Year in review: In Minnesota, winds of change blow hard in 2016

It was a Hautman again in the federal Duck Stamp contest. This time, Jim Hautman won the prestigious competition.

Plymouth, Minn. — Retrospectives looking back at the United States and the world in 2016 have used an array of adjectives to describe the past 12 months. Minnesota’s outdoors scene certainly contained more than its fair share of bizarre headlines and memorable newsmaking. From moose to muskies, here’s a look back at the past 366 (leap year) days of Outdoor News.

January

Minnesota DNR Wildlife managers announced that they had hired Adam Murkowski, 29, to tackle the role of big-game program leader for the agency. He replaced Leslie McInenly, who left the job in October 2015.

Birdwatchers congregated in Duluth to catch a glimpse of a rare juvenile ivory gull, a species that normally breeds in the Arctic.

A 19-year employee of DNR Enforcement, Rodmen Smith, 44, became the new director of the division. He took over for the recently retired Ken Soring.

The 2016 DNR Roundtable welcomed Jim Martin, of the Berkley Conservation Institute as its keynote speaker. A former fisheries official for Oregon Fish and Wildlife, Martin described four looming “storms” that he said pose perilous consequences for America’s natural resources.

Yiwei Zheng, a philosophy professor at St. Cloud State University, pleaded guilty to illegally smuggling items made of elephant ivory and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine.

February

Gov. Mark Dayton told the DNR to stop mapping private ditches as part of the state’s buffer legislation. Dayton said he’d received threats that House Republican leaders wouldn’t support DNR and Board of Water and Soil Resources’ bonding requests related to water quality if private ditches weren’t taken out.

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association inducted former Vikings coach Bud Grant and five others into its 2016 Hall of Fame class.

Results from the 2016 aerial moose survey indicated a population change from 3,415 in 2015 to 4,020 in 2016 – an increase that biologists called not statistically significant.

The inaugural Outdoor News Deer and Turkey Classic drew strong crowds and lots of trophy antlers to the State Fairgrounds’ Warner Coliseum. The show returns in 2017 – March 10-12 at the same location.

The government of Ontario announced that the province would reinstate the spring black bear hunt as a pilot expansion for five years that would include nonresident hunters. That black bear hunt hadn’t been held since 1999.

March

The netting of a 25-pound male bighead carp by a commercial fisherman near New Ulm marked the first time the invasive species had been found in the Minnesota River.

Snow geese migrated north through South Dakota well ahead of their typical schedule thanks to a vanishing winter snowpack and the availability of open water in the region.

More than 160 biologists, esox anglers, and other North American fisheries personnel turned out for the Muskies, Inc., 50th anniversary celebration and symposium in Minnetonka.

The DNR announced that all walleyes caught by state-licensed anglers on Mille Lacs during the 2016 open-water season must be immediately released. The restrictive regulations aimed to reduce the chance that anglers would exceed the state’s 28,600-pound quota.

Outdoor News announced its 2016 Man of the Year – Dennis Olson, of Cambridge – for his efforts in restoring the flood-damaged Blackhoof River and 50 years as a firearms safety instructor.

April

The Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame inducted its 2016 class, which included Royal Karels, Bill Lindner, Bruce “Doc” Samson, Frankie’s Marine, and the Minnesota Fishing Museum.

District Judge Tomas Van Hon tossed a high-profile DNR poaching case from 2014 that had capped a 5-year investigation culminating in the seizure of 37 guns and 37 sets of antlers. The judge ruled that a warrant officers used to place a GPS tracking device on the defendant’s truck was insufficient.

The outdoors art world mourned the passing of popular Watertown, S.D.-based artist Terry Redlin, known for painting outdoor themes and wildlife.

Veteran Outdoor News journalist Tim Spielman became editor of the newspaper. He took over for Joe Albert, who left the publication to pursue novel and freelance writing.

May

Despite strong landowner interest, a 24-million-acre cap on the Conservation Reserve Program limited enrollment in the spring signup to 400,000 acres nationally and to just under 3,000 acres in Minnesota.

The Minnesota DNR released 10 million walleye fry into various locations on Lake Mille Lacs as part of major research project.

Cold, freezing temperatures, and 30-mph winds greeted state anglers for the 2016 walleye fishing opener.

Fifty-nine-year-old Catherine Hanson was hospitalized after being scratched and bitten by a black bear just outside her house door in rural Wadena County.

A law that sets policy for state agriculture included a provision to place restrictions on how the state can proceed with elk management in northwestern Minnesota. The law passed in the final hours of the 2016 session.

June

The state Office of the Legislative Auditor issued its long-anticipated report on the state of Minnesota deer management. Among the conclusions: The DNR should complete a statewide deer management plan.

The tally of just over 12,000 birds during the 2016 wild turkey-hunting season was third highest in state history and about 500 birds higher than 2015.

A petition to place moose on the federal endangered species list cleared a hurdle when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would launch a 12-month status review of the species.

Surveys showed continued massive growth of Minnesota’s trumpeter swan population. The population, which stood at 58 in 1986, has topped 17,000.

The state’s new catch-and-release fish record program, which includes categories for muskies, lake sturgeon, and flathead catfish, announced its first two records – a 47-inch St. Croix River flathead and a nearly 63-inch Rainy River lake sturgeon.

July

Reports on spring waterfowl counts showed Minnesota duck numbers up 47 percent, including an 88-percent increase in the number of blue-winged teal.

In an interview with Outdoor News, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said that the Bundy brothers’ 40-day occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last winter cost the agency $4.3 million in infrastructure repairs and lost productivity.

Ruffed grouse drumming counts across Minnesota were up 18 percent from 2015, according to the DNR’s annual survey.

Deputies from the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department corralled and captured a three-foot alligator that a bicyclist reported near the town of Barrows. A local wildlife park wasn’t missing any reptiles but agreed to take in the gator.

The DNR announced that muskie stocking would proceed in the Gull Lake chain near Brainerd and the Fairmont chain in southern Minnesota. Four other potential options around the state were withdrawn.

Longtime Outdoor News columnist, Vietnam veteran, and friend to many, Gary Clancy, passed away on July 27 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

August

The DNR unveiled regulations for the 2016 firearms white-tailed deer-hunting season, and they allowed for the harvest of additional antlerless deer in much of the state.

DNR Fisheries announced Aug. 9 that anglers on Lake Mille Lacs had surpassed the state walleye quota, but that the catch-and-release season would remain open.

The number of breeding ducks in the United States and Canada – estimated at 48.36 million – dropped slightly from 2015. Pond counts across the region dropped even more significantly.

A new survey showed that the state’s wolf numbers had dropped from two years prior – 2,278 wolves for winter 2015-16 compared with 2,423 in 2013-14.

September 

A directive from Gov. Mark Dayton had kept Lake Mille Lacs open to catch-and-release walleye fishing after anglers initially topped the state’s walleye quota, but continued overages forced the DNR to close the lake to all state walleye fishing Sept. 6.

Though still well below the 10-year average, Minnesota’s pheasant index jumped 29 percent from 2015.

Despite continuing concerns about northeast Minnesota’s troubled moose population, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa announced that it was planning a 25-bull moose hunt.

Minnesota’s Jim Hautman won the 2017 Federal Duck Stamp Contest. Brother Bob placed third.

Bloomington bass angler Seth Feider, 31, stunned the bass-fishing world by winning the Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Lake Mille Lacs.

The Outdoor News team of Tim Spielman, Tim Lesmeister, Aaron Geddis, and Mark Weber took second place at a golf tournament hosted by the Washington County Pheasants Forever chapter. The event raised money for the Gary Clancy Build a Wildlife Area effort, which aims to raise funds for a new wildlife management area in Clancy’s name.

The only tribal representative of the Mille Lacs Fishery Advisory Committee, Jamie Edwards, resigned from his position.

October

Minnesota’s limited elk harvest topped out at five animals in the northwestern portion of the state.

Bear hunters in Minnesota killed 2,632 animals this season, an increase of about 35 percent from 2015.

A jury on Oct. 27 delivered a verdict exonerating brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five others of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

The Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, the largest coalition of outdoors groups in the state, selected Dave Carlson as its new president.

November

Unseasonably warm weather greeted firearms deer hunters for opening weekend, which saw a decline in harvest.

DNR Fisheries officials announced that following an open-water catch-and-release-only walleye-fishing season on Mille Lacs, that the ice fishing walleye bag for the big lake would be one, with a two-inch “keeper” slot.

Hunters killed about 1,100 wild turkeys during the fall season, down 30 birds from ‘15.

The DNR announced that it would be shutting down the French River fish hatchery near Duluth, a move it billed as fiscally responsible.

Several legislators involved in outdoors issues at the state level, including DFLers Tom Saxhaug, of Grand Rapids, and Matt Schmit, of Red Wing, lost their re-election bids in the Republican wave that also swept Donald Trump into the White House.

Two hunter-harvested deer from Permit Area 348 west of Lanesboro in southeastern Minnesota tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The DNR immediately announced more vigorous CWD testing in the area.

Jim Wackler, 78, of Howard Lake, killed one of the largest nontypical whitetail bucks in state history on Nov. 11 when he took a 36-pointer while hunting from a lawn chair near his home.

December

After a slow start, state deer hunters surpassed the 2015 whitetail harvest total. By early December, the harvest stood at 165,138, about 7 percent higher than a year ago.

Little Falls-based Larson Boat Group, a company with more than 100 years of manufacturing history in Minnesota, announced that it will move its operations to Pulaski, Wis.

Nearly a dozen U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents raided the Great Outdoors Bait Shop in Ely, seizing thousands of ciscoes (baitfish) along with the shop’s computer records and tax files.

Eight of the moose collared as part of the DNR’s study on adult mortality have died so far in 2016, and the research continues to show a variety of perils facing the species.

A crowd of 700 people turned out for the DNR’s informational meeting in Preston on chronic wasting disease.

Brian Getzler, of Roosevelt, caught a 19-pound, 11-ounce eelpout on Lake of the Woods on Dec. 19 that likely will become a new state record for the species.

Categories: Hunting News, News

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