• Whitewater. The public input process for the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area master planning runs through Jan. 9. In the early 1990s, I went traipsing solo around the big country of the WMA early one spring morning. I barely remember the excuse for heading out – breaking in a new pair of boots, mushroom hunting, whatever. A fog came up that morning and – suddenly stumbling around a misty valley – I briefly lost my bearings. I had the presence of mind to stop, rest against a tree, and wait for a breeze to clear off the fog. Even so, tucked back into the woods, it took me 10 minutes to get my bearings and commence a 20-minute hike out.
Two learnings hit me that day. One, carry a compass, even in a relatively small chunk of wild lands, and two, the 28,000-acre Whitewater ain’t a small chunk of wild lands. There are few places where you can get yourself lost in southern Minnesota these days, but the Whitewater WMA is one of them. My two cents on the public review? Keep the Whitewater WMA primitive and wild.
• PF search. St. Paul-based Pheasants Forever continues its search for a new executive director as longtime leader Howard Vincent prepares to retire in early 2023. The group received more than 150 applicants for the CEO position, and its board of directors is reviewing them. Bob St. Pierre, the group’s chief marketing and communications officer, expects PF to make a decision before year-end. The new CEO should be on hand at Pheasant Fest, Feb. 17-19, at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
• Session preview? Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, joined me briefly Sunday evening on WCCO Outdoors, and I asked him if chronic wasting disease would be on his majority party’s agenda when the legislative session arrives next month. The DFL has in the past pushed for a moratorium on new deer farms in the state. Point blank, I asked if that would be a priority again in 2023.
“That would be the minimum, the bare minimum,” Hansen responded. “We will have much more than that.”
• Iowa funding. In 2010, Iowa passed (with 63% of the vote) its own version of dedicated natural resources funding. (Minnesotans passed ours by 59% in 2008.) It created the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund to be funded by the next 3/8 of 1% sales tax increase by the Iowa Legislature. Therein lies the catch: Its Legislature still has not funded it, thus denying clean water efforts, habitat easements, and Iowa public lands up to $1 billion in missed opportunity since 2010, according to Joe Jayjack, of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. He believes Iowa eventually will finish the job, but for now, it’s good to be a Minnesotan.
• Fishers. Checked in with Michael Joyce, a wildlife biologist with the U of M-Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute. He’s studying state fisher populations, which have plunged from 16,000 to 7,000 today. One part of the NRRI’s effort placed 100 artificial tree cavities (in 2019 and 2020) to meet the denning needs of fishers, Minnesota’s largest member in of the weasel family. The verdict: Only about 42% of the boxes saw activity, and it was mostly in areas that already have stable fisher populations.
Ongoing research is looking closer at the effects of habitat and bobcat predation on fishers, and later this winter, a more in-depth look at the species’ expansion south. LCCMR dollars are helping to fund the study, and a whopping 42% of the cameras the researchers deployed in Winona and Wabasha counties picked up fisher evidence. They’re looking at placing some tracking collars on southeast fishers later this winter. We’ll keep you posted on that.