Whenever the Legislature considers a game and fish bill, it seems like there are a great number of items that are non-controversial. And then there’s a piece or two that draw a lot of attention to the bill and, like what apparently happened this year, sink the whole thing.


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

Sunday, May 22 was the last day for lawmakers to vote on bills during the regular session. It was a chaotic weekend, but one of the positives is the Legislature agreed to a bill that appropriates money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund and sent it to Gov. Mark Dayton. He hasn’t signed it yet, but likely will in coming days.

Back to the game and fish bill. Much of the rancor regarding the bill concerned muskies, lead shot, and allowing hunters to wear blaze pink or blaze orange. Still, it seemed there was a sliver of hope as late as 11:20 on Sunday night, when, with 40 minutes left in the 2016 session, a conference committee was appointed for the game and fish bill.
Alas, it didn’t happen and there is no bill this year. (It could be part of a special session.)

When the bill died, so, too, did a provision within it that would have allowed waterfowl hunters to use motorized decoys throughout the duck season. The exception would have been on wildlife management areas. It was a totally noncontroversial aspect of the bill, but it likely won’t be in place this fall unless the Legislature takes up the bill in a special session.

The motorized decoy language is in state statute, so legislative action is needed to change it. Stay tuned, but don’t make plans to use your motorized decoys on opening day of this year’s duck season in Minnesota.

Thanks to a new season-setting process, hunters have plenty of lead time this year when it comes to planning their waterfowl season. The Minnesota DNR hasn’t posted the regulations on its website yet, but the waterfowl regulations have been finalized. Little has changed from last year.


Following are season dates:

September Canada goose: Sept. 3-18
Sandhill crane: Sept. 10-Oct. 16
Youth hunt: Sept. 10

North Zone
Duck: Sept. 24-Nov. 22
Goose: Sept. 24-Dec. 23

Central Zone
Duck: Sept. 24-Oct. 2; Oct. 8-Nov. 27
Goose: Sept. 24-Oct. 2; Oct. 8-Dec. 28

South Zone
Duck: Sept. 24-Oct. 2; Oct. 15-Dec. 4
Goose: Sept. 24-Oct. 2; Oct. 15-Jan. 4, 2017

Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced today the enrollment of more than 800,000 acres into the population Conservation Reserve Program. CRP is probably the most important conservation program available today.


Tom Vilsack

Yet despite receiving 26,000 applications for more than 1.8 million acres of land, the USDA could enroll just a fraction of that because of a 24 million-acre cap imposed on the program by the most recent federal farm bill. In addition to those general CRP acreages, 101,000 acres were enrolled in the CRP Grasslands program. To date this year, 364,000 acres have been enrolled in continuous CRP, which, according to USDA, is triple last year’s pace. It goes to show that landowners remain interested in conservation programs that make economic sense.

“The Conservation Reserve Program provides nearly $2 billion annually to land owners – dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs. When these direct benefits are taken together with the resulting economic activity, the benefits related to CRP are estimated at $3.1 billion annually,” Vilsack said.

Yet given all the interest in CRP, it’s unfortunate that the acreage cap – put in place when commodity prices were high – meant so few acres could be enrolled. In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Vilsack said, “When Congress begins to deliberate the 2018 farm bill, they’re going to be faced I think with a demand to rethink the cap on CRP,” Vilsack said. “The deliberation should not begin with ‘You have to save an artificial dollar amount,’ but it should really look at what the demand and need is.”

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.
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.


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.