Ma and the cubs come to visit the Johnsons

Four bears roam the yard of Bill and Mary Johnson of rural Two Harbors. (Mary Johnson photo)

Four bears roam the yard of Bill and Mary Johnson of rural Two Harbors. (Mary Johnson photo)

Bill and Mary Johnson had a surprise last Wednesday night at their home about two miles west of Two Harbors. Mary looked out and saw what at first she thought to be three bears. But then she and Bill spotted a fourth. It appeared to be a sow in the distance and three yearling cubs closer to the house.

“The three cubs were under bird feeder,” Mary said. “The mother was off in the distance. I could hear her making noise back there.”

She said the couple hasn’t seen bears in their yard for several years.

When Mary first went out to take a photo, the cubs scampered up pine trees. But she was able to get a photo a bit later. The cubs stayed around for about an hour, Mary said.

Time of offer feedback on Wisconsin deer recommendations

Douglas County’s Deer Advisory Council has released its preliminary antlerless quota and permit level recommendations for public comment. The council is recommending antlerless quotas and permit levels that would increase the deer population, a goal that was established during the 2014 meetings. To offer feedback, through Wednesday, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/cdac.html. Final recommendations will be sent to the Natural Resources Board for approval in May 2015.

Wisconsin man headed for stem-cell transplant in Panama

Don Christensen will board a plane Thursday morning for a flight that he hopes will change his life. Christensen, of Webster, Wis., suffers from multiple sclerosis. He and two personal attendants will fly to Panama, where he is scheduled to receive a stem-cell transplant. The transplants have proven effective in reducing the symptoms associated with MS, according to the testimony of others who have received the treatments. The transplants are not available in the United States.

“I think it’d be cool if I could reach up and scratch an itch,” said Christensen, a quadriplegic. “We’ll give it a shot. Hopefully, it works. Whatever happens, it’s been a really neat ride.”

Don Christensen of Webster, Wis., demonstrates how he shoots his crossbow with a breath-activated trigger device. (News Tribune file photo)

Don Christensen of Webster, Wis., demonstrates how he shoots his crossbow with a breath-activated trigger device. (News Tribune file photo)

Christensen, 50, is an avid outdoorsman who hunts and fishes from his wheelchair. He uses a breath-activated device to trigger his shotgun, rifle or crossbow. He has hunted deer, turkeys and bears. In February, friends and supporters gathered at a fundraiser in Spooner for Christensen, raising $27,800 for his transplant and associated travel. Donations have now topped $28,000, he said.

The transplant, to be done at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama City, Panama, will cost $21,200, Christensen said in a telephone interview Monday. Travel, lodging other other costs will total about $4,000.

“I’ve spent last couple weeks talking to people who have done stem cell transplants in Panama,” he said. “It’s amazing. There’s been some miracles happening. It definitely keeps hope alive.”

Christensen has been on his MS medicine for seven years. While it has kept his MS symptoms in check, the medicine has a serious potential side effect. The longer a person takes the medicine, the more likely it is that he or she will develop progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, or PML.

After a recent screening, he learned that his risk of PML had increased dramatically. PML is caused by a virus infection that affects the white matter in the brain and targets cells that make myelin — the material that insulates nerve cells.

PML has a 30 to 50 percent mortality rate within the first few months of diagnosis, but that depends on the severity of the underlying disease and treatment received, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. People who survive PML can be left with severe neurological disabilities.

Christensen researched the option of the stem-cell transplant and decided it was worth trying. He and two attendants, Jennifer Tripp of Spooner and Dawn Elliott of Trego, plan to be in Panama City for 10 days.

In some cases, Christensen said, those who receive the transplants must return for a second transplant. But nearly all those he knows of who have received the transplants have experienced some reduction in symptoms, Christensen said.

The transplants are not available in the United States because the procedure has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Town bird

A ruffed grouse stands near an intersection on Minnesota Point. (Sam Cook photo)

A ruffed grouse stands near an intersection on Minnesota Point. (Sam Cook photo)

I was finishing up at another assignment on Friday when I pulled up to the intersection of 11th Avenue South and Minnesota Avenue on Duluth’s Park Point. As I approached the intersection, I looked ahead and saw a brownish bird standing in the street. At first, I assumed it was a hen mallard because mallards hang around Park Point much of the winter. But the body shape didn’t seem to match up with a duck.

I looked again and figured it had to be a ruffed grouse. I mean, it looked like a grouse. But I certainly didn’t expect to see a ruffed grouse on Park Point. There isn’t a lot of grouse-y habitat there, especially near that intersection. But that’s what it was. A grouse.

It was cooperative enough to let me switch to a telephoto lens and make several photos. The grouse didn’t flush when I got out of the car to take pictures, nor when I walked completely to the other side of it so I could shoot with the sun at my back. It just stood there in the street.

Finally, after I was through shooting, it must have decided enough was enough. It rocketed into flight, flew across Minnesota Avenue and over a hedge between two closely spaced homes.

Another motorist came up. He, too, had seen the bird.

“Was that a grouse?” he asked.

I told him it was a grouse.

“I didn’t know they had ’em down here,” he said.

I didn’t, either.

 

Deer-population goal recommendations available, comment welcome

Citizen advisory panels convened by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Northeastern Minnesota have recommended a range of deer population goals, from no change in some units to 50 percent increases in others, as part of a statewide effort to reassess deer population goals. Those recommendations were made public on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website today.

The public may now offer comments on those goal recommendations by visiting the DNR website at mndnr.gov/deer.

The DNR is in the process of revising deer population goals across much of the state. Citizen advisory panels representing a range of stakeholders have met during the past two months to offer their recommendations for specific deer permit areas.

Along the North Shore, a 15-member panel has made recommendations for deer permit areas stretching from near Duluth to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In some cases, the panel recommended no change in population goals, while in at least one permit area, the panel recommended increasing the deer population by 25 percent. The panel could not reach a consensus for two other permit areas.

Here are the panel’s recommendations: Permit area 180, no consensus; permit area 122, 25 percent increase; permit area 127, no change; permit area 117, no change; permit area 126, no consensus.

In permit area 169 north of Grand Rapids, a panel recommended increasing the deer population by 50 percent. Not all deer permit areas statewide are included in this round of goal-setting.

The northern Minnesota deer population is relatively low following a series of severe winters. Some hunters also believe gray wolves are taking too many deer. But others say the region has enough deer and that increasing population goals would make it more difficult for forest regeneration and could negatively affect a declining moose population.

The public will have until April 15 to offer comments to the DNR on deer population goals, and all of those comments must be made online at the DNR’s website. All recommendations made by citizen advisory panels are also available on the website.

After the public comment period ends, DNR officials will make a final decision on deer population goals in the units under consideration this year. A final announcement on population goals is expected by June.

Earlier this winter, the DNR accepted public comments on deer population goals by mail, email, online and through written questionnaires. Verbal comments were received at public meetings in each goal-setting block. More than 1,650 comments were received, DNR officials said.

DNR to seek comments on deer recommendations

Citizen advisory teams have done their work in Minnesota’s deer population goal-setting process. Starting Thursday, it’s your turn.

Comments on proposed deer population goals recommended by citizen advisory teams in 40 of Minnesota’s 128 deer permit areas will be accepted starting Thursday and continuing through April 15 on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website here.

The DNR will evaluate advisory team recommendations and public comments on those recommendations before determining the final deer population goal for each of five goal-setting blocks. Once goals are established, the DNR will announce those goals, and wildlife managers will set hunting season strategies.

Two white-tailed deer remain alert in the woods near Ely during a recent winter. News Tribune file

Two white-tailed deer remain alert in the woods near Ely during a recent winter. News Tribune file

“We’ve used a fairly extensive process to revisit deer population goals in large portions of northeastern, north-central and east-central Minnesota,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader. “To date, the public engagement process has included public meetings, questionnaires and written comments.

Fifteen-member citizen advisory teams met recently to provide recommendations for revised deer population goals. People serving on the advisory committees represented a cross-section of interests including archery, firearm and muzzleloader hunters; area residents and landowners; farmers; land managers, local government staff and appointed officials; local business owners; and members of hunting, conservation and agricultural organizations.

Specific population goal recommendations will be posted online Thursday, along with the factors advisory team members cited when making recommendations. People should review this supporting information before submitting comments, which will only be accepted online.

Nancy Hansen, DNR area wildlife manager at Two Harbors, worked with the citizen advisory panel for a block of five deer permit areas along the North Shore. While recommendations for those areas were not available today, Hansen said consensus among panel members was difficult to reach.

Here are some of her thoughts on the process:

“Even most of the folks who were opposed to increasing deer numbers in some places were avid deer hunters themselves. And forest regeneration costs, as well as damage to vegetation, were part of the reason why. But some folks also explained or supported that in areas that were good moose habitat, they felt we should keep deer numbers down because of the known negative impacts of brainworm, for example, to moose (since our moose population is declining and health issues, including brainworm, are a major reason why).

“The other issue is that not everyone fully understood that areas like 117 and 127 are not heavily hunted. And where hunter/harvest numbers were higher in the past, that was  related to the areas prior to a boundary change (so the existing DPA boundary is different than the previous boundary for some deer permit areas). A few citizens just saw the low deer densities/low harvest numbers and thought they should automatically be increased as much as possible in those areas. For folks that were present, some of them changed their mind when other team members explained their rationale behind individual recommendations. And some folks held firmly to their individual recommendations and couldn’t be swayed at all.

“Again; it was all (advisory) team member discussion. Beyond the facilitator (not a DNR wildlife manager) keeping the group on track/time, no one from the DNR spoke up or offered any additional information during the process. Our instructions were clear: For DNR wildlife managers present, we were to be silent observers. We were not to give direction or steer the team in any fashion. I think the only question we answered was one concerning boundary changes for one or two of the deer permit areas from a few years ago.”

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.

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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

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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.