Minnesota deer hunters won’t be able to take a shot at wolves they encounter when a wolf hunting season is established later this year.
Officials with the Department of Natural Resources want to run a separate wolf season from late November — after the firearms deer season — through early January, when wolf pelts are prime.
The results: Far fewer wolves likely will be killed.
“We want to be very conservative this inaugural year,” said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife chief. “We don’t know what the hunter participation rates or success rates would be.”
With 180,000 deer hunters in northern Minnesota alone, officials are concerned that allowing them to also hunt wolves while in their deer stands might result in too many wolves being killed. They are not concerned that hunters could seriously impact the wolf population — hunting them is extremely difficult and success rates likely will be very low.
The concern is lowering the population, now estimated at about 3,000, to the 1,600 minimum established in the state’s wolf-management plan.
“We don’t want to do anything to put them back on the endangered species list” and lose state management, said Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife director. Officials also said they want a separate season for wolves to underscore its status.
“This is a trophy animal,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. “It will be a trophy [hunting] season. It’s a highly worthwhile species, not vermin.”
But the decision, announced at the agency’s annual roundtable meetings with stakeholders over the weekend in St. Paul, won’t please some northern deer hunters who believe the wolf population is too high and the deer population too low.
“I think it’s totally unwise,” said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Without the incidental kill of wolves during the deer season, Johnson expects wolf harvest to be very low.
“I’d be surprised if they take 100,” he said.
The DNR intends to impose a quota, and hunters would apply for a limited number of licenses through a lottery. The cost of the license, and the season framework, will be set by the Legislature. The DNR likely will set the quota, but the number hasn’t been determined yet. It also intends to allow trapping of wolves.
Roadside boat checks
Boaters and anglers will face mandatory roadside check stations this spring, where their crafts will be inspected for aquatic invasive species — part of a statewide crackdown. Boats that fail inspections will be sent to a decontamination area to be high-pressure-washed with hot water. Violators can expect citations and fines instead of warnings (for the full story, see startribune.com/outdoors).
“It’s long overdue,” said Barb Halbakken Fischburg with the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations. Yes, she said, some boaters won’t like being diverted into the inspection stations. “But the risk factor if we don’t do this is much greater,” she said. “If we don’t protect fishing, we don’t have a tourism industry.”
Meanwhile, boaters will be required to apply free decals provided by the DNR to their boats reminding them to comply with the law, including draining all water from boats and bait containers and removing vegetation or invasive species from boats and trailers. Those stickers should be available later this month.
Ice fishing 2012?
The photo above of Lake Mille Lacs is one for the record books. It was taken Saturday by Steve Fellegy, who lives on the north side of the lake, and underscores the weird warm weather Minnesota has experienced this winter.
Fellegy, 58, who has lived on the lake his entire life, said he’s never seen anything like it.
“It’s a half-mile-wide open water, and it runs several miles east and west,” he said. Fellegy, a summer fishing guide who blogs at www.startribune.com/outdoors, recalls being in a boat on the lake Jan. 1, 1999, but the lake soon froze that year.
Wind can shift Mille Lacs’ ice and open water, creating dangerous situations. More than 30 ice anglers were rescued last month after a huge sheet of ice broke off from shore, stranding them for hours.
Despite the open water, ice is 11 to 12 inches thick in the southern bays, and ice fishing is going full-bore in many areas, even on the west side, where the open water can be seen.
“Fishing has been pretty good,” said Fellegy. Still, temperatures are predicted to hit 40 degrees there early this week.
Elsewhere, many ice houses — and more than a few anglers –have fallen through ice around the state this season.
Southeast stream regs
The DNR is considering some major changes to the southeast trout stream regulations that would provide more fishing opportunities for anglers. Among the proposals:
• Expand the winter catch-and-release season, now confined to 32 streams, to all trout streams.
• Discontinue the barbless hook regulations during the catch-and-release seasons.
• Extend the fall catch-and-release season two weeks.
The changes would simplify the regulations and provide more opportunities without hurting the fishery, said Steve Klotz, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Lanesboro.