daze were common.

If you need a waterfowl fix, but don’t want to travel to get it, you’ll have to wait until March 1, when the season for light geese opens in the state. That runs through the end of April, though anyone who’s ever targeted the snows and other light geese in Minnesota knows it can be maddeningly inconsistent.

Then, there are a few months without goose-hunting options before the August season in the state’s Intensive Harvest Zone kicks off Aug. 9 and runs through Aug. 24. Things are closed for a bit after that, and then it’s September again. (We know, it’s cruel to be thinking about August and September – heck, even March and April – when we’re in the middle of this deep freeze, which shows signs of deepening before things normalize.)

According to the DNR, the early season for Canada geese is tentatively set for Sept. 6-22; Youth Waterfowl Day is tentatively set for Sept. 13; and the tentative opener for this year’s regular waterfowl season is Sept. 27. So there you have it – some dates so you can fill up the calendar.

It’s been a little quiet the past few weeks, given the run-up to Christmas and New Year’s, but we’re looking forward to a fantastic 2014, and hope that you are, too. One of the first things on the agenda is the annual DNR Roundtable, which this year is set for Bloomington. We haven’t seen an agenda yet, but if it’s anything like those in the past, there will be plenty of topics on which to chew.

And in a few months, we’ll have our annual waterfowl symposium and awards banquet, so stay tuned for that.

Sad news

December 20, 2013

Sad news reached our office late last week. Rob Naplin, a longtime employee of the DNR, died suddenly last week. Rob most recently was the area wildlife supervisor in the Park Rapids area, and before that served in the same role in the Willmar area.

In addition to his excellent work with the DNR, Rob was instrumental in the creation of Woodie Camp and, indeed, was one of its founders. He’d attended every year we’ve held the camp. Rob wasn’t typically the center of attention, and often flew under the radar, but his contributions to the state’s outdoors scene can’t be overlooked. He was involved in a wide range of groups, including the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, and waterfowl were his “thing.”

According to reports, Rob had been cleaning ice off the sewer vents on the roof of his rural Park Rapids home when he fell and died.
His memorial service was today in Park Rapids.

Just a sad story all around. Rob had a great sense of humor and an easy way with people – adults and kids alike. He was a longtime firearms safety instructor, and youth conservation education was extremely important to him.

He’ll be missed greatly.

Just a reminder that next week – Tuesday, Dec. 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. – we launch our new program called Waterfowl 365.

We really don’t have any grand plans, except to offer a forum in which waterfowl hunters and enthusiasts can get together and talk shop. We expect to start the discussion with one topic, but fully expect it will move on from there.

Anyone is welcome to attend – the more the merrier. Tell your friends or anyone you know who might be interested in waterfowl conversation. It will be held at our state office, which is at 907 First Street North in Hopkins.

If you plan to attend, or want more information, shoot us an email at info@mnwaterfowl.com, or call (952) 767-0320.

Duck season ends
The duck season has come to a close, and based on reports we’re hearing – and our own experiences in the blind – about the best way to describe the season is OK. Most everyone saw and shot ducks. But there was never that huge grand passage of birds, and in many instances, ducks seemed to be here on day and gone the next.

On a positive note, the sales of state duck stamps increased again this year. While the increase was small, sales now have risen for a few years in a row.