DNR: Mild winter will help deer rebound

If this winter’s mild conditions persist, those conditions combined with a conservative 2014 deer harvest could signal the start of a rebound in the state’s white-tailed deer populations, say wildlife officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Now past the half-way mark in a typical winter season, most areas of Minnesota are accumulating relatively few points on the winter severity index (WSI) map,” said Jeff Lightfoot, regional wildlife manager with the DNR at Grand Rapids. “Last year at this time, indices in much of northern Minnesota were already building toward a severe winter.”

The winter severity index is a general measure of winter conditions based on prolonged cold temperatures and deep snow that can restrict deer movement and access to food. The current WSI in most of northern Minnesota was 79 or less as of Monday.

An area can accumulate points each day throughout the winter season. One point is assigned when the daily temperature reaches zero degrees or lower, and another point is assigned when snow depth is 15 inches or more. Each day can accumulate 0, 1 or 2 points.

End-of-season values less than 100 indicate a mild winter. End-of-season values more than 180 indicate a severe winter. In general, northern Minnesota wildlife managers start seeing significant increased fawn mortality around 130 to 150; does around 180. Of the two factors, deep snow is the greater challenge for deer because of the energy expended to navigate in it and its decreasing effect on food availability as snow continues to cover food sources.

Deer exist in Minnesota today because they have evolved to withstand severe winters. Despite the current decline in the deer population, wildlife managers are certain about a rebound in deer numbers, DNR officials said.

Following the two consecutive severe winters of the late 1990s, the deer population rebounded to pre-severe winter levels within two to three years and was at near record high levels within five to six years.

A landmark 15-year study (1991-2005) by the DNR followed 450 collared does through mild, average and very severe winters. The study yielded a wealth of data on the food habits, migration patterns, survival and cause-specific mortality rates, and reproductive ability of deer in Minnesota’s forested zone.

“Deer have an incredibly high reproductive potential with mature females 2-1/2 to 15-1/2 years old nearing a 100 percent pregnancy rate each fall,” said DNR wildlife research scientist Glenn DelGiudice. “If mild conditions persist, we could expect to see good fawn production with healthy birth weights, along with does that are in good condition to meet the physical demands of nursing.”

Fluctuations in deer populations are a normal aspect of wildlife management, DNR wildlife officials say, and with proper management and favorable conditions, populations can rebound  quickly.

Piebald deer visits rural Duluth home

A piebald deer walks through the snow near the home of Zach and Sara Swart of rural Duluth on Thursday. (Sara Swart photo)

A piebald deer walks through the snow near the home of Zach and Sara Swart of rural Duluth on Thursday. (Sara Swart photo)

At age 6, Parker Swart is a serious student of deer and a lot of other wildlife. He watches deer from his home in rural Duluth, and his family takes photos of them. On Thursday, Parker and his family saw the most unusual deer they had ever seen — a so-called “piebald” deer.

His grandmother, Colleen Jeronimus, was at his home and saw the deer first.

“I saw what I thought was a moving snowbank,” Jeronimus said. “I thought, ‘How could a snowbank move?’ It was just an incredible sight.”

The deer came to some feed that Parker’s family had put out. His mom, Sara Swart, was able to get several photos of it.

Nancy Hansen, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager at Two Harbors, confirmed that the deer is piebald.

“It’s an inherited trait and occurs (in general) in about 1 percent of the population,” Hansen said in an email. “Some local populations, especially if the deer are protected from harvest, may have higher levels of piebald occurrence. True albino deer (pure white coats and pink eyes) are rare. The same is true for melanism (very dark coloring) in deer.

“Sometimes piebald deer don’t just show coat color differences but also have physical deformities. This can include skeletal abnormalities such as dorsal bowing of the nose, short/malformed legs, curvature of the spine and malformations of internal organs. Severely deformed fawns usually don’t survive very long after birth. Outside of winter, piebald deer are usually at a disadvantage compared to other deer because they are much more visible on the landscape.”
For now, it appears, this deer is well-camouflaged.


The piebald deer pauses to check the territory on the Swarts’ back yard. (Sara Swart photo)


2014 fishing, hunting licenses expire Saturday

Minnesota anglers are reminded that 2014 fish, game and trapping licenses expire on Saturday. Some hunting and fishing seasons continue past Feb. 28, and new licenses are required.

Licenses for 2015 now are available from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources license agents, online and by telephone at (888) 665-4236. All 2015 fishing licenses become effective Sunday, March 1.

Customers who purchase online via smartphone won’t receive a conventional paper license. Instead, they’ll receive a text message or email that serves as proof of a valid fish or game license to state conservation officers. A printed copy of the text or email also can serve as proof of a valid license.

Ice shelter permits for 2014 remain effective through April 30.

Grand Marais still holding edge in ‘coolest town’ contest


The Grand Marais harbor and Sawtooth Mountains are shown on a summer day in this photo by Paul Sundberg of Grand Marais.


Grand Marais is still leading Budget Travel magazine’s contest to name the “Coolest Small Town in America,” according to Lynn Nelson, who handles public relations for Visit Cook County. The deadline for voting has been extended until March 4. Grand Marais is leading Chincoteague, Va., by just 4 percentage points in the voting. If you’d like to vote, go to visitcookcounty.com and follow the link to the magazine.




Come say ‘hi’ at the Boat Show

If you’re in the neighborhood, swing down to the Duluth Boat, Sports, Travel and RV Show at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and say hello. I’ll be there today (Friday), Saturday and Sunday. My booth is right at the top of the escalators, where you enter the Northland Outdoors Deer Classic portion of the show. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Minnesota DNR announces two high-level appointments

Former Two Harbors resident Luke Skinner has been named director of the Ecological and Water Resources Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the agency announced Tuesday. Previously, Skinner had been deputy director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division.

Also on Tuesday, Sarah Strommen, acting deputy director at the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), was appointed DNR assistant commissioner. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr announced two appointments.

Skinner replaces Steve Hirsch, who retired. Skinner has 24 years of DNR experience in roles ranging from natural resources specialist to supervisor. Most of his DNR career has been spent in the Ecological and Water Resources Division working in the invasive species program, including six years as unit supervisor.

As DNR assistant commissioner, Strommen will oversee two divisions for the commissioner’s office, Parks and Trails and Fish and Wildlife, and the agency’s strategic direction with land management and the Legacy amendment. She fills the position vacated by Assistant Commissioner Mike Carroll, who retires Jan. 13.



Duluth bow hunters register 446 deer in city hunt

Bow hunters in Duluth’s city deer hunt registered a preliminary total of 446 deer during the 2014 season, according to the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance, which conducts the hunt for the city. In 2013, hunters killed 399 deer in the city bow hunt.

Of the 2014 total harvest, 371 were antlerless deer and 75 were antlered deer. Hunters are required to take at least one antlerless deer before shooting a buck in the hunt. The hunt opened Sept. 13 and ended Dec. 31. A total of 353 hunters took part in the hunt, according to the ABA.

The 2014 total harvest of 446 deer, though up from 2013, was well below the average of 534 deer registered from 2008 to 2013.

“We continue to see that hunters are moving deer out of the city and trying to bring the population down,” said Phillip Lockett, chair of the Arrowhead Bowhunters Alliance. “The feeling from the public is that we’re starting to reach those population goals and seeing fewer and fewer deer.”

Fewer people are calling the ABA to request hunters come into areas called hotspots, where deer congregate in small areas, Lockett said.


Spring turkey hunt application is Friday

If you’re a Minnesota turkey hunter, don’t forget that the deadline to apply for early season spring wild turkey hunting permits is Friday, Jan. 9, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The spring season, which runs from April 15 to May 28, is divided into eight time periods. Only people age 18 and older who want to hunt during the first three time periods (A-C) need to apply for a spring turkey permit. Permits for the remaining time periods (D-H) can be purchased over-the-counter.

Permits for the last five time periods and youth licenses for any time period are sold over-the-counter starting March 1. Surplus adult licenses from the first three time periods, if available, are sold starting around mid-March.

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.