Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen say no’ to WMA development

St. Cloud, Minn. The kickoff celebration of the 50th anniversary
of Minnesota’s wildlife management areas led to discussions about
the system’s future when DNR Region 4 administrator Cheryl Heide
told participants of the 2001 Wildlife Roundtable that the
development of trails and other recreational amenities on state
wildlife lands could boost tourism and help farm communities
diversify their economy.

“This is a good time to consider how we can accommodate hunting
and trapping while expanding the recreational use of the WMAs,”
Heide said.

Heide said that organizations such as the Minnesota Parks and
Trails Council and the Friends of the Minnesota River want to
“partner” with the DNR and are willing to fund recreational

Since the vast majority of land in southwestern Minnesota is
privately owned and the DNR manages most of the public holdings,
Heide said the agency needs to be “flexible” to meet recreation

She suggested developing WMAs to make them more accessible for
people with impairments, families, and seniors, or using WMAs as
termination points for recreational trails. She also suggested
trading existing wildlife management areas that are suitable for
recreational development for other DNR properties.

Heide’s suggestions were met with less than enthusiasm by
roundtable participants.

“Pheasants Forever’s interest is in preserving the integrity of
system. I can’t say that strongly enough,” said the organization’s
Joe Duggan. “We are very concerned about the possible expanded use
of the WMAs.”

The WMA system resulted from the Save the Wetlands Program,
which was initiated 50 years ago as a counter to the increase in
agricultural drainage following World War II. Over time, the system
has grown to 1,300 WMAs covering over one million acres. In
addition to large units like Carlos Avery, Lac qui Parle, and
Whitewater, the system includes numerous small units that protect
wetland and duck nesting habitat. Save the Wetlands became the
model for federal waterfowl production areas (WPAs). Minnesota has
250,000 acres of WPAs managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife

State statute and policy clearly define the purpose of WMAs is
to protect critical habitat and provide compatible recreation such
as hunting, trapping, and wildlife watching. Most of the areas were
acquired or are managed with federal Pittman-Robertson funds and
hence are governed by federal rules prohibiting incompatible uses
of wildlife lands. One objective of WMA management is to minimize
human intrusion on the natural environment.

The reason the issue of expanding recreational uses of the WMAs
came before the roundtable is because the Wildlife Division is
currently revising and updating its WMA policy. Other WMA use
issues addressed in the roundtable session were fish stocking, dog
trialing, trails, and shooting ranges. Demands to use WMAs for
activities unrelated to wildlife are increasing. Wildlife Division
Operations Manager Tom Isley said that over the years, he has
refused requests to launch rockets, fly model airplanes, bury
someone, and conduct a military exercise on WMAs.

Roundtable participants expressed strong support for maintaining
the integrity of the WMAs as wildlife habitat. They were largely in
agreement with the DNR’s new draft policy. They agreed that
incompatible uses should not be allowed or should be carefully
controlled with permits. For instance, some walleye stocking could
be permitted to research possible wildlife benefits. Presently, the
Wildlife Division has reached a compromise with motorized trail
advocates to help route trails around WMAs and away from critical

However, threats to the integrity of the WMA system remain.

Conservationist Al Farmes said that the Legislature will
consider allowing incompatible uses on 100,000 acres of Con Con
lands that will be dedicated as WMAs in this session. If the
current safeguards against incompatible use are compromised, Farmes
is concerned that it would set a precedent for relaxing protection
on all WMAs.

Gordy Meyer, president of the Minnesota Conservation Federation,
said that wildlife advocates need to stand firm to protect

“We have to look to the future,” Meyer said. “We’ll face some
tough decisions in the next 20 years.”

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