The 2015 legislative session began in early January and adjourned at the end of the day on May 18. But if conservation and natural resources in Minnesota are your things, then the session really hasn’t ended.
That’s because a special session is on tap for sometime in June to deal with some major issues that didn’t get resolved. Among the natural resources topics likely to be hashed out during a special session are the Legacy bill (which the House passed but the Senate did not because of time constraints) and the environment and agriculture omnibus finance and policy bill (which Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed).

The Legacy bill is a good bill that included the spending recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. But that bill also includes money from the Clean Water Fund, which is the reason it’s tied in with the vetoed environment finance bill.

A buffer plan that emerged from the Minnesota Pheasant Summit in December is included in one of the bills Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed.

A buffer plan that emerged from the Minnesota Pheasant Summit in December is included in one of the bills Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed.

That finance bill includes Gov. Dayton’s buffer strip proposal, so it tells you something when he vetoes a bill that carries one of his priorities for the session. As part of the Legacy bill, $11 million per year from the Clean Water Fund would be used to implement the buffer strips initiative. So both bills really need to pass for either one of them to be effective.

In order to avoid a partial shutdown of the state government, budget bills must be passed in June. If they’re not, a partial shutdown would begin July 1. Agencies like the Board of Water and Soil Resources, DNR, and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency would be affected because their biennial budgets are part of the environment finance bill.

Legislative leaders and Dayton already have been meeting to begin working toward agreement on what a special session will look like. When we have more details, we’ll pass them along.

There’s still time – but not much – to register kids for Woodie Camp 2015. The application deadline is today. Click here for a link to the application.


2014 Woodie Camp.

Kids who want to participate in the camp must be 13 to 15 years old and have passed a certified firearms safety training course before the camp, which runs Aug. 9-15.

Successful applicants will be notified by June 5.

From the Legislature
There’s still not a whole lot to report from our state’s Capitol. The legislative session ends on Monday, May 18, so time is running short. So far, there’s no agreement on an overall budget, and lawmakers haven’t agreed on bills that appropriate Legacy funds or that set new game and fish policies. (The latter often are part of a Game and Fish Bill, but there are indications lawmakers won’t pass one this session.)

In addition, lawmakers haven’t approved an overall environment and natural resources budget. Things are really getting down to the wire. Stay tuned and we’ll do our best to keep you informed.

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association continues to support Gov. Mark Dayton’s Buffer Initiative, which would require 50-foot buffers around waterways in Minnesota.

Image courtesy of USFWS

Image courtesy of USFWS

The idea was borne at the Pheasant Summit in December, and Dayton announced his vision for such a program at the DNR Roundtable event in January. It took time for the idea to take the shape of legislation, but the eventually happened, too.

The Buffer Initiative has been the source of a fair amount of controversy and much media attention. However, Gov. Dayton seems to have made this initiative something of his environmental centerpiece for this session – he even mentioned it at his State of the State address. It’s not too often that a governor pushes hard for something and doesn’t get at least part of it.

So while legislation that makes the Buffer Initiative reality may not look exactly as Dayton envisioned, it’s a pretty good bet that something will get done on the matter this session. After all, there’s still about a month left, and so much can happen in that time.

So, for the time being, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, as part of the Buffers Now Coalition, will continue its support for the initiative, which has clean water as well as wildlife benefits. Stay tuned to see what ultimately comes out of the Legislature.

Thanks to everyone who came to see us at our booth at the Northwest Sportshow. As always, it was a successful event and we enjoyed renewing acquaintances and meeting some new people.

Before we move on to an important legislative piece, just a reminder that Woodie Camp applications are due May 15. So if you know a kid who be 13 to 15 years old during this year’s camp – Aug. 9-15 – please pass the information along.

cap1It’s been a fairly busy legislative session so far. While things were a little slow to kick off, which always happens when there’s a new party in control (like in the state House), we’re now down to about six weeks remaining. To put it simply, there will be a lot happening in that time.

One thing we’ve been watching closely is legislation that would make payments in lieu of taxes from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. We and a wide variety of other groups are very opposed to something like this, which would run counter to the state constitution.

For one thing, there’s no requirement that PILT dollars have to be used to do work on natural resources land. So, counties could use PILT dollars to improve roads, for example. Secondly, PILT dollars have traditionally come from Minnesota’s General Fund. To all of the sudden use the Outdoor Heritage Fund to make PILT payments seems like a clear example of substitution, which also is impermissible under the state constitution.

So, we’ll keep monitoring this and other legislative developments and keep you posted as the legislative session winds down.

Watching the weather

March 25, 2015

Watching the weather

It feels a little bit weird to be writing this, given the snow some parts of Minnesota recently received, but conditions in a lot of places had been pretty darn dry.


Photo courtesy of USFWS

We’ll have to see what the spring and early summer have in store for us, certainly, but it’s worth noting that a dry year could be less than beneficial for waterfowl production.

For years, we’ve enjoyed, for the most part, relatively wet conditions, especially on the prairie waterfowl breeding areas. As a result, even though we’ve been losing habitat, we’ve been producing a lot of ducks thanks to Mother Nature. But we’ll have some serious problems if things dry out. Our lack of habitat will be magnified.

As we noted, it’s far too soon to say this year will be a bust in terms of production. Heck, it could be a great year. But at some point, our fortunes are going to change. At some point, conditions and waterfowl populations will be such that we won’t have liberal duck seasons.

It’s hard to know what things will be like when and if that happens. After all, the youngest of the waterfowlers among us haven’t experienced anything other than liberal hunting seasons.

So, here’s hoping that Mother Nature continues to cooperate, and that we can turn around our habitat losses.

As many of you are aware, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association was opposed to holding an early hunting season for teal in Minnesota. Our opposition was one of the reasons our DNR decided not to go ahead with a 2014 season.


Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Other states decided to hold a season, including Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. The seasons in Michigan and Wisconsin ran from Sept. 1-7. Iowa’s season was Sept. 6-21.

The Minnesota DNR is currently surveying duck hunters about their thoughts on an early season, and we understand that no decision has yet been made for 2015.

But the other three states recently put out a report that describes their experiences with last year’s early season. It’s entitled, “Hunter Performance During the 2014 Special September Teal Season in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa: A report of first-year results to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mississippi Flyway Council.”

In the three states, there was a total of 88 trained observers whose job it was to gauge hunter performance. They observed a total of 160 hunting parties.

According to the report: “Across the three states, a total of 699 non-target flocks came within range of hunting parties during legal shooting hours; 44 flocks were shot at, resulting in a non-target attempt rate of 6.3 percent.”

The non-target attempt rates, by state: 6.3 percent for Iowa; 3.4 percent for Michigan; and 10.3 percent for Wisconsin.

“A total of 368 ducks were observed killed (birds that fell directly or glided before falling), 18 of which were species other than teal, resulting in a non-target kill rate of 4.9 percent,” according to the report.

It’s not known yet how many hunters participated in the early hunts – those numbers will be available this summer.

The report says 2014 was the first of what’s to be a three-year experiment, and that the first year was “highly successful.”

Furthermore: “This was the first time many hunters had the opportunity to participate in a September teal season. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that hunter performance will improve as hunters gain experience with the season.”

We’ll keep you posted as the decision-making process plays out in Minnesota.

We’ll formally induct this year’s class at our annual awards banquet on Saturday night, but we’d like to unveil now this year’s class of inductees to the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame.IMG_9198 1

As you know, Minnesota’s waterfowling tradition is a rich one, and we’re the envy of many other states in the nation. Part of the reason for that rich and deep tradition is because of the people who have been so instrumental in creating the conservation movement we know today.

Following are the names of the inductees, and brief bios. Next week, we’ll post images of all of the new inductees.

Herman Becker
The name Herman Becker is synonymous with Minnesota’s Heron Lake. Becker, who passed away in 2009, was a guide on the lake for more than 50 years. In addition, he was a devout waterfowl conservationist. During Becker’s lifetime, the lake went from a fantastic waterfowl lake to one that had been ditched, drained, and encroached upon. Becker won many awards for his conservation efforts, and was a devoted member of the Heron Lake Watershed Restoration Association.

George Herter
George Herter was the driving force behind the conversion of his family’s heirloom hardware store into a mail-order shop for sportsmen. Herter’s today provides a wide range of outdoor equipment, from waterproof boots and waders to decoy bags and ammunition storage boxes.

Carl Madsen
Many people consider Carl Madsen, a longtime wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as the “father of the private lands program.” Madsen was a biologist with the USFWS in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin from 1967 to 2004.

John Molkenbur
John Molkenbur co-founded the White Bear Lake Chapter of Ducks Unlimited in 1979, and in 1990 officially formed the Minnesota Duck and Goose Callers Association. A retired mail carrier and school bus driver, Molkenbur has won a number of conservation awards over the years. He’s the president of the Wood Duck Society, has served on the MWA board of directors, and co-founded MWA’s East Metro Chapter.

Richard Plasschaert
Dick Plasschaert long dreamed of becoming a wildlife artist. Over the years, he’s won a variety of art contests, including the 1981 federal duck stamp contest, which propelled his art career. He’s donated thousands of wildlife prints to conservation groups, and lives with his wife in Waseca.

Ron Schara
Ron Schara is an award winning journalist and outdoors personality. He was the longtime outdoor columnist for the Star Tribune and is a well-known TV personality with his show, Minnesota Bound. Ron has worked with many conservation groups in the state and nation to raise money for conservation, and currently serves on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

Dave Vesall
Dave Vesall spent more than 40 years with the Minnesota DNR, eventually working his way up the ranks to become director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife. He’s one of the originators of the state’s wildlife management area program, working with other like-minded people to create the Save the Wetlands program in 1951. Vesall passed away in 2004, and several years ago had a WMA in Lake qui Parle County named after him.

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association today signed onto a letter thanking Gov. Mark Dayton for his riparian buffer proposal. It’s pasted below.
January 30, 2015

Gov. Mark Dayton
116 Veterans Service Building
20 W 12th Street
St. Paul, MN 55155

Dear Governor Dayton:

The undersigned organizations are writing to thank you for your proposal to increase riparian buffers of perennial vegetation on waters around the state.

Expanding the practice of shoreland buffers presents an enormous opportunity to improve water quality and the state’s natural resources. These buffers provide a way to decrease nonpoint source water pollution while creating corridors of habitat for wildlife. Shoreland buffers provide several important benefits:

• Improve water quality and fisheries: buffers serve as excellent natural filters to reduce excess sediment, phosphorus, and pesticides that pollute many of Minnesota’s waterways.

• Buffers provide key habitat for many species of game and non-game wildlife including pheasants, migratory birds, monarchs and other pollinators, and amphibians.

• Buffers slow down water running off the land to increase infiltration, reduce destructive peak flows, and restore natural hydrology.

Considering these benefits, it is in the interest of all Minnesotans to ensure that shoreland buffers are in place to preserve our clean water, wildlife, and aquatic life.

As you noted during the DNR Roundtable, the state’s water belongs to all Minnesotans. We agree that the state has a responsibility to protect it, and your statewide buffer initiative is a strong step to do so.

Thank you for your leadership on this issue. We look forward to working with you and your administration to further develop and then to win passage of the proposal.


Alliance for Sustainability
Audubon Minnesota
Cannon River Watershed Partnership
Clean Up the River Environment (CURE)
Clean Water Action
Conservation Minnesota
Freshwater Society
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness
Friends of the Mississippi River
Izaak Walton League of America – Minnesota Division
League of Women Voters – Minnesota
Mankato Area Environmentalists
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Conservation Federation
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Minnesota Food Association
Minnesota Land Trust
Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union
Minnesota Trout Unlimited
Minnesota Waterfowl Association
Saint Croix River Association
Sportsmen Take Action
St. Croix Watershed Research Station
The Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River
The Conservation Fund
The Nature Conservancy
Trust for Public Land
Urban Roots

Cc:  Executive Director John Jaschke, Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources
Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Commissioner David Frederickson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Commissioner John Linc Stine, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency


Gov. Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton surprised many of us in attendance at last Friday’s DNR Roundtable when he announced he would be pushing a requirement that most rivers, lakes and wetlands in the state would be required to have 50-foot vegetated buffers. Enforcement would fall to the state DNR.

According to Dayton, such a requirement would create 125,000 acres of habitat in the state.

Dayton made the announcement early in the Roundtable session, and said the plan would be further fleshed out in the near future. Indeed, details were relatively scant, and the buffer issue likely will be a hot topic during this year’s legislative session.

Dayton’s plan grew out of the first-ever Minnesota Pheasant Summit, held last month in Marshall. During his remarks before the 300 or so people in attendance, Dayton acknowledged private landowners may not like the proposal.

“Yes, the land may be yours, but the water belongs to all of us,” he said. “My proposal’s simplicity is also its strength – require 50-foot buffers on all lands adjacent to waters. Enforce it everywhere.”

This is going to be an interesting discussion to follow during this legislative session. We’ll keep you posted as more details become available about Dayton’s plan. In the meantime, let us know what you think about it.

In addition to being a good networking event for folks in the conservation realm, there’s also plenty of useful information presented at the Roundtable. There was little direct talk of waterfowl this year, though Nicole Hansel-Welch, DNR shallow lakes program supervisor, gave a great presentation on the agency’s work with shallow lakes in the state.
The agency last year designated six lakes as wildlife lakes, which was the most ever in a single year.

Check the blog for more details as the legislative session proceeds. We’ll also post the agenda for the upcoming Minnesota Waterfowl Symposium, which is set for Feb. 7 in Bloomington. In addition, we’ll unveil the folks who will be inducted this year into the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame.

We hope everyone is having a good start to 2015. It’s a busy time of year for us at the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, so let’s get started.logo-min-waterfowl-assoc

Today, we’re at an event in Brooklyn Park to celebrate the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, and to talk about what the future holds. And tomorrow we’ll be in Brooklyn Park again to attend the annual DNR Roundtable stakeholder sessions. We’ll keep you posted on anything noteworthy that comes out of either of them.

Also, lawmakers are back at the state Capitol. So far, there hasn’t been much in the way of proposed legislation that deals with our issues. Given all the turnover in the Legislature, there’s been a lot of informational hearings up to this point.

Finally, save the date for the annual Minnesota Waterfowl Symposium, which is dedicated to Harvey Nelson. The symposium runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7. As usual, we’ll discuss a wide variety of topics from the waterfowl world. That same day is the Annual Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame Induction and State Conservation Awards Banquet, which begins at 5 p.m. with a social hour. Both the symposium and the banquet are at the Ramada Bloomington Minneapolis Airport/Mall Area Hotel (formerly the Thunderbird).

If you have questions on either of the events, or need more information, give us a call at (952) 767-0320.