Last year, one of the highlights of the legislative session was the passage of a law that Gov. Mark Dayton pushed to create vegetative buffers along ditches. Somewhat predictably, the newly passed law has been under discussion again at the Legislature this year. Dayton signed a clarification to last year’s bill, and we’ll have to see if there’s any more action on it during this session.

In the meantime, here’s an update from the DNR on the buffer-mapping process:

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The state’s new buffer law will be positive for a variety of wildlife species, including ducks. Photo courtesy USFWS

Landowners, local governments reviewing preliminary buffer map

(Released April 25, 2016)

Landowners, counties and watershed districts are now reviewing the preliminary map of Minnesota public waters requiring protective buffers. Landowners who have buffers identified on their property can work with their local soil and water conservation district or drainage authority to ensure the preliminary map is accurate.

Minnesota’s buffer law establishes new perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along rivers, streams and public ditches to help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment. The Department of Natural Resources’ role is to produce a map of the public waters and public ditches that require permanent vegetation buffers.

“Specific questions about the map’s depiction of waters on private land should go to local soil and water conservation districts or drainage authorities,” DNR Buffer Mapping Project Manager Dave Leuthe said. “Soil and water conservation districts are ready to work with landowners on these issues.”

The preliminary map created by the DNR displays public ditches only in counties and watershed districts that have submitted their data and had them incorporated into the map by the DNR. A status map is also available, showing the progress of each Minnesota county and watershed district in getting their data on the preliminary buffer map. Eighty-two of the 95 drainage authorities have submitted the required data. The DNR is working with those entities that have not yet submitted data, and designed a tool to help counties with paper data to digitize and submit their information.

Counties and watershed districts reviewing the preliminary map can suggest updates or corrections where ditch data on the map may not accurately show the current length or course of public ditches. The DNR has designed a tool that local governments can use to easily submit their suggested corrections online. Corrections made during this review process will help the DNR deliver a more accurate buffer map this summer.

The preliminary buffer map and status map are available at the buffers Web page. Also available at this website is a link to submit comments through May 31 about how the map is being created and more information about the buffer mapping project.

Changes could be on their way for waterfowlers, if one aspect of a larger piece of legislation makes it to this year’s finish line.

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Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A bill that’s moving as the Game and Fish Bill in both the House and Senate, would, among other things, allow hunters to use motorized decoys such as spinning wing decoys for the entire duck season, so long as they weren’t hunting on wildlife management areas. The rule wouldn’t change with regard to hunting on WMAs.

The current rule precludes hunters from using motorized decoys from the opening day of the duck season through the Saturday nearest Oct. 8.

The bill has passed the Environment and Energy Committee in the Senate, where the author is Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing. In the House, where the author is Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, the bill is in the Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee.

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome of this legislation, and continue to provide updates as the Legislature heads toward its mid-May adjournment.

One more note: We should know next week the waterfowl seasons for Minnesota this fall. We’ll post them as soon as we know them.

The DNR yesterday named Jim Leach the new director of the Fish and Wildife Division. Leach, who had a long career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, replaces Ed Boggess, who retired last month.

Following is the DNR’s news release:
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today that Jim Leach, a veteran natural resources manager with deep ties to the state’s conservation community, will be the next director of the agency’s Fish and Wildlife Division.

DNR Staff

Jim Leach, Fish and Wildlife Director (replaced retired Ed Boggess)

For the past 16 years, Leach has been the wildlife refuge supervisor for Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in that agency’s Midwest regional office in Bloomington, Minn. He has been with the Fish and Wildlife Service for 35 years and has forged strong relationships with hunting and fishing organizations, tribal authorities and other conservation groups.

“Jim is an excellent collaborator at all levels of government and has a strong network of relationships in the Minnesota conservation community,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Moreover, he started his career as a field biologist, so he has first-hand experience on how on-the-ground conservation gets done.”

As DNR Fish and Wildlife Division Director Leach, 62, will oversee a $139 million annual budget and a staff of 575 employees. The division, which includes the sections of wildlife, fisheries, outreach and administration, is charged with managing, protecting and regulating the state’s fish and wildlife resources. The division establishes fishing, hunting and other wildlife-related regulations; carries out census, survey and research projects; and promotes habitat protection and development on public and private lands.
Leach starts his new DNR job on April 18.

In 1977, Leach began his fish and wildlife career as a laborer at the Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. He started his career as a Minnesota field biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the late 1970s working at Tamarac and Agassiz national wildlife refuges. In those capacities he worked with local governments and state agencies to restore and manage wetlands on public lands.

Leach became the Fish and Wildlife Service’s coordinator for the Upper Mississippi and Great Lakes Joint Venture in 1993, a position focused on improving habitat conditions for waterfowl across the Upper Mississippi River basin. This position required extensive collaboration with many organizations to improve Minnesota’s habitat, including the Minnesota DNR. He put in place a strategic habitat conservation plan for waterfowl focusing limited land acquisition and restoration dollars on the most important breeding habitat for ducks and geese.

In his current role as wildlife refuge manager, Leach oversaw up to 18 field stations in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota for the Fish and Wildlife Service, creating a focus on land acquisitions and habitat restorations.

“Jim’s experience in working on habitat issues runs from restoring wetlands in western Minnesota, to managing land and water resources in northwest Minnesota, to working the hallways of Congress to promote funding for wildlife,” Landwehr said. “His range and depth of experience is a great fit for the Minnesota DNR, and a complement to our outstanding staff in the sections of fisheries, wildlife, outreach and administration.”

Leach, a native Minnesotan, has a master’s degree in zoology from the University of South Dakota and did his graduate research on trumpeter swans. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a wildlife emphasis, from St. Cloud State University. Jim and his wife, Patty, have four children. He is a lifelong hunter and angler and has passed that passion on to his son and daughters.

Hard to believe it’s not yet even the middle of March. It feels like the middle of April! If you’re a snow goose hunter, you’ve probably noticed the weather has been warm in the Dakotas, too, and that the snow goose migration is well ahead of normal.

Some folks are saying it’s three or four weeks earlier than it usually is, and we don’t doubt it. Those birds hightail it north when there’s open water and no snow.

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Closer to home, you can’t help but notice all the ducks and geese around. Wherever there’s a little bit of open water, you’re always assured of seeing waterfowl of one variety or another.

The purpose of today’s blog is to remind everyone that the Minnesota Waterfowl Association has wood duck nesting boxes available. We have both kits (which can be shipped) and pre-assembled boxes (which must be picked up at our office). We’ve also got predator guards.

It’s a good time to start thinking about wood duck nesting boxes, and they’re a great way to introduce kids or anyone else to waterfowl conservation. Also, the MWA Scott-Le Sueur chapter recently held its annual Wood Duck Box Building Day, and it was another great event. You can see photos and a write-up about the event in this week’s Outdoor News!

What does the future hold?

February 19, 2016

It would be great to look into a crystal ball and be able to see how things unfold as time goes by. That’s not realistic, of course, so we use the information we have available to us as we attempt to chart the proper course moving ahead.

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There were a large number of interesting and thought-provoking topics at the annual Minnesota Waterfowl Symposium, which was Saturday, Feb. 6, in Bloomington. Among them was the presentation from Steve Cordts, the waterfowl staff specialist for the Minnesota DNR.

He covered the most recent survey of state waterfowlers, presenting a wide variety of data. Among them was discussion of the median number of years people have been waterfowl hunting in Minnesota. (For those who forget, as we often do, median means half are above that number, and half are below.) According to the 2014 survey, half of the people have hunted waterfowl in Minnesota for more than 18 years, half for fewer than 18 years.
Then Cordts noted that this fall will mark the 20th season in a row with liberal hunting regulations. If you think about that, it means that half of the state’s waterfowlers have never hunted in anything but a 60-day, liberal season.

We’ve been in a prolonged wet cycle, which has helped to ensure we continue having liberal seasons. But it’s unlikely it’ll always be that way. What happens when it’s dry and the duck population goes down? How will hunters who’ve never known anything but a 60-day season react to a season that’s, say, half that long?

Will they continue to hunt waterfowl? Will they be more likely to pursue other game? And how about recruitment and retention – what would be the impact to those of a shorter, more restricted season?

We don’t have all the answers, but it’s something that’s worth thinking about.

This is the fifth story in our occasional blog series that’s intended to give people a little more information on those folks who are leaders of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. Steve Pagel is a vice president on the MWA Board of Directors.
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Please describe your involvement with MWA.
I’ve been a member since the late 1960s and have been on the state Board of Directors since the early days.

Why did you get involved with MWA?
We need to give back to ducks and have better hunting for kids.

In your view, what’s the most important aspect of MWA?
Saving wetlands from being drained and getting youth involved in hunting.

What are your main hobbies?
Hunting, fishing, and watching wildlife on the pond and farm.

Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in New Ulm and raised in Winthrop. I live in rural Le Center.

When it comes to conservation, what’s your priority?
Getting more dollars to protect wildlife in general.

If you could hunt anything anywhere in the world, what would you hunt and where would you go?
I’d go to Alaska to hunt and shoot a king Eieder or harlequin duck.

What’s your favorite species of duck?
Wood duck.

Do you have a favorite movie?
All John Wayne movies.

What’s something about you that would surprise people?
I’m a really nice guy!!

This is the fourth story in our occasional blog series that’s intended to give people a little more information on those folks who are leaders of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. Ross Hedin is the president of MWA’s Rum River Chapter.

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Ross Hedin (l) is president of MWA’s Rum River Chapter.

Please describe your involvement with MWA.
I attended my first MWA banquet in 1984 and have been a member ever since. I got more involved when I helped to reorganize the Hill River Chapter in Hill City in 1995. I was chapter secretary for nine years and chapter president for three years. We held 12 banquets and the chapter disbanded in 2006. I founded the Rum River Chapter in the Anoka/Ramsey/Andover area in 2008. I have been the chapter president since its inception. We are holding our 8th annual banquet this spring.

Why did you get involved with MWA?
My dad was a founding member of the Hill River Chapter and I attended their banquets. That is how I learned about MWA and its mission. I could see the landscape was changing dramatically in the areas I hunted, habitat loss was increasing, and duck numbers were in flux. I wanted to do something to help reverse those trends so future generations could enjoy waterfowl hunting like I have.

In your view, what’s the most important aspect of MWA?
The work the association does to restore, enhance, preserve, and protect wetland habitat. Without habitat there will be no ducks.

What are your main hobbies?
I hunt ducks and geese, grouse, and pheasants and do a lot of fishing, primarily for walleyes, panfish, and stream trout. I help coach my son’s youth sports teams. I am also part of a group that does World War 2 Reenacting/Living History.

Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Golden Valley and raised in Minneapolis until my family moved to Grand Rapids when I was 15 years old. I currently live in Ramsey with my wife and three children.

When it comes to conservation, what’s your priority?
Saving wetland habitat from the plow and development has to be the top priority. Our state is still losing wetlands at an alarming rate. The apathy this problem receives from most people is shameful.

If you could hunt anything anywhere in the world, what would you hunt and where would you go?
I have been saying for many years that the first fall that I am retired from working I want to follow the migration and hunt waterfowl all the way down the Mississippi Flyway. If I am able to do that I would be very happy.

What’s your favorite species of duck?
The wood duck. The drakes are so colorful. They fly like fighter jets and are delicious eating.

Do you have a favorite movie?
Field Of Dreams, with Animal House a very close second.

What’s something about you that would surprise people?
I played Minnesota Amateur Baseball for 18 years after graduating from high school and my team from Bovey won the Class C State Championship in 1990.

Not long ago, we wrote about this year’s class of inductees into the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is Saturday night, Feb. 6. But before that ceremony and conservation awards banquet is our annual Minnesota Waterfowl Symposium.

The symposium will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ramada Mall of America in Bloomington.

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Here are the details of the symposium:

• Conference room and information desk open at 8:30 a.m.

• From 9 to 9:30 a.m., Tom Cooper (migratory bird program chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region) and Paul Telander (Minnesota DNR Wildlife Section chief) will welcome attendees and provide opening remarks.

• From 9:30 to 10 a.m., Tom Will, of the USFWS, will discuss the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial.

• From 10 to 10:30 a.m., Joel Huener (manager at the Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area) will talk about open-water hunting in Minnesota.

• From 10:45 to 11:15 a.m., Erik Hildebrand (Minnesota DNR wildlife health specialist) will talk about avian influenza and what it means for hunters.

• From 11:15 to 11:30 a.m., there will be an introduction to the Minnesota Decoy Collectors Association show.

Throughout the morning, there will be opportunities for questions and answers with the presenters. There will be a lunch break from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

• From 1 to 1:30 p.m., Christine Herwig (Minnesota DNR nongame wildlife specialist) will talk about the success story that is trumpeter swans in Minnesota.

• From 1:30 to 2 p.m., Bruce Davis (Minnesota DNR wildlife researcher) will discuss waterfowl banding in Minnesota.

• From 2 to 2:30 p.m., Michael Bourdaghs (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency research scientist) will update the status of wetland quality in Minnesota.

• From 2:45 to 3:15 p.m., Steve Cordts (Minnesota DNR waterfowl staff specialist) will discuss the results of the recent Minnesota waterfowl hunter survey.

• From 3:15 to 3:45 p.m., Col. Rodmen Smith (DNR Enforcement Division director) will offer his views on DNR law enforcement.

• From 3:45 to 4:15 p.m., Tom Landwehr (Minnesota DNR commissioner) will take part in a question and answer session with attendees.

• From 4:15 to 5 p.m., attendees can visit demonstration and information booths.

We’re excited to announce the 2016 inductees to the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame.
By way of background, we inducted the first class into the hall in 2010, so this marks the seventh round of inductions. We’ll make the inductions, like we do every year, during our annual state conservation awards banquet, which is set this year for Saturday, Feb. 6. More details, including how to attend, are here.
IMG_9198 1Here are this year’s Hall of Fame inductees:

Tim Bremicker
Tim Bremicker worked for about four decades for the Minnesota DNR and was instrumental in waterfowl habitat restoration almost immediately after taking on area manager responsibility in Cold Spring in 1975. He also worked on the 1985 federal farm bill, the original Reinvest in Minnesota program, and the Wetland Conservation Act. He was intimately involved in development of Adaptive Harvest Management, and has been recognized on a number of occasions for his commitment to waterfowl and conservation.

Greg Berg
Greg Berg’s initial foray into waterfowl conservation led to him chairing his local Ducks Unlimited chapter banquet for nine consecutive years. He joined the Minnesota Waterfowl Association staff in 1984 as its lead fund-raiser, and two years later was promoted and became the group’s executive director. He also was a key player in establishing and growing Woodie Camp, and continues to volunteer as a shooting instructor at the camp when his schedule permits. Today, he is owner and president of Custom Art Concepts, which supplies outdoor-themed products designed for conservation organization fund-raising.

Carstens Industries
Carstens Industries, Inc., has been manufacturing top-of-the-line, hand-crafted fiberglass duck boats for more than 40 years. Waterfowling runs in the Carstens’ family’s blood, and they’ve put that experience and knowledge to use in manufacturing a product that has become a staple in duck camps across the state – including their own.

Bud Grant
Perhaps best known as the long-time coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Bud Grant also has been active in fishing, hunting, and conservation for his entire life. Over the years, he has used his notoriety to bring attention to a variety of outdoor-related issues. He played key roles in passage of the Right to Hunt and Fish, as well as the passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which voters approved in 2008.

Oscar Quam
Oscar Quam was a farmer who was particularly interested in ducks. He operated the Quam Hunting Club on an island near his family farm from 1910 until the early 1940s. He then made ducks decoys and calls, and taught calling through his “School of Duckology.” He passed away in 1969.

Jerry Raedeke
A renowned wildlife artist, Jerry Raedeke has donated thousands of wildlife prints that have raised millions of dollars for conservation in Minnesota and beyond. A Lutheran pastor in the Worthington area, he turned his attention to wildlife art following his retirement. He sold his first wildlife paintings when he was 11 years old, and over the years has worked on a variety of projects, including being commissioned to paint the famous Budweiser Clydesdales in a wildlife setting.

Doug Smith
If you’ve been reading outdoor-related stories for long, you’ve probably read the work of Doug Smith, who recently retired from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He covered state and federal agencies, conservation groups and politicians, shedding light on conservation efforts during the past 20 years.

The Minnesota DNR announced today that it has promoted Rodmen Smith to the position of director of the Enforcement Division. The DNR’s press release is below. We wish Smith the best in his new role.

Here’s the DNR’s release:

DNR names Rodmen Smith Enforcement Division director

(Released January 6, 2016)

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today that Lt. Col. Rodmen Smith, assistant director and 19-year veteran of the department, will be the next director of the agency’s Enforcement Division.

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Rodmen Smith, Chief of Enforcement, Colonel of Enforcement

“Rodmen brings a wealth of on-the-job knowledge and experience to the position, and understands first-hand the challenges facing natural resources law enforcement,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “I’m looking forward to working with Rodmen to enhance the division’s communications and public outreach and accelerate our efforts to diversify the department and solidify our reputation as a top-shelf natural resources agency.”

As division director Smith, 44, will oversee a $38 million annual budget and a staff of 250 employees, more than 200 of whom are licensed conservation officers. The division is responsible for enforcing the state’s laws related to game and fish; public lands, waters and natural resources; units of the outdoor recreation system and outdoor recreation-related public safety.

Smith began his career with the DNR in 1997 as a conservation officer. He was assigned to patrol areas in central and northern Minnesota, and later became a district supervisor, a regional Enforcement Division director and then the division’s operations manager. In 2011 he was promoted to the division’s assistant director where his job responsibilities included the division’s budgeting, policy formation and legislative liaison.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and speech communication from St. Cloud State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Smith is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command, the Harvard Kennedy School of Strategic Management of Regulatory and Enforcement Agencies program and the National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Leadership Academy.

“I see three immediate priorities for the division,” Smith said. “We need to continue to improve our service to Minnesota citizens. We need to recruit and hire new officers who not only exceed our high standards, but more accurately reflect the diverse community we serve. And we need to continue to provide field staff with the best training and tools to do their job safely, effectively and efficiently.”

Smith assumes the position of Minnesota’s chief conservation officer immediately. He replaces Col. Ken Soring, who retired in December after more than 35 years with the DNR.

Smith and his wife Kimberly have two daughters: Kenley (11), Gracie (7) and a yellow lab named Finn.