Engwall named to head Minnesota Deer Hunters Association

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association today named Craig Engwall as its new executive director. Engwall has more than 20 years’ experience in law, natural resources and conservation and  served as northeast regional director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids from 2006 to 2013..

Engwall, an attorney, is currently forest legacy projects coordinator with the DNR at Hibbing. He will assume his duties with MDHA on Jan. 2.

“I’m ecstatic. This is awesome,” Engwall said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I’ve worked in natural resources pretty much my whole career. This lets me mesh my personal life with my professional life.”

Engwall, 51, lives on Dora Lake near Northome, about 50 miles northwest of Grand Rapids.

He said his experience in partnering with other agencies and businesses will help him in his role at MDHA.

“One of the things I look on with pride is that partnerships are key,” he said. “I think MDHA can partner with the state, and I’ll be looking to counties, too, looking at some habitat projects that the counties would be willing to support in northern Minnesota.”

Engwall grew up in the Twin Cities. He graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1986 and the University of Minnesota Law School in 1991, He has worked on natural resources and agriculture issues at both the state and federal levels, including the linkage between the Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program and the Federal Conservation Reserve (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Programs (WRP). Engwall was a key player in Minnesota acquiring the largest conservation easement in state history, the nearly 200,000-acre Blandin Paper Company project that protects forest lands.


Minnesota ‘Pheasant Summit’ offers ideas to increase bird numbers

I didn’t make it to Gov. Dayton’s “Pheasant Summit” in Marshall, Minn., on Saturday, but from various news reports, it appears the 300 people who attended offered up several ideas for making Minnesota more pheasant friendly. Here’s an account of the meeting from outdoors editor David Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Pheasant hunters walk across a grassland on a December hunt. (Sam Cook photo)

Among the suggestions, according to Orrick’s account and others, is for the state to more vigorously enforce laws that require grassland buffer zones along streams and laws that restrict mowing of ditches and the planting of crops along roadsides.

Another idea that proved popular was using state bonding money to buy land for more Wildlife Management Areas. Those areas provide wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities.

The DNR plans to develop an accelerated action plan to enhance pheasant habitat and present the plan at its annual roundtable meeting with stakeholders on Jan. 16.

While the state wants to do everything it can to improve the pheasant population, most hunters believe federal farm policy drives pheasant numbers by offering programs that pay farmers to set aside lands in grass cover. In recent years, farmers have been opting out of those programs to put land back into crops while commodity prices are higher than they’ve been in recent years. Payments to farmers through federal farm programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program can’t currently compete with the rental rates farmers can charge for land in production.







DNR announces more trails open for fat-bike riders

A fat-bike rider cruises down a segment of the Duluth Traverse in Lester Park. (News Tribune file photo)

Winter fat-bikers will now have more trails to ride. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today that it has expanded the number of trails available to fat-bikers at state parks and trail systems, including more than five miles at Jay Cook State Park near Carlton and nearly nine miles at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park near Two Harbors.

These new riding opportunities are in addition to 20 miles of existing trails at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Brainerd, Minn. Winter fat bike riding opportunities in Minnesota state parks and trails now total 78 miles.

Fat bikes are bicycles with large, low-pressure tires designed for travel over snow or sandy soil. The bike tires are often wider than 3½ inches with tire pressure less than 10 psi.

Outdoors enthusiasts can now ride fat bikes at the following locations in northern Minnesota:

Jay Cooke State Park: 5.4 miles of trails to be groomed for fat biking

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park: 8.7 miles of trails to be groomed for fat biking and skate-skiing.

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area (Ironton): 20 miles of groomed trails for fat biking.

The DNR advises anyone riding a fat bike to avoid snowmobile and cross-country ski trails because almost all of these trails are not open to other uses during the winter.


Seasonal greetings along the Superior Hiking Trail

A holiday basket full of holiday candy canes hangs along a spur of the Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth. (Sam Cook photo)

Walking along a spur of the Superior Hiking Trail near Hawk Ridge in east Duluth on Saturday, I was surprised to come upon this holiday basket hanging alongside the trail. In it was a Christmas card and a lot of holiday candy canes. The card, signed by a family but without last names, wished hikers a good day and suggested they take a candy cane along on their walks.

It was a dank and dreary day, the sixth in a row without sun in Duluth. I was hiking through remnant snow and patches of ice with my ski poles, trying to make the best of a drippy, non-winter day in December. The world seemed gray and soupy and heavy, but now I had stumbled upon this splash of color and a warm season greeting. I didn’t need a candy cane, but I appreciated the sentiment. The holidays bring out the best in people, it seems. Little gestures of good will, often surprising and anonymous, come out of nowhere to surprise us in the best ways.

Here’s what was in the basket:

Candy canes fill a basket hanging along the Superior Hiking Trail.

Wisconsin to lower lake trout limits on Lake Superior

Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board today approved an emergency rule lowering the lake trout limit in the Apostle Islands area because of declining lake trout populations, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced.

The rule change comes after a Dec. 1 stakeholder meeting in Ashland.

The 2014-15 emergency rule reduces the daily lake trout bag limit from three to two, one of which may be 20 to 25 inches in length and one longer than 35 inches. For waters west of Bark Point, regulations for lake trout remain unchanged at three lake trout with a 15-inch minimum length and only one lake trout longer than 25 inches.

The recreational lake trout open season runs from Dec. 1, 2014, through Sept. 30, 2015. The commercial fishing season is open Nov. 28, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015.

Population assessments over the past six to eight years indicate the decline is tied to harvest levels, DNR biologists said. In addition to the board’s adoption of the emergency rule, the DNR is seeking public input to identify Lake Superior fisheries priorities to help guide long-term management of the fishery.

“We recommended the emergency rule to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery as well as the welfare of the state-licensed commercial fishers, Chippewa commercial fishers, recreational anglers and associated businesses that depend on lake trout,” Terry Margenau, DNR Lake Superior fisheries supervisor, said in a statement. “Lake trout are a slow-growing species and harvest reductions are needed to allow some recovery.”

The goal of the new regulations is to help reduce the overall harvest to 50,000 fish in the zone known as WI-2, surrounding the Apostle Islands. That target is still higher than the targets set in other lake trout management units.

In addition to the emergency rule, the DNR continues to gather comments regarding future management options and priorities for the fishery through the end of December. Citizens may provide feedback by mailing Terry L. Margenau, Lake Superior fisheries supervisor, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 589, 141 S. Third Street Bayfield, WI 54814; or emailing terry.margenau@wisconsin.gov.

For more information about the recent public meeting, search the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov and search Lake Superior fisheries management meeting.


Some thoughts on the deer hunt, from a deer hunter

My friend Michael Furtman offered some thoughtful comments on hunting today on his Facebook page. Mike is a Duluth outdoors writer and wildlife photographer (michaelfurtman.com). He was writing about deer hunting in Wisconsin. Thought I’d share his thoughts here:

“Hunting really well is hard, just plain hard. Even the experts can’t always get everything to mesh.” So said my friend, and great writer, Chris Madson. Few truer words have been spoken!

This morning, in a dense fog, I crept into the north woods. The first thing I saw were enormous tracks from what had to be a giant buck. Like all bucks, he had a mission in mind. He did not waver. He did not wander. It was a straight line from doe area A to doe area B, to doe area C. I was, of course, full of anticipation.

I sat at the crossing of several deer trails, waiting for him, or another buck, to appear. The morning was warm, the wind light, and as I sat I realized that for two hours, I’d never heard a shot. This is Wisconsin. This is the opening of deer season. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the woods, and yet there was no shooting. Not a good sign. The deer obviously were not moving. So I needed to.

So I walked. The woods were wet, and quiet, the snow the consistency of oatmeal. With the same skills I use to get photos of deer, I crept through the forest for six hours, often taking a half hour to creep a hundred yards. And I never saw a deer.

For those of you who do not hunt, I suppose it is easy to imagine that it is wanton slaughter out there, that deer are bounding this way and that, and that reckless, feckless hunters are slinging bullets willy nilly, that deer are stacked up like cord wood, and with no more respect. Well, that is not the case. The hunt is, more often than not, a long, tedious task. It is work. Enjoyable, sometimes. But work. All food should come with such effort. Perhaps not so much of it would be scraped into the trash can!

Tomorrow is, as they say, “another day.” I hope to “hunt well” as Chris said. But though I saw no deer, I did see numerous chickadees, nuthatches, some wild turkeys, an otter run, and the tracks of an American marten. It was a good day.


Still time to sign up for Pheasant Summit

There’s still time to register for the first Minnesota Pheasant Summit, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Gov. Mark Dayton is inviting Minnesotans to register for the summit, which takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. To sign up, look here.

The summit is free and open to all Minnesotans. It will focus on why the pheasant population has declined in the state, and possible collaborative efforts to improve pheasant habitat statewide.



Hot turkey sandwiches highlight bicycle drive kick-off at Marine General

Rob Hering (left) of Superior lifts a turkey onto a platter held by John Janousek, a Rapala rep from Brainerd, Minn., at Wednesday’s Bike Drive and Ice-Fishing Kick-Off event at Marine General Sports in Duluth. (Sam Cook photo)

Turkeys sizzled in a cluster of deep-fryers in front of Marine General Sports in Duluth on Wednesday morning. Each of the bubbling cauldrons sent a column of steam into the 23-degree air. Under a nearby canopy, Marine General’s Bob Rogers kept an electric knife purring as he carved up fresh-fried turkeys.

The celebration was the kick-off for the annual Bike Drive and Ice Fishing event at the outdoor shop. It’s going on through about 3:30 today, and Rogers urges anyone who wants a free turkey sandwich to stop by the shop at 1501 London Road.

For the past five years, Rogers has raised money and donated bikes to the Salvation Army for kids at Christmas. Rogers has given away nearly 800 bicycles to area youths. Donations to the bike fund are tax-deductible through the Salvation Army.

A good crowd of anglers and outdoors folks filled the small plaza out in front of the shop at midday, most of them eating turkey sandwiches and sipping hot coffee.

Jarrid Houston of South Range had come by to be part of the scene. He’s been fishing “early ice” on some Wisconsin lakes, and cued up on his smart phone a photo of a small muskellunge he had caught through the clear ice.

“It’s like fishing through a window,” Houston said.

Rob Hering of Superior and Rapala rep John Janousek of Brainerd, Minn., worked together to pull hot turkeys out of the fryers and deliver them to Rogers.

At the curb, Marine General owner Russ Francisco held a microphone in his hand while doing a remote radio interview.

In conjunction with the bike drive, the store also had put new ice-fishing tents, augers and other gear on display.


Bob Rogers of Marine General Sports in Duluth carves turkeys Wednesday at the store’s annual Bike Drive and Ice-Fishing Kick-Off event. Rogers, with donations from the public, has donated nearly 800 bicycles to the Salvation Army over the past five years for Christmas giving. (Sam Cook photo)

Firearms deer harvest down 44 percent in NE Minnesota

After the first 10 days of Minnesota’s 16-day firearms deer season, the deer harvest in Northeastern Minnesota was down 44 percent from last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The buck harvest in the region — all Series 100 deer permit areas — was down 28 percent from last year. The antlerless deer harvest was down 82 percent, largely because so many deer permit areas were restricted to bucks-only hunting this fall.

DNR wildlife officials reduced the number of antlerless deer permits significantly this fall after a severe winter in 2013-2014 in hopes of rebuilding the deer herd.

Statewide, the harvest was down 23 percent overall through Monday, 10 days into the season. The firearms season will end Sunday.

After the first three days of the firearms season this fall, the harvest was down 52 percent in Northeastern Minnesota and 36 percent statewide. As the peak of the rut came on and bucks started moving, hunters took advantage of that.

In Series 100 areas, hunters had taken 23,087 deer this fall through Monday compared to 40,873 last year, DNR officials reported.

Statewide, firearms hunters had taken a total of 102,168 deer through Monday, down from 133,000 last year.

Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager at Grand Rapids, said despite the slow start to the season, hunters were able to take more deer through the remainder of opening week and into last weekend.

“We’ve historically said that the first three days (of the season) determine the harvest, and once we’re down we’re not climbing out,” Lightfoot said. “But recently (2012) hunters really put in the effort through that first week and into the second weekend, and we made up some ground. This year looks like the same thing was going on.”

Some factors worked in hunters’ favor, he said.

“We had snow on the ground, and people like that,” he said. “They can see tracks. It keeps you a little more engaged. But with some of the wind and the cold mornings, I was surprised to see the relative difference (between this year and last) get a little better.”

The DNR had predicted a steep decline in the deer kill this fall, with an overall harvest estimate of 120,000 deer. Through Monday, including the archery harvest, hunters had taken about 115,000 deer this fall, said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader in St. Paul.


Ely adventurer Paul Schurke will present ‘River of Doubt’ at St. Scholastica

Paul Schurke (left) of Ely and Dave Freeman of Grand Marais prepare dinner along the shores of the Rio Roosevelt in Brazil on their trip last summer. (Paul Schurke photo)

Ely adventure Paul Schurke will make a presentation titled “The River of Doubt: Following Roosevelt’s Footsteps” from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 24, in Mitchell Auditorium at the College of St. Scholastica. The presentation will describe Schurke’s recent trip on Brazil’s Rio Roosevelt (the “River of Doubt” with fellow adventurer Dave Freeman of Grand Marais. The two retraced the route that Teddy Roosevelt traveled on his epic descent of the river 100 years earlier in 1914. In addition, Schurke’s presentation will celebrate the life of Roosevelt, a robust outdoorsman who made a personal commitment to sleep outside 30 days a year, even while he was president.

The presentation is free.