St. Paul — The more things change, the more they stay the same, indeed. As state DNR officials and so-called “stakeholders” prepared to convene in Bloomington for the annual roundtable event this weekend, some of the issues that typically are talking points were again on the agenda. Exhibit A: deer management. And Exhibit B: Lake Mille Lacs and its walleyes.
Those two items are among several to be discussed at the series of meetings, but they’re likely to generate the liveliest discussion, according to Dave Schad, DNR deputy commissioner.
“On the wildlife side, there will be a lot (of talk) about deer management and the population,” Schad said. “And on the fish side, Mille Lacs will be prominent.”
The roundtable has been around now for about three decades, Schad said. It’s changed in a lot of ways, but is still a way hunters and anglers can meet face-to-face with state game and fish managers.
The very first roundtable came to pass in the 1980s, according to Schad.
“It started out as just a fisheries roundtable; it was just a small affair,” he said. The state’s anglers weren’t as well organized as hunters, who were represented by a number of groups, and the DNR sought a forum by which to speak with those anglers.
“It was literally a bunch of folks – the DNR and anglers – sitting around a table and talking about the issues of the day,” Schad said.
In the 1990s, the wildlife side was brought into the roundtable mix; a few years ago, Ecological Services (now Ecological and Water Resources) entered the fold.
“Over time, the roundtable has gotten really big,” Schad said, adding that it’s become “less of a roundtable and more of a conference.”
After a few years in St. Cloud (a more central location), the roundtable returned to Brooklyn Center a few years ago. The last couple it’s been in St. Paul, and this year it moves to Bloomington.
The roundtable has been the place a number of ideas regarding fish and wildlife were either hatched or developed, Schad said. Among them, special fishing regulations for individual lakes, a “very big step,” he said.
The first of those special regs were implemented for Rainy Lake.
Species-specific fish workshops also were an outgrowth of the roundtable, where more centralized discussion could occur.
Recruitment and retention of hunters was one of the first and most important discussion items on the wildlife side, according to Schad. More recently, Zone 3 antler point restrictions and the state’s Walk-In Access program have been vetted at roundtable events.
Also in recent years, the DNR has used the roundtable as an opportunity to “put big conservation issues in front of the people attending,” Schad said – things like energy, the federal farm bill, water issues, and climate change.
While the event has grown over the years (last year, about 350 people between attendees and DNR personnel) and may have lost some of its intimacy, it still serves a vital purpose, Schad believes.
“It’s a unique thing, at the start of the year, and at the start of the legislative session,” he said. “It lets people get organized and set a conservation agenda for the coming year, and I think that’s very helpful.”
Greater attendance also has challenged DNR officials who, Schad said, try to seek a balance between speaking to and listening to stakeholders at the roundtable.
This year’s roundtable kicks off with guest speakers delving into such broad issues as groundwater and agriculture, grassland conversion, and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr’s thoughts on the state’s “critical conservation issues.”
The early afternoon portion of the roundtable, on Friday, will consist of sessions regarding the Clean Water Legacy Fund, and the Outdoor Heritage Fund (both created by the Legacy Amendment) and the role both play in state conservation.
Later in the day, the wildlife side of the roundtable will feature discussions about copper bullets and slugs, and the deer population. Fisheries topics include a Mille Lacs overview, a look at aquatic habitat, and new information about the state’s tullibee lakes. Eco-Water Resources officials will talk groundwater planning, wetland status and trends, and more.
Saturday’s discussions will range from invasive species (including Great Lakes ballast water issues) to the Rat Root River Project to shallow lakes management and a moose research update.