Lakeshore Cleanup

My adventures on Lake Bemidji continue. This afternoon I had the opportunity to pick up trash from the along the shoreline as part of the service learning component of an environmental class that I’m currently taking. The weather was pretty nice, albeit a bit cold, but the sun did its job in warming me up as I walked along the steep banks on the west side of the lake.

Before today I had never had really had the opportunity to help with any sort of shoreline cleanup project, and I was amazed at just how much stuff was littered all over the place! I would estimate that around forty students came out to help, splitting up to cover the entire perimeter of the lake. Working in teams of 5-6 people per group, we scoured the shoreline picking up pop bottles, beer cans, plastic bags, and all kinds of food wrappers. We even picked up a broken TV to be properly disposed of.

All in all, the lake shore cleanup was a great experience. On one hand it was sad the disregard that those who choose to leave their trash anywhere other than a garbage or recycling can, let alone on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in the area. On the other hand, I felt a sense of pride that I was doing my best to help clean that trash up and make the lake look good once again. The weather was nice, the people I worked with were friendly, and I got a pretty good workout out of the deal.

I wish I would have been able to snap some pictures of what I saw but I didn’t quite have a chance to. But what I saw reinforced how important it is for all of us to take responsibility for our actions. It is not acceptable to throw your trash on the ground and just assume that the litter is not a big deal, or that someone else will be along to pick it up for you. If we want to keep the natural beauty of our area, it is important that we all do our part to reduce the amount of garbage we create, recycle when appropriate, and not be too proud to pick up trash when we see it in the areas we enjoy most – our lakes, parks, and trails.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you all have a wonderful week!

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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!

 

 

East Side

I took some time for myself today to get away from the routine that I’ve found myself in lately and was able to kill two proverbial birds with the same stone. Based on a suggestion by one of my readers that I focus less on finding outdoor articles to expound on and write more about my own experiences in nature, I decided to zip up my jacket, slip on my hat and gloves, and go for a stroll along the walking trail on the east side of Lake Bemidji. The walk was pretty cold thanks to the gusty April air that brought the wind chill factor below freezing. Getting off campus helped me put a lot of things into perspective, both in terms of this project and in my personal life in general.

One last holdout.

As with nearly all the lakes in the area, the ice is receding at a pretty impressive rate. More than 100 yards of open water stands between the shore and the remaining ice in some spots, and despite less-than-blistering temperatures, any type of steady wind and visible sun will break up the rest of the ice in short order. I think one of the coolest aspects of the spring thaw for large lakes is how much the ice pushes up against the shoreline. I was able snap a couple pictures of the ice heaves where I walked. The power of frozen water is incredible.

Spring is one of the best times to see different species of native Minnesota wildlife and Lake Bemidji continues to be a hotbed of biodiversity. For being a relatively large city, the city of Bemidji and Beltrami County have done an excellent job in making sure that most of the wildlife habitat along the lake’s shoreline has not been altered to the point in which it loses its attractiveness to the many duck species, squirrels, and chickadees that I came across on my walk.

In about a quarter-mile stretch near where the Mississippi River flows out of Lake Bemidji into Stump Lake I counted nine mating pairs of mallards resting on floating wild rice beds. The black and white backs of buffleheads, bluebills, and goldeneyes rested in small pods further off shore, bobbing in the waves. Every few minutes the wings of a small flock of divers would whistle overhead, veer into the wind with soldier-like precision, and land near their friends.

Ducks weren’t the only birds that I noticed today. Groups of chickadees fluttered in the trees along the trail, often resting on limbs only a few feet away from me. I’ve always like the small, inquisitive birds. For being so small, they sure don’t seem to mind humans all that much. Maybe that’s why I like them so much.

I also witnessed a pretty intense David vs. Goliath match-up between a fat grey squirrel and its much smaller pine squirrel cousin. I only caught the tail end of it, but I can only presume that the pine squirrel wanted its acorn stash a lot more than the gray squirrel as I watched the larger of the two animals scurry for cover with the pine squirrel hot on his heels.

I enjoyed my walk today. Even though it was cold and windy, walking along the lake and seeing the beauty of nature helped me realize that all my doubts and struggles are small in the overall picture and that I should take more time to enjoy the little things.

Weekly Reflection (3/28/15)

So the 2nd week of my project has come to an end, and I have to say this week was quite a bit of a struggle compared to the other week. I just couldn’t find much to write about, and I don’t know if that is just a product of a slow news week or me just not having my eyes open wide enough. I hope to continue to come across interesting articles and topics to talk about this coming week. Part of my issue is that many of the topics that I feel could make good posts are just too cut-and-dried. I just can’t find an angle that lets me spin the story into something that I feel others would enjoy reading.

In any case, here is a recap of what I wrote this past week.

First, the biggest news I could find (and it is pretty big news) was the recent regulation changes facing anglers on one of Minnesota’s most popular fishing lakes – Lake Mille Lacs. Beginning this Spring, all walleye fishing will be catch-and-release only, with only artificial bait allowed to be used. Other regulations will also affect bass, muskie, and northern pike anglers. The DNR’s new management plan will hopefully allow walleye populations to bounce back to their previous strength while still allowing anglers to enjoy the lake and local businesses to benefit from tourism. Read Big Changes for Popular MN Lake here.

Next, the impending onslaught of ticks in Minnesota was discussed in Tick Tock for Tick Season. While many species of ticks call the state home, two of the most common species are the wood tick and deer tick. While wood ticks are generally pretty harmless, deer ticks can carry many diseases including the well-known Lyme disease. The first sign of possible Lyme disease is a red bullseye mark on the skin of the host, followed by pain in joints and muscles, fever and fatigue, and general body stiffness. I tried to take a more lighthearted look at the problem of ticks in Minnesota, while still offering enough information to help teach those not as well-versed in ticks understand them.

Finally, I was able to spend some time in the Chippewa National Forest this past weekend, which was the inspiration for my final post of the week. The Chippewa: One of Minnesota’s Wonders talks about the vastness of one of the largest forests in the United States. Covering 1.6 million acres, the Chippewa National Forest is a well-known landmark for hunters, fisherman, campers, and hikers. It truly is one of the most interesting places wild places in Minnesota.

That’s about it for this week. As I said earlier, I’m going to do my best to dig a little deeper in the weeks to come and find articles that others interested in Minnesota’s outdoors culture will find interesting. I hope you all found my posts this week interesting. Feel free to let me know if you have any ideas for topics you’d like to read more about or any other helpful tips you may have.

Until next week!

-Eric

The Chippewa: One of Minnesota’s Wonders

Minnesota is a state as ecologically diverse as its 5.4 million people. Nearly every imaginable terrain can be found within its borders, from corn fields to native prairie grasslands, steep bluffs to low valleys, and wide and deep lakes and rivers to small creeks and swamps. For Minnesota’s outdoorsmen and women, it is about as perfect of a state as you will find anywhere.

One of the features that I am always in most awe of, however, is the millions of acres of pure, unadulterated timber that can be found through much of northern Minnesota. I enjoy driving forest roads that are only just wide enough for a ATV or truck. Camping is also an important activity for me, and living in Northern Minnesota, one particular area always amazes me in terms of its size, wildlife, and history.

The Chippewa National Forest has the distinction of being one of the largest and well-known public forest lands not only in Minnesota, but the United States as well. Originally established as the Minnesota Forest Reserve in 1902, today’s Chippewa National forest covers nearly 1.6 million acres of land and water.

Visitors to the forest will find no shortage of things to do, see, and explore.

Camping is a mainstay for visitors, and the Chippewa offers campsites of nearly every kind imaginable. Both developed and primitive campsites are available throughout the forest. Fishing, hunting, and hiking are also maintains in this area.

To read more about the Chippewa National Forest, click here.

Tick Tock for Tick Season

They say there are two things that are unavoidable in life, and those things are death and taxes. I feel that there is a third thing that should be added to this list, and that is that anyone who ventures into the woods this spring, summer, and fall will almost certainly pick up one of the dirty bloodsuckers in the picture below somewhere on their bodies or clothes.

The Deer Tick. Why, god, why?

For the uninitiated, ticks are small arachnids that often live in wooded or grassy areas. They live by attaching themselves to all types of unsuspecting animal life as they simply go about their their normal, everyday animal business and then proceed to gorge themselves on the blood of the host until they are so fat and happy from the host’s blood that they fall off.

There are quite a few different species of ticks. In Midwestern states, the most common species are the wood tick and deer tick. Wood ticks, also commonly called dog ticks, are usually larger than deer ticks, which are small and depend largely on populations of whitetail deer to serve as hosts. Wood ticks are usually harmless – they feed and then they fall off. Deer ticks, on the other hand, carry Lyme disease which causes a wide range of various ailments.

Image of state of Minnesota with areas of high risk for tick-borne diseases highlighted.

As shown above, much of Minnesota is prime breeding grounds for ticks and tick-borne illnesses, especially in heavily wooded areas in northern and central parts of the state. May through July is often considered peak time for transmission of tick-borne illnesses.

“Yeah, yeah. We get it,” you may be telling yourself, “Some deer ticks carry Lyme disease, which is bad.” You may also be wondering why ticks are such a big deal, or why you should you take precautions to prevent picking up a tick when camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, or just generally enjoying the outdoors.

As stated earlier, deer ticks are of main concern in Minnesota because they carry Lyme disease. The first sign of possible Lyme disease is a red bullseye mark on the skin of the host, followed by pain in joints and muscles, fever and fatigue, and general body stiffness. In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics with no lingering health effects. Hospitalization is rarely required, except with extreme untreated cases.

So how can you avoid being a tick’s snack this spring and summer? The best method is to simply avoid the woody and brushy places where ticks frequent, especially in peak times of the year (May through July). Needless to say, if you truly enjoy spending time out in the woods in the summer you won’t let a few ticks stop you from being outside. Apart from giving up the outdoor pastimes you most enjoy like camping and hunting, the next best course of action is to wear light colored clothes that cover exposed skin and spray yourself down liberally with tick repellent.

So now that you know a few ways to prevent ticks latching on, what should you do if you find one on your skin? (hint: panic is not the right answer.)

 

 

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.

 

 

Weekly Reflection (3/14/16)

The first week of my project is now in the books, and I’ve got to say it has gotten off to a pretty decent start overall. I was able to find two very interesting articles from a recent edition of Outdoor News to share with my readers. The fact that I had a bit of knowledge about the topics before writing the posts helped quite a bit – it allowed me to pick out details from the Outdoor News articles that my readers are interested in, and not things that are over the heads of or uninteresting to those who may not have as much knowledge on the subjects.

The two articles I pulled from the February 19th edition of Outdoor News involved two native Minnesota species that have an important role in the state’s biodiversity. Minnesota’s moose and trumpeter swan populations were featured, with facts surrounding their success or decline supported by research done by state and federal wildlife management agencies.

I started the week by writing about northwest Minnesota’s struggling moose population, after a recently released DNR report showed a slight increase in overall moose population from 2015. While the increase is absolutely great news for Minnesota’s moose, the underlying issues goes much deeper. The state has witnessed moose populations decline rapidly since 2006, and while the animals’ populations have seen slight positive and negative variances in recent years, current moose populations remain approximately half of what they were ten years ago.

Continuing within the wildlife category, my next post involved one of the largest, whitest migratory birds in North America – the trumpeter swan. These success of these birds is one of the greatest wildlife management success stories. From being nearly wiped out in the late 1800s by hunters, to regaining a foothold in Minnesota’s wetlands through reintroduction measures in the 1980s, to a Department of Natural Resource estimated breeding population of about 17,000 birds throughout Minnesota. Thanks to the hard work of many local, state, and federal organizations, trumpeter swans have made one of the greatest comebacks in wildlife management history.

My last post for the week is simply a product of what I did that day, and what I personally felt like writing about. In Rebirth (and auger maintenance), I talk a bit about the process I go through to properly clean up and store my ice fishing equipment now that spring is nearly in full force throughout Minnesota. And while the end of the ice fishing season is a slightly depressing day for many enthusiastic outdoorsmen and women, the beginning of spring brings about the annual cycle of rebirth. The grass begins to turn green, waterfowl make their way to their northern breeding grounds, and birds like robins begin calling from the treetops.

Honestly, I was a bit worried about starting this project when it was first announced and explained in class. I kept thinking about what I would write about, and whether my posts would be interesting for others to read. While whether of not my posts are interesting to others remains to be seen, finding topics to write about is not currently an issue for me.

Enjoy your spring break!

Rebirth (and auger maintenance)

Minnesota is slipping further and further out of the grasp of old man winter.

I’ve spent most of today closing the chapter on my 2015-2016 ice fishing season by finally giving attention to the dirty, damaged, and neglected ice fishing equipment that has been riding in the back of my truck all winter.

For those like me who are always interested in reading about how others maintain their equipment for the off-season, I thought I would make a post outlining a few of the post-season rituals that I like to go through after the ice goes out in Spring.

First, I always add the recommended amount of fuel stabilizer in my auger’s gas tank and then proceed to run the auger for 5-10 minutes. This step is a win-win: not only does it ensure that the fuel treatment finds its way throughout the engine and carburetor, but it lets me have one final whiff of 2-stroke engine exhaust before I retire it for the summer.

After running the engine for a bit, I drain the excess fuel into a one gallon gas can to store for the summer. While some prefer not to do this step, and prefer to properly dispose of the gas instead of keeping around, I find that as long as the fuel is treated properly and stored in a dark garage it stays good enough to use the next year. At this point I also remove and wash the air filter with warm, soapy water. The carburetor is then cleaned out and inspected. A once-over of the engine’s external plastic housing with wet, soapy rag removes any oil build-up or exhaust residue.

I also like to oil the auger blades to prevent rusting, remove the shaft from the engine, and store them in the garage, away from summer’s powerful sun.

After the auger is put away, I then move on to my portable ice house. For me at least, the first order of business is to soak up all the water and spilled gas that always seems to collect at the bottom of the sled. Then I normally try to grease up the support poles, always looking for areas where a pole may be bent or close to breaking. To keep mice and other rodents from chewing holes in the canvas tarp, and I cover the house well before storing it away in the garage.

Lastly, fishing poles, slush scoops, bait buckets, and scoop shovels find their way to their respective haunts to hibernate until next December.

It’s a bittersweet day. On one hand, the warm, spring-like temperatures sweeping their way through Minnesota makes me excited for what is to come. On the other hand, ice fishing is one of my favorite outdoor pastimes and I hate to see it go by as quickly as it always seems to.

I’ll get over it, though. Large numbers of waterfowl – especially Canada geese and mallards, continue to move through the state at a very steady space. I can hear flocks of geese passing over the house heading towards the large wetland southeast of town as I write this post from my parent’s living room. Robins and red-wing blackbirds are seemingly everywhere, calling from the tree branches. The grass is starting to green up everywhere I look, and I can’t imagine it will be long before the Oak trees start producing their green leaves.

The cold harshness of Minnesota’s winters, while enjoyable, always lead to a magical time of life and rebirth – Spring.

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”