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.

We hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, and that the New Year treats you well.

Hard to believe, but the 2015 legislative session kicks off next Tuesday, Jan. 6. If you recall the election, we’ll have a Republican-controlled House, while Democrats control the Senate and the governor’s office. Looking at the session, it’s unlikely we’ll have anything dealing specifically with policy relating to waterfowl. But there are a fair number of things that will affect the waterfowl world and conservation more broadly.

Wetland mitigation is one such item. Giving all the mining action in the northeastern part of the state, there’s a need to mitigate those wetlands. Expect discussion about replacing those wetlands elsewhere in the state, rather than right in the area of the impacted wetland. That one’s especially worth keeping an eye on.

Another is using bonding dollars to purchase wildlife management areas. This is one of the recommendations that came out of the recent Pheasant Summit, and it’s one we fully support. Bonding dollars were a traditional source of funding for WMAs, but that pool of money has largely evaporated since the 2008 passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. That sort of substitution wasn’t supposed to happen, and we hope lawmakers will address it by including money for WMAs in any bonding bill they pass this session.

As always, we’ll keep our thumb on the pulse of the session, and relay what we know.


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

It’s official: Congress has passed the bill that will increase the cost of the federal duck stamp by $10, and send that money to a special account so it can be used only to buy conservation easements.

The legislation now awaits President Obama’s signature.

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association is one of the few conservation groups that publicly has opposed the bill. To be clear: We are in full support of increasing the price of the federal duck stamp. Proceeds from sales of the stamp arguably have funded some of the most successful conservation of our time.

But we have serious concerns about the stipulation that the new money can be used only for private land easements. And don’t mistake that for non-support of private-land work – MWA does a lot of that in Minnesota. We simply aren’t in favor of the requirement that those dollars have to be used on private land (where hunters may or may not have access).

Maybe this duck stamp increase was the best we could do. Maybe not. Either way, we don’t see it as the huge victory for conservation that some people are making it out to be.
Be that as it may, we’ll still urge conservationists of all stripes – hunters and non-hunters alike – to buy a federal duck stamp, because it still remains a key funding source that protects the habitats we care about.

(MWA submitted this as a commentary to the Minnesota Outdoor News. It appeared in the Nov. 28 edition.)


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

As many hunters realize, we owe a great deal of thanks to waterfowl hunters in this country. By far the largest funding mechanism for habitat in this country is the Federal Duck Stamp Program. It was started in 1934 and is known as the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act. All waterfowl hunters 16 years or older must purchase a Federal Stamp.

Throughout the 80 years, 98 cents of every dollar raised went into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to purchase wetlands and wildlife habitat for inclusion into the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since 1934, better than half a billion dollars has been deposited in the Fund to purchase more than 5 million acres of habitat. The Federal Duck Stamp Program has been called by many one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated. I would say that is hard to argue.

Over the past decade there has been discussion on whether or not the Federal Duck Stamp cost should be increased. The last time there was an increase was 1991. The basic idea was that as land prices sky rocketed and the Federal Duck Stamp not increasing in cost, we would be missing out on purchasing public land to hunt and enjoy. So, most conservation organizations supported an increase to maximize buying power to continue to purchase these important habitats and hunting land.

Now fast forward to 2014. As of November 17, the U.S. House of Representatives had passed a bill called the Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014 (H.R. 5069). This bill does indeed increase the Federal Duck Stamp from $15 to $25.

Now the BIG amendment that we here at the Minnesota Waterfowl Association are having a fit about. The U.S. House passed this bill to add that the $10 dollars from the increase be put into a sub-account and the $10 increase can only be used for easements on private lands. The MWA is not against raising the Federal Duck Stamp price to continue purchasing public lands, but we are very much against the $10 increase, to put easements on private land. The Minnesota Waterfowl Association believes that the money that is generated by the Federal Duck Stamp needs to be used to purchase public hunting or refuge lands as originally intended.

There are ways to maximize the Federal Duck Stamp Program, and certainly by increasing the Federal Duck Stamp by $10 for the sole purpose of easements of private land that is not open to public hunting, is not the way to go. The MWA would like to remind everyone that you should contact your U.S. Senator and let them know that the Federal Duck Stamp Program was and is designed for public access. We the waterfowl hunters pay for this public program to have a place that is protected forever for future generations and is open for public hunting.
The MWA certainly understand the importance of habitat work done on private lands, and we do many private lands projects. However, the MWA truly believes that the Federal Duck Stamp should be solely used to purchase public hunting areas and National Wildlife Refuges. We would encourage everyone to contact their U.S. Senator to encourage them to not pass this legislation in the senate as written. We would encourage everyone to have the senate remove the amendment that pertains to the $10 increase being used for easements on private lands.

Duck zones and split seasons

November 17, 2014

That was fast.


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

Some years, it takes a while for winter to arrive. There’s a flurry here and there, and you notice the mercury not going as high as it did yesterday or last week. When you add up all the indicators, you decide winter has arrived.

This year, winter arrived in a hurry. There was snow on the ground, single-digit highs, and cold winds. Boom, boom, boom. Woe be the person who didn’t have his jacket ready to go, or who didn’t bring in the hoses from outside.

And woe be the duck hunter. In many parts of the state, things froze up and duck hunting ended in a hurry. Some people probably set down their shotgun and picked up their ice-fishing rods. That’s how fast things happened.

While there’s still a week or two of duck hunting left in Minnesota, it is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much over. Especially if you hunt over water. (There’s still some good field-hunting to be had.) In the North Zone, the season closes Nov. 25. It closes Nov. 30 in the Central Zone, and Dec. 6 in the South Zone. The latter two zones are open later in the year because of season splits that resulted in the season being closed for a few days in September and October. The idea of the splits is to give people the opportunity to hunt late in the season.

But, predictably, a lot of people are grumbling about giving up days during the middle of the season.

So, the question is this: Do you support season splits, even with the knowledge that in years like this, they may result in basically losing hunting days?