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Ruffed grouse counts see increase, possibly signaling uptrend

July 7, 2014

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were significantly higher than last year across most of the bird’s range, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Ruffed grouse drums increased 34 percent from the previous year, with the increase happening in the northern part of the state,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “This may signal the start of an upswing in the grouse cycle that since 2009 has been in the declining phase.”

The increase is consistent with changes typical of the 10-year grouse cycle. The most recent peak in drum counts occurred in 2009. The cycle is less pronounced in the more southern regions of the state, near the edge of the ruffed grouse range.

Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting.

Compared to last year’s survey, 2014 survey results for ruffed grouse indicated increases in the northeast survey region, which is the core of grouse range in Minnesota, from 0.9 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014. Drumming counts in the northwest increased from 0.7 drums per stop in 2013 to 1.2 in 2014. Drumming counts did not increase in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.8 and 0.3 drums per stop, respectively.

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. This year observers recorded 1.1 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2012 and 2013 were 1.0 and 0.9, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.

Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state’s most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin, which frequently field more hunters than Minnesota, round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

One reason for Minnesota’s status as a top grouse producer is an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat, much of it located on county, state and national forests, where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat.

For the past 65 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year,
DNR staff and cooperators from 11 organizations surveyed 121 routes across the state.

Statewide sharp-tailed grouse counts were higher in 2014 than in 2013, Roy said, although changes were not significant at the regional level. Observers look for male sharptails displaying on traditional mating areas, called leks or dancing grounds. This year’s statewide average of 9.8 grouse counted per dancing ground was similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

Overall, sharptail populations have declined in some areas as a result of habitat deterioration. In recent years, the DNR has increased prescribed burning and shearing that keep trees from overtaking the open brush lands that sharp-tailed grouse need to thrive. This habitat management is important for healthy sharp-tailed grouse populations.

The DNR’s 2014 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, will be available soon online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

Waverly Daze Fishing Contest Sat., July 12

The annual Waverly Daze Fishing Contest will take place Saturday, July 12 in Waverly.

Registration is from 7 to 8 a.m. at the Waverly Waterfront Legion Park, with the contest running from 8 a.m. to noon.

For additional information, contact John Vanderlinde at (612) 759-8284.

Breeding duck numbers down, Canada goose population similar to last year
From the DNR

Along with another unusual spring and late ice-out, Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down slightly from last year while other species saw higher declines, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 257,000, which is 12 percent below last year’s estimate of 293,000 breeding mallards, 1 percent below the recent 10-year average and 13 percent above the long-term average.

The blue-winged teal population is 102,000 this year compared with 144,000 in 2013 and remains 53 percent below the long-term average of 215,000 blue-winged teal.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 116,000, which is 53 percent lower than last year and 35 percent below the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands was 343,000, up 33 percent from last year, and 28 percent above the long-term average.

“While we’re seeing declines in this year’s counts, the survey results can be affected by weather and visibility of waterfowl from aircraft,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “Continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and may provide a better indicator of what hunters could expect this fall.”

The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.

A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

CANADA GEESE

This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 244,000 geese, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 250,000 geese. This does not include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“Although this year’s population estimate is similar to last year’s estimate, goose production, or the number of goslings that hatch, will be better than last year,” Cordts said. “This year’s colder than normal temperatures delayed some goose nesting, particularly in the northern portions of the state.”

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

“Although colder than normal, the lack of snowfall in April this spring allowed geese to begin nesting only about a week later than normal,” Cordts said. “However, more nests were initiated this year than in spring of 2013, when snow remained on the ground in many parts of Minnesota well into May and goose production should be about average to slightly below average this year.”

The DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer. The Minnesota waterfowl report is at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

Walleye stocking a success despite challenging spring weather
From the DNR.

On the lake’s surface at the end of a fishing line, a splash and the flash of gold confirm the success. It’s a walleye, perhaps the most sought-after fish species in Minnesota.

For many anglers, moments like these are a direct result of skill, persistence and sometimes a little luck. But often, there is another important ingredient – fish stocking by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Without the process of taking fish eggs and putting the newly hatched fry or small walleye fingerlings into lakes, these fish generally could only be caught on large rivers and on 260 lakes predominantly in the northern half of the state. But after stocking, walleye can be found in around 1,300 Minnesota lakes.

“This spring we took more than 600 million walleye eggs. From those, 270 million fry were stocked in 277 lakes,” said Neil Vanderbosch, DNR fisheries program coordinator. “Crews worked in some pretty rough weather including snow this year during egg take. Falling temperatures delayed spawning activity and egg take for a few days, but in the end we met quotas.”

Despite the stocking effort, natural reproduction accounts for the majority of walleye caught and harvested by anglers in the state. An estimated 85 percent of all the walleye harvested in Minnesota result from natural reproduction, with most of these fish are pulled from popular walleye lakes like Lake of the Woods, Leech, Red and Winnibigoshish.

“While most walleye caught result from natural reproduction, stocking provides anglers throughout the state the chance to catch walleye on medium and small lakes,” said Vanderbosch.

Here’s a rundown of this year’s walleye stocking effort that started April 19 in Detroit Lakes and ended May 6 in Cut Foot Sioux in Grand Rapids and Pike River in Tower.

- Egg take sites: eight, located in waters that have naturally reproducing populations of walleye.
- Eggs taken: 5,205 quarts of eggs, or 631,803,214 eggs, about 350 quarts above average.
- 2014 stocking plan: 284 rearing ponds get 115 million fry and 277 lakes get 270 million fry.
- Lakes stocked with walleye (each lake usually every other year): about 1,050.

In all, the DNR stocks about 1,050 lakes that can’t maintain a walleye population through natural reproduction. Stocking usually takes place in lakes every other year, and about half of the stocking uses fry, which are newly hatched fish that are a few days old and about a third of an inch long.

To get the fry, eggs and semen are squeezed out of fish and combined in dishes of water. The resultant fry are stocked directly into lakes, and also into rearing ponds. When the fish grow to be 4- to 6-inches long, they are called fingerlings, and fingerlings from rearing ponds are stocked in the fall.

Factors like weather, habitat and winterkill are taken into account in lake management plans when planning where and when to stock fish.

“It’s no accident that anglers are never far from a walleye lake in Minnesota,” said Vanderbosch. “Fish stocking is a core function of the DNR because we know that well-maintained fish populations make for better fishing. And stocking is paid for by hunting and fishing license dollars.”

However, within each lake there is a stocking sweet spot. At a point, stocking more walleye fry or fingerlings does not mean more walleye in the future due to factors like habitat, the amount of forage fish for walleye, and the hungry-teenager effect – that is, young adults tend to eat more compared to older, larger fish. Competition for food between stocked fish can decrease fish growth, leading to decreased survival and ultimately fewer fish for anglers to catch.

“While our stocking program is successful, within each lake there’s an ideal range we aim for when we stock fish,” said Vanderbosch. “The bottom line is smart stocking means better fishing.”

Those who want to give additional support to walleye fishing can purchase the Minnesota walleye stamp wherever DNR licenses are sold. Proceeds from sales of the stamp, which is not required to fish for or keep walleye, are used to maintain and enhance Minnesota walleye fishing. The stamp costs $5, and the dollars flow into a dedicated account for walleye stocking.

Fish stocking is also not limited to walleye. The DNR rears catfish, muskellunge, lake sturgeon and northern pike in 12 warm-water hatcheries, and stream trout, lake trout, and splake in five cold-water hatcheries spread throughout the state.

To provide youth fishing opportunities, the DNR stocks bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, perch and walleye in numerous Twin Cities metro area lakes through the DNR Fishing in the Neighborhood program. See a list of recently stocked FiN waters at www.mndnr.gov/fishing/fin/stocking.html.

For stocking information about individual lakes, enter the lake name on LakeFinder at the DNR Fish Minnesota page, www.mndnr.gov/fishmn.

Get archery in local park through DNR grant program
From the DNR.

Minnesota park and recreation departments that would like to construct a recreational archery range can apply for funds through a new Department of Natural Resources grant program.

Matching grants of $2,500 to $10,000 are available to city, county and regional parks for constructing backstops, berms, bow racks, fencing and other features deemed essential to creating an archery range.

“The goal is to increase opportunities for families and individuals to get outdoors and enjoy this popular activity,” said Jay Johnson, DNR hunting recruitment and retention coordinator.

The application deadline is Aug. 29. Projects must be completed by June 30, 2015.

The new archery grant program is a response to growing interest in archery and bowhunting. Johnson said youth and adult archery hunting licenses have increased in recent years. DNR Archery in the Parks programming has been a hit. And, hundreds of thousands of Minnesota students have launched arrows at targets through the state’s National Archery in the Schools Program during the past decade.

“Awareness and interest in archery has been on the rise,” said Johnson. “If we can help communities provide another family-friendly activity in their park system, that’s a good thing.”

DNR archery grants require an equal match. A total of $50,000 is available during the next 12 months. Applications will be scored and ranked. Winners will be announced in September.

Grant application packets are available now at www.mndnr.gov/grants/recreation/archery-range and can be obtained by contacting Johnson by email at jay.johnson@state.mn.us.

Apply by Aug. 15 for youth deer hunts at state parks and refuges
From the DNR.

Minnesota youth have from Tuesday, July 1 until Friday, Aug. 15, to apply for one of 17 special deer hunts in October and November.

“Youth accompanied by a parent, guardian or mentor can hunt in select state parks and other refuge areas during these annual opportunities,” said Mike Kurre, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources mentoring coordinator.

Of the 17 special hunts, 15 are firearms hunts for youth ages 12-15; two are archery hunts for youth ages 12-17.

Participating in a youth deer hunt does not preclude the youth from participating in the regular firearms deer season, but any deer harvested do count against the youth’s season bag limit. An adult parent, guardian or mentor must accompany the youth at all times while hunting, but only the youth may hunt. Youth and their mentor must attend a mandatory pre-hunt orientation clinic.

A limited number of either-sex permits are available for the following hunts:

ARCHERY
- Camp Ripley Archery Hunt (open to youth 12-17), archery, 175 permits, hunt is Oct. 11-12, clinic is Oct. 10-11.
- Lake Alexander Preserve (open to youth 12-17), archery, 20 permits, hunt is Oct. 11-12, clinic is Oct. 10.

FIREARMS
- Afton State Park, firearms, 20 permits, hunt is Nov. 8-9, clinic is Oct. 18.
- Banning State Park, firearms, six permits, hunt is Nov. 1-2, park will mail clinic information.
- Blue Mounds State Park, firearms, 10 permits, hunt is Nov. 22-23, clinic is Nov. 21.
- Buffalo River State Park, firearms, 14 permits, hunt is Nov. 8-9, clinic is Nov. 7.
- Camden State Park, firearms, 12 permits, hunt is Nov. 1-2, clinic is Oct. 31.
- Great River Bluffs State Park, firearms, 20 permits, hunt is Oct. 25-26, clinic is Oct. 11.
- Itasca State Park, firearms, 75 permits, hunt is Oct. 25-26, clinic is Oct. 18 or Oct. 24.
- Lake Bemidji State Park, firearms, 20 permits, hunt is Oct. 18-19, clinic is Oct. 17.
- Lake Shetek State Park, firearms, 12 permits, hunt is Oct. 25-26, clinic is Oct. 24.
- Rydell National Wildlife Refuge, firearms, 20 permits, hunt is Oct. 18-19, clinic is Sept. 20.
- St. Croix State Park, firearms, 90 permits, hunt is Nov. 1-2, park will mail clinic information.
- Savanna Portage State Park, firearms, 25 permits, hunt is Oct. 25-26, clinic is Oct. 24.
- Split Rock Creek State Park (new in 2014), 10 permits, hunt is Oct. 25-26, clinic is Oct. 24.
- Tettegouche State Park, firearms, 10 permits, hunt is Oct. 18-19, clinic is Oct. 17.
- Zippel Bay State Park, firearms, 20 permits, hunt is Oct. 18-19, park will mail clinic information.

Youth must apply for the hunt of his or her choice, which can be done at any DNR license agent; the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, or online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense. For archery hunts, apply with code 630; for firearms hunts, apply with code 631.

If the number of applications exceeds the number of permits, a lottery will be conducted. Youth may only apply for one archery hunt and one firearms hunt.

Successful applicants also must meet all firearms safety requirements, purchase all appropriate licenses and follow hunting regulations.

In addition to the 17 application-only hunts in state parks and refuge areas, any youth ages 10-15 can also participate in a special deer season that runs from Thursday, Oct. 16 through Sunday, Oct. 19, in 27 permit areas that encompass portions of southeastern and northwestern Minnesota and portions of the Twin Cities metro area.

DNR QUESTION OF THE WEEK
From the DNR.

Q: Is there commercial fishing in Minnesota?

A: Commercial fishing in Minnesota for walleye and other game fish was eliminated in 1983. Today, commercial harvest is mostly limited to rough fish such as common carp, buffalo and freshwater drum. These fish are harvested primarily using large seine nets up to 3,000 feet long and 20 feet deep.

On Lake Superior, the DNR issues a maximum of 25 commercial licenses each year. The main harvest on Superior is ciscoes, also called lake herring, with some permitted harvest of whitefish and lake trout. Commercial fishing on Lake Superior is primarily done with gillnets.

On average, Minnesota’s commercial harvest each year is about 4.5 million pounds of fish, valued at close to $1 million.