Less CRP land and loss of wetlands will hurt wildlife

Published 6:05pm Sunday, January 22, 2012

I was reading the latest issue of “Outdoor News” the other day and one of the readers had voiced his concern about the vanishing wetlands.

With the price of corn and the demand for it being what it is and the lack of federal government support, more farmers will likely be opting out of the Conservation Reserve Program when their contracts expire. This, along with the extensive tiling of wetlands that is being done to create more tillable land, is a very scary situation.

The loss of this habitat will affect every phase of the outdoors environment, whether directly or indirectly. The low water levels of the area will also have an effect on habitat. If you take a drive in the country you can see the dried up ponds and creeks that have just a trace of the water that they once held. Hopefully we will receive some much needed snowfall (I’m not a fan of shoveling) or some substantial spring rains to bring the water levels back up.

I can understand that money matters when it comes to farming because that is their livelihood, but we also need to look at the long-range effect it can have on our game and fish populations. I feel that as sportsmen we need to applaud those who choose to set aside a little land for habitat because they are doing their share to preserve our outdoors heritage.

Each year there are some legislators who seem to be constantly looking for ways to dip into, change or eliminate the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. With more and more CRP land being taken away, we need to ensure that there is enough land for habitat to survive, especially in our area of the state. Wildlife Management Areas are a huge part of preserving our heritage, and it is important that more of this land is being purchased when it is made available.

All the wildlife that we enjoy can be affected by lack of habitat. The things that we sometimes take for granted like a soaring hawk, a beautiful rooster pheasant, wild turkeys, deer and other critters that we are used to seeing on a regular basis may eventually be hard to find.

One thing that I do know is that there are a lot of squirrels and rabbits that actually seem to be thriving on city life. I guess it shows that any wild critter will eventually adjust to coexisting with humans.

I, on the other hand, seem to have a little problem adjusting to the idea of my garage being a giant squirrel’s nest. They seem to take particular joy in knocking different things off of the shelves in my garage. Those little bushy-tailed rats haven’t broken anything for awhile, but then again there is nothing left to break that hasn’t already fallen victim to their hijinks.

I still enjoy watching them at play even though my thoughts are sometimes bittersweet because I just get the feeling that they are occasionally taunting me with their chatter. All in all they are still part of nature’s plan and the good thing is that they haven’t figured out a way to get into my house as of yet.

The winter that we have been experiencing so far has been pretty unbelievable. My grandson Trevor has been fishing through the ice on a regular basis and has been having some pretty good luck. The other night he pulled a 25 1/2-pound walleye through the ice, which he quickly took a picture of and then released. He also said that he has caught a lot of smaller walleyes that were in the 10-12 inch range that he also released to grow into eaters in another year or so.

From the looks of the number of houses on the channel the bite must be pretty good this year. I know that last year it was pretty slim pickings for the most part, so a year like this is a welcome change. I’ve heard that the bite has switched from the wily walleye to crappies.

I have spotted a few vehicles out on the ice in the last week but from some of the reports I’ve heard the ice was actually pretty thin in spots and there was even open water in some areas. With the unstable temperatures we’ve been having, I don’t really know if it is the wisest move to be driving on the ice in the channel even with the colder weather. I don’t believe that saving a few steps to the fish house is worth the cost of extracting your vehicle from the lake or worse. Just my thoughts but after all I am definitely a thick-ice fisherman.

DNR survey shows fewest fish houses on south-central Minn. lakes in 35 years

Warm weather, eroding ice conditions and changing technology may be responsible for the lowest numbers of fish houses on south-central Minnesota lakes in 35 years, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Since 1977, personnel from the DNR’s Hutchinson Fisheries Management Area have conducted fish house counts on up to 59 lakes each year across five and more recently seven counties.

“The surveys get us out on our area lakes during the winter,” according to Lee Sundmark, area fisheries supervisor. “Even better, it gives us a chance to talk to anglers and find out what they’re thinking and answer questions.”

Counts are conducted the first two weeks of January during daylight hours. This provides consistency when comparing data over a period of years. As each lake is visited, the number of fish houses, permanent and portable, are counted and recorded.

Over the past 35 years, there has been an average of 14.25 fish houses counted per lake surveyed. This year the average was only 1.9.

Until next time, play safe, watch out for thin ice, good fishing and enjoy the Minnesota outdoors experience.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers during the coming year. They are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears each Sunday in the Tribune.