Diamond Point Park

This evening I decided to take a little walk down to Diamond Point Park to see the sights and sounds of spring. Unfortunately, my phone died shortly after starting my walk and I was unable to take pictures. But if you’ve ever visited the park before, you’ll almost certainly understand what I saw.

After spending a few minutes scanning the lake, it’s clear that it won’t be long at all before ice-out happens and I can finally close the chapter on winter in Bemidji. The strong winds and warmer temperatures we’ve experienced in the last few days have really done a number on the remaining ice, leaving probably 75% of the lake with open water. The wind pushes the remaining ice all over the lake – when I walked to class the morning a large ice sheet butted up against the south shore of the lake; as I walked Diamond Point this evening, the east wind had pushed most of the ice next to the park’s shoreline. There are still some large ice heaves along shore (most noticeably right on the tip of the point), but they have gone down considerably since my last visit to the Lake Bemidji shore. My predicition: Lake Bemidji will no longer have any ice after this coming Friday.

Hundreds of ducks are enjoying the large expanse of open water on the lake as well, flying in tight flocks near the surface of the water. While some of these ducks will stay and breed on the lakes near Bemidji, most are simply enjoying the Bemidji area as they continue north following open water. Species included mostly buffleheads, ringnecks, and bluebills. Pairs of mallards were also scattered around the lake, and I even managed to sneak up on a drake and a hen that were resting on the green grass next to a telephone pole near Oak Hall. It amazes me how adaptable wildlife can be – they simply stood up and meandered a few feet away from me before plopping back down on their bellies.

Another interesting sight — two bald eagles fighting (?) each other in mid-air as I walked underneath the oaks and pines of the park. I watched in amazement as I saw just how agile these massive birds can be and they took turns chasing each other overhead. Eventually, one flew off while the other perched itself neatly on a large limb near the top of a tree. What surprised me most were the calls they were making as they flew after each other…it was definitely not what I expected out national bird to sound like. If you’ve never heard a bald eagle call, you’ll be a bit surprised, just as I was tonight.

 

Things began to die down as the sun set, except for the the crackling of the ice sheet as waves crashed into it sending shards floating off into the open water. The ducks disappeared into the darkness as they bobbed in the gentle waves just off shore and the eagle spread its huge wings as it took off to another nearby tree. It was time for me to go as well. As I walked back to my house I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of the nature almost literally in my backyard.

Update: Lake Mille Lacs

It’s been a little over a couple weeks since I wrote a bit about Lake Mille Lacs and the regulation changes that left a sour taste in some of the mouths of fishermen and local businesses that rely on tourism through much of the year. Public opinion varies greatly on the appropriateness of the DNR’s plan. Some see it as a necessary step in ensuring the walleye population can stabilize and continue to grow into the future. On the other hand, reports from fishermen, guides, and resorts around the lake claim that this past ice season was one of the in recent memory, and that the walleye population is not nearly in a dire condition as the DNR would have everyone believe.

As included in my previous post, here were a few of the changes included in the DNR’s original decision.

  • Beginning on May 14th and running through December 1st, all walleyes must be immediately released
  • All anglers targeting walleye must use artificial bait or lures
    • Muskie and northern pike fisherman may use live or dead sucker minnows 8 inches or longer
  • Night restrictions put in place for walleye anglers. No walleye angling between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Monday, May 16 through through December 1
    • Muskie anglers may fish at night

Lake Mille Lacs is a very important lake for thousands of people, so it was just a matter of time before the DNR’s ruling was challenged by those with vested interests in the lake, including Minnesota lawmakers. While the DNR remained relatively firm on decision, it did make one succession that will likely quell some of the frustration that has arisen recently: live bait will be allowed by anglers targeting walleyes.

In my opinion, the main consideration behind this decision had to do more with the interests of fishermen in mind than the ultimate management goals of Lake Mille Lacs. By allowing live bait to be used, fishermen will have greater success and, in turn, more fun on the lake, even if they must throw every walleye they catch back. On the other hand, however, live bait is likely to result in a certain percentage of hooking mortality, or the percentage of fish that die from being caught, even if they are released. Fish are much more likely to fatally swallow a live night crawler or minnow versus an artificial lure. In this way, fish that would normally have survived under the previous “no live bait” regulation will likely die, negatively affecting the walleye population the DNR is trying to protect.

When it comes down to it, I think the DNR is making the right choice in allowing live bait to be used on Lake Mille Lacs. Yes, some fish will be fatally hooked and die shortly after being released, but the increased fishing success that goes along with using live bait may entice anglers who may have been on the fence about fishing on the lake. After all, catching fish is just as much fun as eating them. When fish are easier to catch, more people fish for them, and those people spend money at local resorts, restaurants, bait shops, and gas stations – all businesses that rely on tourism to survive.

 

A Brief Post About Wolves

I recently read an interesting piece written by Aldo Leopold, one of the founding fathers of the modern conservation movement, that helped to describe my own beliefs towards wildlife conservation and our role as humans in protecting the living things on Earth. Thinking Like A Mountain is an essay included in one of Leopold’s most famous and influential books, A Sand County Almanac.

After reading the essay, I understood what the author is driving at – that we as humans often fail appreciate our wildlife for the role they instinctively play as predator and prey in our ecosystems. Leopold talks in-depth about the relationships that humans have had with Earth’s animals and how people often affect the natural order because of a lack of understanding of the roles that every member of an ecosystem plays. If only humans had the patience and experience that a mountain has accrued after thousands of years of witnessing nature take its course, he says, would they understand the value of wildness in ultimate survival for all species.

In his story, Leopold retells a story from his youth in which he and some friends came across a pack of wolves one day. The group opened fire on the animals and ended up injuring one young wolf and mortally wounding an old, worn wolf. As Leopold approached the dying wolf he witnessed a “green fire” dying in her eyes as she slipped away. This experience had a profound effect on the man, and he uses it to springboard into the predator/prey relationship that exists between wolves, deer, and livestock, even to this day.

https://animalcorner.co.uk/animals/wolves/

The story is a classic in the study of ecology. Both wolves and humans are natural predators to deer and livestock, and both rely on the same deer and livestock in a given area for survival (and sometimes recreation, in the case of humans). However, humans are more advanced and are able to kill off the wolves who they feel are hurting the deer and livestock populations. With fewer predators to keep prey species in check, the livestock and deer must begin to browse further and further away from their home ranges until eventually there is not enough grass, leaves, and crops to eat and the populations crash spectacularly.

Wolves and their impact on deer and livestock is an important issue facing Minnesota. Actually, it is a hot button issue that occasionally flares up into heated debates and demonstrations. Some believe that wolves have such a negative impact on those resources that they should be eliminated completely, while others feel wolves should be protected from hunting and trapping. Others feel there should be some middle ground in which regulated, managed hunting should be offered in the hope that wolf and deer populations will remain at appropriate levels.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/

http://missoulian.com/

I tend to reside in this middle ground. For me, wolves are beautiful, graceful animals that have a certain mystique to them. The way a wolf pack is organized into a family hierarchies is fascinating and should be researched more. But while they are amazing animals, they should be managed just like any other game animal. I think a balance exists among the interest of wolves, deer, livestock, and humans, and this point is easily reachable simply by educating those involved in hunting, animal protection, and agriculture the importance of maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Wolves play an important role in the food chain by being a top predator. Yes, wolves will kill a certain percentage of deer each year. They will also kill livestock here and there. But they are important none the less.

I think the best way to look at wolves is to think of them as being on our side as wildlife managers. Without them, deer populations would likely rise resulting in all kinds of negative effects for both humans and deer (deer/vehicle collisions, disease, starvation, nuisance problems).

Thinking Like a Mountain was written as a way of expressing Leopold’s interest in showing others why conservation is important. I think we can all learn from Aldo Leopold and try to understand that just because we have the ability to alter landscapes, purposefully kill off species, and only consider own own well-being instead of the well-being of the planet in general, it doesn’t mean we should.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

Big Changes for Popular MN Lake

If you’ve been following Minnesota news, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the new sweeping fishing regulations facing one of Minnesota’s premier fishing lakes, Lake Mille Lacs.

I’ve outlined the major changes below facing walleye anglers:

  • Beginning on May 14th and running through December 1st, all walleyes must be immediately released
  • All anglers targeting walleye must use artificial bait or lures
    • Muskie and northern pike fisherman may use live or dead sucker minnows 8 inches or longer
  • Night restrictions put in place for walleye anglers. No walleye angling between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Monday, May 16 through through December 1
    • Muskie anglers may fish at night

(How the live bait/night restriction is going to stop shifty  fisherman from dangling a monster sucker minnow in front a hungry 30″ plus walleye cruising the shallows at midnight is beyond me, but I’m sure it won’t be as big of a problem as I imagine)

Walleye anglers are not the only ones looking at changes, with slight bag limit changes for northern pike and bass.

 

Let me preface everything I’m about to say by saying that I have never fished Mille Lacs, and have only seen  the massive lake once from Highway 169 when I decided to take a detour on my way to Bemidji one fall my freshman year. I don’t know a lot of the lake’s history or the intrinsic value that the lake has for those who live near or vacation on the lake each year. But at the same time, I consider myself a person who understands the value and importance of the state’s natural resources.

For me, the regulation changes on Mille Lacs were inevitable, and the right choice for the fishery and the fishermen who frequent the lake. Walleye populations in the lake have been consistently falling for the past several years, and when the #1 most targeted game fish in the lake is threatened in any way whatsoever, the right decision is to do whatever necessary to protect them.

And while fisherman, resort owners, and fishing guides are understandably nervous about what the news means for them, I think it is important to realize that Lake Mille Lacs is not just a walleye lake, and to think that the lake’s resorts and guides will go into a tailspin because clients will not longer be able to keep a limit of walleyes is a bit over dramatic. The lake has incredible fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass, muskie, and northern pikes besides walleyes, and these species are traditionally under appreciated in most lakes in which there is good walleye fishing. While walleyes are king in Mille Lacs (and in my own heart as well), I think  nearly anyone would agree that fighting a 45″ muskie, 40″ northern, or a four pound smallmouth is just as much, if not more, intense than a typical 20″ walleye.

In short, fishermen will just have to plan on targeting other species if they’d like a meal of fresh fish, something that the lake’s excellent populations of pike and perch will be more than capable of providing while the lake’s walleye fishery has an opportunity to rebound.

To read more about the new regulations facing Lake Mille Lacs, click here.

 

 

Minnesota’s Trumpeter Swans Flourish

As I browsed my copy of the February 19th edition of Outdoor News last night, I read about how Minnesota’s moose population continues to struggle, despite a slight increase in estimated population from 2015 to 2016 (to read more, click here). To be honest, I was both sad and disappointed to read that one of Minnesota’s largest and most fascinating game animals has been slipping steadily since 2006, with a population today that sits at only about half of the 8,000+ animals that roamed Northeast MN during that year.

It’s gloomy news for sure, but I’m here to write about another Minnesota native that’s thriving.  Continue reading “Minnesota’s Trumpeter Swans Flourish”