State park visitors, deer harvest, public engagement in natural resource planning process all increased over 2016 The year 2017 saw an increase in the number of Minnesotans getting outdoors and enjoying the state’s abundant natural resources, according to the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR opened two new state campgrounds, added new resources to combat aquatic invasive species, connected more Minnesotans to information about the state’s natural resources, and engaged Minnesotans in the decision-making process on how to best plan for the future of the state’s natural resources.
“Minnesotans had more occasions in 2017 to engage with us on conservation decisions,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “I want to thank the outdoors-loving residents of this state for taking the time to share their ideas and opinions with us.” Outdoor highlights for the year include:
More people got outdoors and visited state parks – New and returning visitors flocked to Minnesota state parks and trails. Year-to-date overnight stays at state parks in 2017 were up 4.1 percent compared to 2016 and sales of year-round state park vehicle permits were up 4.5 percent. New campgrounds and trail rehabilitations – The DNR opened two new state campgrounds, one at Whitewater State Park and partially opened a new campground at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. The DNR also reopened two state trails after extensive repairs.
Following the completion of a five-mile segment severely damaged by flooding in 2012, the 70-mile Willard Munger State Trail is now completely open for the first time in more than five years. A six-mile segment of the Glacial Lakes State Trail is also open, after being widened and resurfaced between Willmar and Spicer.
New parks benefits for veterans – Active military personnel in any branch or unit of the United States Armed Forces and veterans with a service-related disability are now eligible to receive a free year-round state parks vehicle permit, providing unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. These new benefits were proposed by the DNR and approved by state lawmakers during the 2017 Minnesota legislative session.
Expanded information center hours – Responding to public demand, the DNR expanded its Information Center hours into weekday evenings and Saturday mornings. The hotline is a great resource to get many outdoor questions answered from fish limits on lakes to trail conditions for snowmobile and skiing. The project started as a pilot project late in 2016, but public response was so overwhelmingly positive that operational hours were made permanent.
The DNR’s Information Center received 85,146 calls in 2017; more than 12,000 of those calls were taken during the new weekend and evening hours. Anyone can call 888-MINNDNR (646-6367) and talk to an information consultant – 21.5 more hours a week – from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday.
Good deer season – Minnesota deer hunters had one of their better deer seasons in several years, with fall harvest expected to total nearly 199,000 deer with some late season hunting yet to come, compared to 173,213 in 2016. The state has about 500,000 deer hunters each year. Statewide Deer Plan engagement – The DNR is committed to ensuring sustainable and healthy wildlife populations across the state.
In 2017, the DNR held a series of 12 public meetings statewide with people interested in deer to discuss goals and values that would define Minnesota’s first-ever statewide deer management plan. A diverse citizen advisory committee met monthly to discuss the plan and further input was gathered through public surveys. The draft plan will be finalized in 2018.
Chronic wasting disease down – Chronic wasting disease was not found in precautionary testing of nearly 11,500 samples from deer that hunters harvested in north-central, central and southeastern Minnesota outside deer permit area 603. Within permit area 603 the disease was identified in 2016, and this past season six new cases of CWD were confirmed. Overall, the results lent confidence that the disease has not spread across the landscape. Hunter cooperation and public support were both very strong during the monitoring effort.
Forestry initiative – Minnesota’s forest products industry has seen increased global competition, high raw material prices, and increased demand for state timber in recent years. These and other developments underscored the need to update the sustainable timber harvest level from DNR-administered forest lands. The DNR is working closely with a stakeholder advisory group to evaluate the implications of various harvest levels for the forest ecosystem and economy. Specifically, the analysis will examine the sustainability of harvesting 1 million cords of timber per year from DNR-administered forest lands.
If the analysis does not support that level of harvest, the DNR will use information from the analysis to determine what is the sustainable harvest level. DNR-administered lands provide 30 percent of the wood fiber in the state. The state’s forest products industry is the fifth largest manufacturing sector in Minnesota by employment, with a $17.8 billion economic impact supporting 64,000 jobs.
New state forest maps – The DNR created seven new, state-of-the-art maps that make it easier and safer for people to explore, hunt and recreate in state forests. The maps were developed for Paul Bunyan State Forest, Badoura State Forest, St. Croix State Forest, Huntersville State Forest, Lyons State Forest, General C.C. Andrews State Forest and Chengwatana State Forest.
In addition to paper maps, a geoPDF map allows users to download a map onto a mobile device using a variety of map apps and then track their location on the screen. The agency plans to produce 52 more new state forest maps in coming years.
New state fish records – New state records were recorded for golden redhorse (4 pound 7 ounces), short-nose gar (5-pound 4-ounces), catch and release flathead catfish (53 inches), and two caught and released lake sturgeon that were 70 inches long. There are more than 1.4 million anglers in Minnesota.
Buffer map completed – After processing 4,200 public comments and making 2,800 changes to Minnesota’s buffer protection map, the DNR updated a map of public waters and ditch systems that require buffers under a state law. Minnesota’s buffer law, passed in 2015 with bipartisan support, requires landowners to establish perennial vegetation buffers, up to 50 feet wide, along rivers, streams and ditches to help protect clean water quality across the state.
Over 97 percent of public waters are now in compliance with the state’s buffer law.
New resources to fight invasive species – Two new K9 dogs, Shelby and Storm, were added to the agency’s resources to quickly locate zebra mussels attached to all types of water related equipment such as boats, trailers and docks. Shelby and Storm join veteran mussel-sniffing dogs Brady and Reggie.
The DNR also captured a 37-pound, 43-inch bighead carp in the St. Croix River, surgically implanted a thin, 4-inch long tracking tag, and returned the fish to the river. The fish will give scientists better data about the fish’s movements, precise range, feeding areas and other details about the types of conditions these invasive species prefer. The information will help the agency to develop future strategies to control invasive carp.