Two additional open-house meetings are scheduled in the Twin Cities metro area to help people understand and ask questions about Minnesota’s draft statewide deer management plan.
“We heard from some who wanted open-house meetings closer to home in the metro area, so we added two to the other ones in the lineup,” said Leslie McInenly, acting wildlife populations and programs manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Here is the schedule for the metro area meetings:
- St. Paul, Monday, April 23, DNR Headquarters, 500 Lafayette Road.
- Richfield, Monday, April 30, Wood Lake Nature Center, 6710 Lake Shore Drive.
These meetings are in addition to 35 others in which Wildlife staff will provide handouts explaining the deer plan and process, and will talk with attendees individually and in small groups.
The DNR is taking online public comments on the new plan now through Wednesday, May 9, at mndnr.gov/deerplan. There will be paper copies of the questionnaire available at the open houses for those who are not able to complete it online.
All meetings are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and people can arrive anytime during the two-hour time frame. There will be no formal presentation at the meetings.
Minnesota’s new deer plan sets a new statewide harvest target, increases citizen participation in deer management, and outlines ways to keep the population and habitat healthy.
To help protect Minnesota waters, the Department of Natural Resources is reminding people to properly dispose of prohibited or unwanted aquarium plants and animals.
“It’s important for hobbyists, teachers, parents and children to know that they should never release aquarium animals or plants into the wild,” said Heidi Wolf, DNR invasive species unit supervisor. “Some of the pets and plants that live in aquariums are prohibited species that can cause serious harm if released into lakes, rivers or ponds.”
The DNR recommends teachers check the prohibited invasive species list before choosing classroom aquarium animals. “We also encourage teachers to discuss invasive species with their students,” Wolf said.
People with aquarium animals or plants that are prohibited or that they no longer want can dispose of them at two upcoming surrender events sponsored by Minnesota Sea Grant:
- Habitattitude Surrender and University of Minnesota Duluth PAWS Event
- Wednesday, April 25, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Kirby Student Lounge, University of Minnesota Duluth, 1120 Kirby Drive, Duluth.
- Fish, aquatic plants, invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles accepted.
- Minnesota Aquarium Society Spring Auction and Surrender
- Saturday, April 28, 11 a.m.
- Lutheran Church of the Redemption (gymnasium) 927 East Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington.
- Fish, aquatic plants and invertebrates accepted.
Some retailers sell plants and animals that are prohibited in Minnesota. One example frequently found in classrooms, the red swamp crayfish, is causing major environmental and economic harm as nearby as Wisconsin.
More information about prohibited and regulated species and what to do with them is available at mndnr.gov/invasives/laws.
Since the late 1990s, Mille Lacs Lake has become an increasingly popular destination for anglers who want to catch trophy-sized smallmouth bass. Until now, it wasn’t known how many of these fish – prized more for their fight than their fillets – called the lake home. A population estimate completed in 2018 shows there are some 67,000 smallmouth bass in the 128,000-acre lake.
“This looks like a healthy population,” said Tom Jones, regional fisheries treaty coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “This estimate roughly represents the number of adult bass in the lake. It does not include bass under 12 inches.”
The population estimate would not have been possible without the help of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance and Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation. The Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance kept detailed records of their catches and provided length and tag numbers from more than 2,100 smallmouth bass. Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation held several tournaments on Mille Lacs, including the statewide Tournament of Champions, and anglers provided similar data for more than 1,600 bass.
“Mille Lacs is the number one bass fishery in the United States right now, and we just want to help protect it,” said Jim DeRosa, president of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance. “We’re really thrilled that we could play a small part in that.”
In 2013, smallmouth bass regulations changed to allow anglers more opportunity to keep smallmouth on Mille Lacs Lake. The move was made to permit anglers to keep some fish during a time when walleye harvest has been restricted or prohibited. During the past five seasons, smallmouth bass regulations have varied, but they generally have allowed harvest of bass under 17 inches. A 20-inch smallmouth bass is generally regarded as a trophy fish.
“One thing smallmouth anglers were concerned about was that allowing harvest would mean fewer big bass,” Jones said. “That’s not what we’ve seen with the most current assessment. About half of the smallmouth are over 17 inches, and that is consistent with what we’ve seen in past assessments of Mille Lacs smallmouth.”
In 2016 and 2017, Mille Lacs Lake hosted the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, and in 2017 Bassmaster Magazine named Mille Lacs Lake the best bass fishery in the nation.
“We recognize Mille Lacs is a world-class bass fishery, and we’re committed to protecting it,” said Jones. “Now that we have a good estimate of the abundance of smallmouth bass, we look forward to working with Minnesota bass groups and the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee this summer to discuss potential long-term regulations.”
While Mille Lacs has long been known for walleye, the growth of the lake’s smallmouth bass population is a fairly recent phenomenon. During the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, smallmouth started showing up in DNR assessments more frequently. And anglers were hooking more of them.
“When fishing pressure increased in the late 1990s, that’s when we decided to protect smallmouth bass,” Jones said. “We thought the population was fragile at the time.”
From 2000 to 2012, anglers on Mille Lacs were limited to one bass over 21 inches, and a very small number of fish were harvested each year. The DNR’s first assessment of Mille Lacs smallmouth bass in 1999 supported the decision to restrict harvest of smallmouth bass, but a 2009 assessment found smallmouth bass in much higher numbers and in a much wider portion of the lake.
Though anglers have been allowed to keep more bass since 2013, creel surveys indicate that interest in keeping bass is low. The average number of bass kept each year is about 2,800. In recent years, anglers have caught and released more than 125,000 bass.
“Based on the estimated number of smallmouth bass in the lake and the number that anglers catch each year, it’s clear that these fish are being caught more than once,” said Tom Heinrich, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Garrison. “The anglers who are releasing those bass are helping maintain the lake’s incredible bass fishery.”
Bass season on Mille Lacs opens Saturday, May 12. Prior to Saturday, May 26, all largemouth and smallmouth bass must be immediately released. Beginning May 26, the combined bass possession limit is three, with only one bass over 21 inches. All bass 17 to 21 inches must be immediately released.
More information about Mille Lacs Lake can be found at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.
A new geocaching challenge called the Aquatic Quest, which focuses on plants and animals that live in Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and ponds, is being offered by the Department of Natural Resources.
“Geocaching has been an effective way for us to connect people, especially kids, with the outdoors,” said Jennifer Conrad, interpretive services supervisor for
the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division. “Not only will this new treasure hunt be fun, it will also help demonstrate that, beneath the surface, Minnesota’s waters are flowing with interconnected life forms.”
As part of the challenge, camouflaged containers (aka “geocaches,” or “caches” for short) have been hidden at 74 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas (at all of them except the St. Croix Islands State Recreation Area) and at eight state trails. Geocachers will have until Oct. 31, 2020, to find as many caches as they can. Finding the caches involves entering numeric coordinates into a GPS (Global Positioning System) device, which shows how far away and in which direction to go to get started on the treasure hunt.
The clues (aka “coordinates”) to finding the containers will be posted online at 8 a.m., Sunday, April 22, which is Earth Day.
People who don’t have their own GPS device can borrow one from one of the many Minnesota state parks designated as a geocaching checkpoint. The checkpoint parks will also offer Geocaching 101 programs to provide instructions for beginners.
Upcoming Geocaching 101 programs will be offered:
- Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 2 p.m., Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, Onamia.
- Saturday, May 19, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Fort Snelling State Park, St. Paul.
- Saturday, May 26, from 9 to 10 a.m., Afton State Park, Hastings.
Inside each cache is a logbook and a set of collectible cards featuring color photos of aquatic plants and critters. Cache finders are encouraged to sign the logbook and take one of the cards as a souvenir of their visit.
Geocachers can earn a special “habitat” card after finding 10, 20, 40, 60 and all of the cards. They also can pick up a limited-edition water recreation card (one each year) when they attend a geocaching or water-themed program at Minnesota state parks and trails.
The Aquatic Quest is the fifth in a series of geocaching adventures that have been offered at Minnesota state parks and trails. Previous adventures included the Call of the Wildflowers (2015-2017), the Avian Adventure (2012-2014), the Wildlife Safari (2009-2011), and the History Challenge presented by the retailer Best Buy (2008).
More than 11,000 people reported finding a Call of the Wildflowers geocache in 2017, Conrad said.
Have a question for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the evening or on a Saturday? Need an interpreter? No problem.
The DNR Information Center has extended its phone hours so that anglers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts in Minnesota can call until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. And, they now offer live interpreter services in more than 200 languages and dialects.
“It’s important to help our customers when and how it’s convenient for them,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Being an angler myself, I appreciate being able to call after work or on the weekend, and we know others do too.”
The phone interpreter service makes it easy and fast for non-English speakers to get the information they need. They simply request an interpreter and staff create a three-way conversation to have their questions answered.
“We want to break down barriers so all Minnesotans feel comfortable asking for the information they want, whether in English or in their native language,” Landwehr said.
Customer service improvements have accompanied the rollout of longer hours.
“We’ve implemented changes allowing us to answer calls more quickly and transfer callers to any other DNR staffer around the state if we can’t answer their questions,” said Ann McBurney, Information Center supervisor. “That’s much friendlier than asking people to make another call, or to wait for a call back.”