Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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DNR, Olmsted Co. haggle over WMA

Field Editor

Rochester, Minn. If Olmsted County officials are successful with
their development plans, the city of Rochester may be seeking a new
identity. The Olmsted County Board wants to build an “energy park”
on what is now the Gordon Yaeger Wildlife Management Area (WMA),
which would eliminate the winter feeding area for Rochester’s famed
flock of giant Canada geese.

In August, county officials informed the DNR that they wanted
WMA property to build an “energy park” to use the increased output
of steam and electricity from a planned expansion of the local
solid waste incinerator, which presently provides county government
with about 30 percent of its revenue. DNR officials responded that
the county’s request raised “complex issues” for the agency,
including deep concerns about the possible effects of development
on the Rochester goose flock.

The WMA land is a crop field planted with corn that is left in
the field to provide food for the geese. In winter, when the goose
flock may number 25,000 to 35,000 birds, this field and another to
the south are the only food sources available to geese when snow
blankets the ground.

“This happens to be a very critical site for the geese,” says
DNR Regional Wildlife Manager Ken Varland. “If the geese can’t find
something to eat, they’ll go elsewhere. They’ll leave
Rochester.”

Giant Canada geese, once believed to be extinct, were
rediscovered at Rochester about 40 years ago. The flock nests in
the Interlake region of Manitoba and comes to Rochester for the
winter, finding open water for roosting from the warm water
discharge on Silver Lake. The city is included in a large goose
refuge, but hunting is allowed in the surrounding area and is
important to the local economy.

Wildlife officials have estimated the geese need about 620,000
pounds of corn to survive the winter. Some of this is supplied by
waste grain in surrounding agricultural fields. However, biologists
say having about 100 acres of standing corn located within the
refuge is crucial to keeping the flock in Rochester during the
winter. The geese have been feeding in the field for 30 years.

In November, goose experts from Minnesota, Manitoba, and the
Mississippi Flyway met in Rochester and concluded that an abrupt
removal of the WMA food plots posed a very serious threat to the
Interlake flock. They agreed the DNR could consent to a land
exchange for an alternative site, if the lands were within the
refuge and in close proximity to the WMA. The lands would have to
be developed as food plots and managed specifically for Canada
geese prior to the conveyance of the WMA lands to the county. Also,
the land would have to equal the WMA’s biological and market
value.

Due to its urban location, the Gordon Yaeger WMA named after a
longtime Rochester Post-Bulletin outdoors writer has very high
property values.

At press time, county and DNR officials were meeting Wednesday
to discuss the situation. Further complicating the issue was the
recent closure of the Rochester DNR regional office, also located
on the WMA.

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