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.







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.



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.


Minnesota firearms deer kill down 36 percent statewide after first three days

As expected, Minnesota’s firearms deer harvest is down. Way down.

After the first three days of the season, the harvest was down 51 percent from 2013 in Northeastern Minnesota (Series 100 deer permit areas) and down 36 percent statewide, said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The statewide harvest was 54,000 for the first three days of the season, which opened Saturday. That’s down from 84,000 in the same period last year.

Part of the reason for the decrease is that the DNR offered far fewer antlerless deer permits this fall than in recent years. But the buck harvest was down as well, said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager at Cloquet. In addition, opening weekend weather was not ideal, with high winds.