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MN Department of Natural Resources -- News Releases
Updated: 7 hours 21 min ago

Great Lakes states to collaborate on West Nile virus monitoring in ruffed grouse

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 12:18pm

A region-wide effort to better understand West Nile virus in ruffed grouse is getting underway in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. 

“In the Great Lakes region, West Nile virus has been found in a small number of grouse with no known population-level effects at this point,” said Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Still, we want to let hunters know we’re in the first steps of monitoring the virus, and we’re planning to do some limited testing of birds this fall.”

In 2017, West Nile virus was identified in more ruffed grouse in the Great Lakes states than in the past. The virus has been present in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin for about 17 years.

West Nile virus has been documented in more than 250 species of birds; however, not all birds develop clinical disease from the virus. Corvids (including blue jays and crows) are very prone to illness and death from the virus, while other species may be less so or may not develop symptoms at all.

Last year, Michigan had 12 positive cases of West Nile virus in ruffed grouse. Prior to 2017, only one positive ruffed grouse had been found in Michigan, and that was in 2002. The virus was confirmed in one ruffed grouse in the early 2000s in Minnesota, and is yet to have been detected in a Wisconsin ruffed grouse.

West Nile virus in ruffed grouse has become a topic of concern because of a recent study in Pennsylvania reporting that the virus may have contributed to population declines in areas of lower-quality habitat or where habitat was scarce.

Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are in the early stages of planning to test samples from grouse this fall but at this point there is no evidence that the virus is having a population-level impact in the Great Lakes region.

“By monitoring birds at a regional level, we will be able to gain a better understanding of this disease in ruffed grouse,” said Kelly Straka, state wildlife veterinarian with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Ruffed grouse are hunted annually by around 300,000 hunters across the three states. Preliminary reports from 2017 hunters were mixed across the Great Lakes region. While the virus could impact brood survival of grouse, other factors such as cold, wet springs during nesting and hatching; drought conditions; or habitat decline can also affect birds seen and harvested.

Biologists in the region are optimistic that the great habitat for ruffed grouse in the Great Lakes states will help populations thrive despite the virus.

“We are looking to hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to help us in this endeavor,” said Mark Witecha, upland wildlife ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “This is an excellent example of agencies and organizations taking a proactive approach and working together to expand our knowledge about WNV and ruffed grouse.”

Recently, the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Health Committee held its annual meeting in Traverse City, Michigan. West Nile virus was one of the topics for state wildlife health leaders. More than 25 wildlife health professionals from 13 Midwestern states and Canada were in attendance.

Individual agencies are currently reviewing ways they will be monitoring their grouse populations for West Nile virus, and additional information will be shared when more details are determined.

Like humans, wild animals can be exposed to West Nile virus and survive the exposure. Currently, there is no evidence of humans becoming infected by consuming properly cooked birds or by handling birds. Research has shown dogs can be infected but are very resistant to developing clinical signs of the disease and are considered an end host.

Ruffed grouse hunting is open in the fall and Minnesota hunting information can be found at mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.

Angler sets new benchmark for lake sturgeon catch-and-release record

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 12:16pm

An angler from Stillwater has set a new record for lake sturgeon in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ catch-and-release category. 

Jack Burke and fishing buddy Michael Orgas were recently on a lake sturgeon fishing trip to remember. Fishing on the Rainy River in Koochiching County, the duo was having a lot of success fishing for Minnesota’s biggest fish, landing 20 fish in three days including six lake sturgeon over 60 inches before hooking into the new state record – a 73-inch long lake sturgeon.

“We had been having some great action and knew there were big fish in the Rainy River,” Burke said. “This particular fish took about 45 minutes to reel in. When we got it closer to the boat it blew some bubbles and came to the top; I knew it was a huge fish!”

Burke caught the fish on May 4, around 11 a.m. using a muskie rod supplied by his fishing partner Orgas, with 80-pound braided line rigged with a circle hook and crawlers. The fish measures 73 inches in length and 30 inches in girth. This beats the previous record by 3 inches that was set by two separate anglers who both boated 70-inch fish on the same day in April 2017.

There are two kinds of Minnesota state records: one for catching and keeping the biggest fish in each species based on certified weight; and the other for the length of a caught and released muskellunge, northern pike, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish.

The DNR announces new state records in news releases, on social media and on the DNR website. Find current records and guidelines for each type of state record at mndnr.gov/recordfish.

A whopper silver redhorse sets new state record

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 12:12pm

Avid angler Dustin Stone caught a new state record silver redhorse in the certified weight category of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ record fish program. 

Stone caught the 10-pound, 6-ounce silver redhorse while fishing for lake sturgeon on the Rainy River in Koochiching County on April 28. He was fishing with 80-pound braided line tipped with a night crawler.

“We had been doing very well fishing for sturgeon, landing seven fish over the 60-inch mark,” Stone said. “We started catching a bunch of suckers and redhorse before this fish, so this fish felt quite a bit bigger than the others.”

Fortunately for Stone, his fishing buddy had extensive knowledge about fish like silver redhorse, and Stone almost released the fish until his partner advised him to check the weight and current record on that species of fish.

The new state record silver redhorse was weighed on a certified scale at a meat shop in Granite Falls, where two observers witnessed the weighing. Two DNR fisheries experts in the Ortonville office confirmed the species identification of silver redhorse. The official weight is 10-pounds, 6-ounces with a length of 26-3/4 inches and a girth of 17-1/2 inches, beating the previous state record of 9-pounds, 15-ounces held since 2004.

“I’m glad the DNR does this record fish program. It’s fun to see the records. I’m kind of addicted to this now and I’m going to try and break a couple more!” Stone said.

There are two kinds of Minnesota state records: one for catching and keeping the biggest fish of each species based on certified weight; and the other for the length of a caught and released muskellunge, northern pike, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish.

The DNR announces new state records in news releases, on social media and on the DNR website. Find current records and guidelines for each type of state record at mndnr.gov/recordfish.

Spring is a great time to go bass fishing

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 12:10pm

Commentary by C.B. Bylander,
DNR information officer

The bass fishing catch-and-keep season opens Saturday, May 26, and spring is the time to enjoy it. 

Largemouth and smallmouth bass can be easier to catch in spring and early summer when they spend more time in shallow water. Later, as water temperatures rise, bass move to deeper structure in search of sunken points, rocky humps and weed lines that offer both prey and protection. So, why wait? Now is the time to spring into action.

The catch-and-release only season opened in most of the state May 12. Statewide, you can start keeping fish on May 26, the start of Memorial Day weekend. The bass season doesn’t close until Feb. 24, 2019.

Minnesota’s reputation as an outstanding bass fishing state is clearly on the rise. This is due, in part, to the world-class smallmouth bass fishing at Mille Lacs Lake. Though local and regional anglers have long known about the lake’s great fishing this became national knowledge in 2016 and 2017 when the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year championships happened at Mille Lacs. Simply put, the abundance of big smallmouth bass blew the pros away. In fact, the 2016 fishing was so phenomenal – the winning three-day limit totaled 76 pounds – that the following year Bassmaster ranked Mille Lacs number one on its list of 100 best bass lakes.

Though the spotlight has been on Mille Lacs the broader story is that Minnesota is home to some 2,000 largemouth bass lakes, 500 smallmouth bass lakes and tens of thousands of miles of natural streams and rivers that hold bass. That’s a lot of water, and it’s a lot of water that isn’t fished for bass as hard as southern state waters because so many Minnesota anglers prefer to fish for walleye.

Never fished bass in Minnesota before? Here are two thoughts.

Think small: A lot of great bass fishing exists in lakes less than 1,000 acres in size. So, don’t overlook these smaller opportunities, especially if they are in remote areas and have a lot of shallow water. Go to the DNR’s LakeFinder has helpful information at mndnr.gov/lakefind.

But if you like big: Popular destinations include the Twin Cities’ Lake Minnetonka and these regional destinations: the southeast’s Mississippi River, the south-central’s Green Lake, the  west-central’s Alexandria Chain of Lakes, the north-central’s Gull Lake Chain of Lakes and the far north’s Rainy and Vermillion lakes.

Limit and special fishing regulation information is available at mndnr.gov/fishmn.

DNR requests comments on scope of supplemental EIS for revised Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 10:19am

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has determined that a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) is required for the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority’s revised flood risk management project. 

The DNR will prepare the SEIS to analyze modifications in the revised project proposal. The DNR invites comments on the scope of the SEIS through June 11. The scope will determine what will be evaluated in the SEIS.

Broadly speaking, the SEIS describes the proposed project, identifies environmental impacts and considers mitigation and alternatives that may lessen those impacts. The supplemental review, which is not an entirely new EIS, will focus on those aspects of the revised project that were not evaluated in the original environmental impact statement (EIS).

The DNR will conduct the SEIS work concurrently with its review of the Diversion Authority’s permit application for its revised project.

The proposed Fargo-Moorhead flood risk management project is a dam and diversion channel system designed to divert flood waters around Fargo, North Dakota; Moorhead, Minnesota; and surrounding metropolitan areas.

The DNR denied the Diversion Authority’s previous permit application in October 2016 because it included insufficient mitigation; it did not meet state and local plans, rules and statutes; and there are alternatives that can provide needed protection. Since then, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton created a joint task force to develop engineering options to address concerns about the project’s impacts. The project applicant considered the task force’s work in developing the current project proposal.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said substantial changes to the original proposal require additional analysis. He said the DNR’s determination that an SEIS is needed is entirely separate from the agency’s ultimate decision about permitability. The SEIS will help ensure that the potential impacts of the project, as revised, are thoroughly assessed and disclosed, he said.

“I want to emphasize that Minnesota continues to support enhanced flood risk management for the developed portion of the Fargo-Moorhead area that can meet Minnesota state standards,” Landwehr said.

As required by state law, the DNR will not decide on the permit application until the SEIS is deemed adequate. The SEIS adequacy determination is not a project approval, but is rather a decision about whether the supplemental review was completed properly. The DNR is expected to complete the SEIS and adequacy determination in fall 2018. A permit decision is expected soon thereafter.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing a federal supplemental environmental assessment for the proposed project, which is similar to the state SEIS in scope and purpose.

The DNR will accept comments on the scope of the SEIS during a 20-day period beginning May 22 and ending June 11 at 4:30 p.m.

A copy of the SEIS is available for public review at:

  • DNR Library, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155.
  • DNR northwest region office, 2220 Bemidji Ave., Bemidji, MN 56601.
  • Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401, Government Documents, 2nd Floor.
  • Moorhead Public Library, 118 5th St. S, Moorhead, MN 56560.
  • Fergus Falls Public Library, 205 E. Hampden, Fergus Falls, MN 56537.
  • Fargo Public Library Downtown, 102 3rd St. North, Fargo, ND 58102.

Written comments on the scope of the SEIS must be received by Monday, June 11 at 4:30 p.m. Comments may be mailed to:  Jill Townley, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025.

Comments may be emailed to: environmentalrev.dnr@state.mn.us with “Fargo-Moorhead SEIS” in the subject line. If using the email address, include your name and mailing address so that you can be added to the mailing list.

Comments may be faxed to 651-297-1500.

The SEIS preparation notice, and additional details about the proposed project and the DNR’s review process are available on the Fargo-Moorhead project page.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is this project about?

The proposed Fargo-Moorhead (FM) flood risk management project is designed to divert flood waters around Fargo, North Dakota; Moorhead, Minnesota and surrounding metropolitan areas. It would control flows through the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area by placing high hazard dams on the Red and Wild Rice rivers. The dams, along with two tieback embankments, would then stage water in an upstream staging area. Water would drain from the upstream staging area into a 30-mile diversion channel around the metropolitan area that would outlet north of the metropolitan area.

What is the history of the DNR’s involvement with the project?

The DNR prepared a state environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Diversion Authority’s proposed project. That EIS process concluded in June 2016 with the DNR’s EIS adequacy determination.

On Feb. 18, 2016, prior to completion of state environmental review, the DNR received an application for a Dam Safety and Public Waters Work permit for the FM project, listing the Flood Diversion Board of Authority (the Diversion Authority) as the applicant. Based on the October 2016 Findings of Fact for the Dam Safety and Public Water Work Permit Application, the DNR denied the permit application for the proposed FM project.

In early 2017, the Diversion Authority informally coordinated with DNR staff regarding the permit denial by engaging in work sessions aimed at addressing the DNR’s concerns and discussing potential options moving forward. Later in 2017, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton created a joint task force to discuss flood control options and make recommendations. The task force created a technical advisory group that included engineers and staff from the Diversion Authority and the DNR. The technical group presented the task force with engineering options to address concerns about project impacts.

What is the revised project design?

On March 16, 2018, after considering the recommendations of the task force and technical advisory group, and engaging in additional discussions with the DNR, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Richland-Wilkin Joint Powers Authority, the Diversion Authority submitted a permit application for a revised FM project, known as “Plan B.” The “Plan B” project changes the alignments of the southern embankment alignment, the eastern tieback and the western tieback. This plan also allows more flows through town. These component changes result in a new inundation and staging area, and also result in modifications to, and elimination of, some project structures, such as the Comstock ring levee. Plan B also results in reduced impacts to Minnesota acres, cemeteries and organic farms.

What will happen next?

The DNR has determined that these project design changes are “substantial and may affect the potential significant adverse environmental effects of the project” and has ordered preparation of a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS). The SEIS is designed to evaluate the potential impacts of the proposed project that were not assessed in the original EIS. During the SEIS process, the DNR will also be reviewing the Diversion Authority’s Plan B permit application. However, the DNR cannot make any decision on the application until the SEIS process is complete. The DNR currently anticipates completing the SEIS in October 2018, and making its permit decision shortly thereafter.

Additional information about the SEIS and permit application are available on the Fargo-Moorhead project page.