Drawdown on Swan Lake progressing very slowly

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

Nicollet, Minn. — While water isn’t flowing out of Swan Lake as
fast as officials hoped, it is progressing nonetheless.

The water’s going down about one-quarter inch per day, and is
down in total about 7.5 inches.

“We were a little discouraged by the flow progress of the
drawdown,” said Ken Varland, DNR regional wildlife manager in New
Ulm. “We can’t go any faster, basically; there isn’t a lot we can
do to increase flow.”

On the other hand, the oxygen readings were cause for a little
more optimism. In some parts of the 10,000-acre lake, oxygen levels
throughout the water column were about 0.5 parts per million,
enough to kill fish. In other parts, oxygen levels were high right
under the ice, and dropped closer to the bottom, said Joel
Anderson, DNR area wildlife manager in Nicollet.

Deeper areas were in the process of being sampled.

“It’s still early in the game,” Anderson said. “We’re guardedly
optimistic because we are seeing some drops. But lots of things can
happen.”

The drawdown, which was initiated soon after the DNR found carp
in Swan Lake, began when boards were pulled from the lake’s
water-control structure on Dec. 6.

As part of the monitoring, the DNR has been collecting oxygen
readings, as well as a variety of other information.

The lake’s ice was less than 10 inches thick, and there’s good
snow cover on top of it. Cloud cover also has reduced light
penetration, which reduces oxygen levels.

Last week, the DNR flew aerial surveys of the lake’s boundary to
identify any tile inlets. About 40 were identified, Varland
said.

Said Anderson: “They’re a possible refuge for carp, so we want
to make sure we identify all those and check them out and treat
them, if necessary.”

Most winterkills take place sometime in February, so DNR
officials will have a better feel for the drawdown’s success by the
end of that month, Anderson said.

Meantime, the drawdown will continue.

“This is an adaptive plan, and we’re going to monitor the
conditions…” Varland said, “and do what’s going to be our best
approach short- and long-term for killing those fish.

“The bottom line is we want low oxygen, no matter how much water
we have in there,” he said.

Conservationists react to duck plan

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

St. Paul — Reaction to the state’s draft “duck plan” has been
mixed, following the plan’s unveiling at the DNR roundtable event
Jan. 6 in St. Cloud. Among other things, the plan calls for a
drastic increase in the amount of habitat available for waterfowl
and an upgrade in hunting opportunities. The downside is the plan
indicates such enhancements may be some time in coming, and may be
dependent on not-so-reliable government funding.

Currently, the agency is accepting public comment on the draft
plan.

“Building on the 2001 plan to Restore Minnesota’s Wetland and
Waterfowl Hunting Heritage, the draft plan outlines ambitious new
goals to restore and protect prairie wetland and grassland habitat,
accelerate shallow lake management, and improve statewide waterfowl
habitat,” an agency news release last week stated.

The draft plan calls for 200,000 acres of wetland and 400,000
acres of grasslands to be protected by 2025. Even further in the
future, plan goals are to protect and restore a total of 2 million
acres of habitat and 1,800 shallow lakes. The plan seeks to
increase the breeding duck population from its current population
of 636,000 birds to 1 million, to produce a fall flight of 1.4
million birds from the state.

The plan relies on such things as federal farm program funding,
and some not-yet-completed legislative possibilities – the proposed
Wetland Loan Act (federal duck stamp funding) and dedicated funding
from the state sales tax.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Lance Ness, of the
Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance.

Ness said it’s important for segments of the public that might
be affected by the plan – farmers, for example – not to be alarmed
by the large amounts of land needed for new habitat.

“This whole thing is based on public-private partnerships,” he
said. “This is not a land grab.”

Ness said the duck plan raises questions – if the plan is
realistic, and what is reality.

“Is it realistic? That’s anybody’s guess,” he said. “As for
reality, yes, that’s (the amount of habitat needed to increase the
duck breeding population) what it’ll take.”

Tom Cooper, a biologist for the Minnesota Waterfowl Association,
called the plan “ambitious” and “based on good science,” but he
expressed some concern about the plan’s reliance on federal program
funding, stating that Minnesota could potentially lose 1 million
acres of Conservation Reserve Program land in the next few
years.

“One of the biggest shortcomings is where the funding will come
from to put habitat on the ground,” he said. “A lot of this hinges
on dedicated (sales tax) funding.”

Cooper said some projects aimed at restoring shallow lakes could
possibly be done without huge infusions of state and/or federal
dollars.

The Nature Conservancy’s assistant state director, Tom Landwehr,
who in the past has worked with waterfowl via the DNR and Ducks
Unlimited, said the duck plan was both comprehensive and ambitious
“but pretty short on detail.”

Landwehr said after viewing the plan, four unanswered points
stood out.

For one thing, Landwehr said partnerships, alluded to in the
plan, weren’t specific.

Further, he said the plan needs to better explain how the
federal farm bill – and it’s uncertain nature – will affect
implementation of the plan.

Also, Landwehr said, “We need to better acknowledge the role of
forest conservation,” that forests play a part in duck production
in the state, especially for species like ringnecks and wood
ducks.

“The biggest decline in (duck) harvest is coming from the
forests of the state,” he said. Bluebills also used to be numerous
during fall migration in the forested regions, but they “just
aren’t there anymore,” he said.

If possible, Landwehr said is would be helpful to determine
population trends of ducks that rely on the state’s forests. Short
of having that data, he recommends “backing off” on statewide bag
limits.

Finally, Landwehr believes some progress could be made without
the aid of funding, that regulation changes could be made to
improve habitat. Actions could include lake designation and further
protection of shorelines.

John Schroers, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage
Alliance, said even if it takes several years to reach the goals
set forth in the plan, noticeable results must be realized much
sooner.

“It’s critical that if this goes forward, we don’t point to 25
years from now, but something two years or five years out. (The
DNR) needs to set itself up for earlier success,” Schroers said.
“We need to accelerate this thing. But to accelerate, you need gas
in the gas tank.”

That makes dedicated state sales tax funding a necessity, he
said.

“There are elements in dedicated funding that can be used to
accelerate this thing,” Schroers said.

Ducks Unlimited issued a press release following the duck plan’s
introduction. The group said it “agrees with the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources that more resources should be
allocated to restoring and protecting shallow lakes in
Minnesota.”

“Shallow lakes in Minnesota provide the core of the state’s
important migration habitat and are the top priority of DU’s Living
Lakes Initiative,” said Ryan Heiniger, DU director of conservation
programs in Minnesota. “We are pleased the DNR has recognized the
growing threats to shallow lakes and the need to accelerate our
collective efforts to do even more before it’s too late.”

Heiniger added that funding programs, like the potential Wetland
Loan Act (which would increase federal duck stamp fees and allow
stamp money collected in the future to be used for land purchases
now) and conservation programs like CRP are vital to the plan’s
success.

Categories: Hunting News

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