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Join Jay Andersen and Gary Atwood for a program packed with news, music and some humor.  Listener favorites like For the Birds, The Environment Report, Morning Business Report, and The Predator Moment provide a regular foundation for this program that also covers politics, local news and issues, and, the funnier side to the news. DayBreak airs 7-8 a.m. on weekdays.

What's On:
The Lake Superior Project / logo by Lauryl Loberg (Photo by Stephan Hoglund)

LSProject: Trafficking & Lake Superior Part 1

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Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world, and it is a crime that happens everywhere – even here in northeastern Minnesota. In this edition of the Lake Superior Project, we begin a five-part look at the issue of sex trafficking on Lake Superior and its surrounding area.


 
Part of LTV's taconite processing plant, which Polymet plans to use for processing copper and other minerals (Joel Dinda/Flickr)

Polymet publishes SDEIS, public comment period opens

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On Friday, December 6, Polymet released their Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for public comment. Duluth News Tribune reporter John Myers has been following the Polymet story for several years, and he joined WTIP's Jay Andersen on Daybreak to tell us more about Polymet's plans and what's next for the project.


 
ISD166 Superintendent Beth Schwarz

ISD 166 to add second high school Special Ed instructor

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The YMCA is nearing completion, the high school will have a second Special Education instructor, and more news is happening in and around ISD 166! Superintendent Beth Schwarz joined WTIP’s Gary Atwood on Monday’s Daybreak to fill us in on the latest from our local school district.


 
CC North Shore Hospital & Care Center Administrator Kimber Wraalstad talks about the latest board meeting (jfcherry/Flickr)

BCBS updates, a certification survey and more discussed at recent hospital meeting

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The Cook County North Shore Hospital & Care Center recently held its regular board meeting. WTIP’s Gary Atwood spoke with Administrator Kimber Wraalstad on Friday’s Daybreak program about some of the highlights from the meeting.


 
Crowd gathered at Cook County Courthouse to hear Special Prosecutor Thomas Heffelfinger. Photo by Carah Thomas

Change of venue granted in Scannell case

Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell appeared in court this morning in Grand Marais for a Rule 8 hearing, after being indicted on Thursday, October 31, on two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. The hearing comes several months after the Attorney was accused of an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
 
Attorney Joe Tamburino represented Scannell at the hearing. Tamburino asked for the next court date to occur sometime in January. 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke presided over the hearing. Floerke denied the two previous motions by the defense, including a request to dismiss the indictment, as well as a request that no 6th district judges preside over the case.
 
The defense and prosecution requested a change of venue to Duluth at the hearing. The prosecution also asked the judge to continue the conditions of release, including no contact with witnesses about the case.
 
Floerke granted the change of venue and the prosecution’s request. The judge also stated that they would convene at a later date to determine the following court date, which will occur in January.


 
Cook County North Shore Hospital and Care Center

Insurance, finances and remodeling under discussion at the Cook County North Shore Hospital & Care Center board meeting

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Blue Cross/Blue Shield, MN Sure, county budget cuts, and remodeling:  all under discussion at the recent hospital and care center board meeting.  WTIP’s Jay Andersen spoke with Administrator Kimber Wraalstad recently on Daybreak.   

Program: 

 
Moss Animal (Karen Montgomery/Flickr)

Otherworldly moss animals: Freshwater bryozoa

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These aquatic creatures look like something from a science fiction movie. In this edition of North Woods Naturalist, WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Andersen about moss animals.


 
Wolf Pack - photo by John Vucetich - Michigan Tech

Points North: Should the Boundary Waters Be a Wolf Sanctuary?

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Should Minnesota establish a wolf sanctuary, where hunting and trapping of the species is not allowed? Recently, the eminent wolf biologist Dr. L. David Mech suggested creating a sanctuary as a compromise to the ongoing controversy over the state's new wolf hunting and trapping season via an interview with the International Wolf Center in Ely.
 
The controversy boils down to a debate between those who believe the wolf population should be managed by hunting and trapping and those who believe the animals should be protected from the same. In the interview, Mech is asked if there is a way to satisfy those who favor recreational wolf hunting as well as those who oppose it.
 
The state's present compromise is to limit the number of wolves killed and to allow them to be taken only during certain seasons, Mech replied. Then he says, "Other than more-stringent regulations on taking, which will bring howls of protest from those in favor of hunting wolves, the only other compromise that has not yet been mentioned is to set aside a certain part of the state where wolves would be protected year-round."
 
He suggested the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as a candidate for a wolf sanctuary, because it is far from areas with livestock. Mech has been studying wolves there since 1966. At one million acres, the BWCAW encompasses 6 percent of the state's wolf range. About 150 wolves in 20 to 30 packs live there. Due to difficult access, wilderness receives minimal hunting and trapping pressure.
 
Curious, I called Dr. Mech to learn more about his idea. He stressed that he is proposing a sanctuary as a type of compromise for the contentious wolf hunting issue. For his position on wolf management, he directed me to his website, where he writes:
 
"Individual citizens have individual opinions about wolf management.  State legislatures and Departments of Natural Resources must balance all these many conflicting views while ensuring that their wolf populations survive but conflict minimally with humans. As long as the wolf is no longer endangered in a particular state, I support that state’s approach to managing its wolves."
 
It would be up the Minnesota Legislature, rather than the DNR, to create a wolf sanctuary. As of this writing, no bills to do so have been introduced.
 
I asked Mech if creating a BWCAW wolf sanctuary might conflict with future efforts to save the area's moose population, which is experiencing a sharp decline. In other words, what if we have to kill wolves to save moose? He said if the present studies determine wolves are a predation problem for moose, someone could propose killing wolves to protect them. However, biologically it would be difficult to kill enough wolves to make a difference. He isn't sure wolves are heavily preying upon moose calves, which some folks speculate is occurring.
 
"Our research has found wolves generally take older moose and some calves," he said.
 
I also talked with DNR large carnivore specialist Dan Stark, who said refuges and sanctuaries are typically created for biological reasons, such as protecting resting or breeding habitat for waterfowl. A wolf sanctuary would be created for societal, rather than biological reasons--a new idea. Currently, Minnesota has areas closed to wolf hunting, such as state parks, national wildlife refuges and some tribal lands. The largest sanctuary is Voyageurs National Park, the only area vast enough to encompass one or multiple wolf packs. Elsewhere, wolves likely move between refuges and areas open to hunting.
 
Hunters and trappers are required to register the wolves they take and to report the kill location, so the DNR can monitor where the harvest occurs on the landscape over time. If future harvest data shows too many wolves have been taken in specific areas, the agency can adjust harvest quotas accordingly. Data from Minnesota’s inaugural hunt suggests most wolf hunting occurs near populated areas. Analyzing the harvest location data from the 2012 hunting and trapping seasons, Stark said wolves are being taken where people have the best access. "Some areas are just more accessible to hunters and trappers due to roads and terrain," he said.
 
Harvest data shows six wolves were taken in or very near the BWCAW in 2012. Along the North Shore, 24 wolves were taken in Lake County and 14  in Cook County. In Cook County, most wolves were taken in areas accessible by roads. A couple of wolves were taken in the BWCAW, as well as one up the Gunflint Trail and three north of Hovland. The BWCAW encompasses roughly one third of Lake and Cook counties. Based on the 2012 data, closing the Boundary Waters to wolf hunting and trapping would have had virtually no effect on the overall wolf harvest.
 
Creating a wolf sanctuary might assuage some critics of recreational wolf hunting and trapping, but it raises larger issues. If we establish a refuge for wolves based upon societal, rather than biological reasons, will we do the same for other species? Certainly, a new wolf sanctuary would open the door to that possibility. I suspect the implications of setting a precedent for societal-based wildlife refuges would be a serious consideration for lawmakers and wildlife managers if a wolf sanctuary proposal were to move forward.
 
However, the chances of that happening this year appear slim. State Representative David Dill, who chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, has said he won’t allow any bills on trapping or guns to pass out of his committee to the House floor, due to his concerns that legislators could then attach wolf-related amendments. Dill’s district includes the BWCAW.

Airdate: March 15, 2013


 
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (Center for American Progress/Flickr)

Points North: Will Water Management Influence Future Farm Policy?

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News reports from the Pheasant Fest show held in Minneapolis during February suggest the best days of pheasant and duck hunting in the upper Midwest are behind us. Record high prices for corn are transforming the agricultural landscape, as farmers drain wetlands and plow up grasslands in a rush to devote every available acre to producing corn. Farm policies, including taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance, encourage producers to farm even marginal ground with minimal risk of failure.
                                                                                       
Particularly telling were Pheasant Fest interviews by Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press with Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, and Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Transcripts of the interviews are available on the newspaper’s website. When Orrick asked, "Is our farm policy really square with conservation?" Ashe replied, "No, it is not." Orrick posed the same question to Vilsack, who responded, "I don't know what you mean."
 
To be fair, Vilsack probably doesn't often get asked questions about farmland conservation. In his world, high prices and strong demand for commodities mean times are good. As U.S. Agriculture Secretary, he must contend with a toxic political climate that has stalled the Farm Bill in Congress and led to endless budgetary strife. In the interview, he pointed out that the USDA's conservation efforts are limited by Washington's fiscal realities. Still, Vilsack never acknowledged in the interview that conservation is important not only for bird hunting, but also for the overall health of our nation’s land and water.
 
Ducks and pheasants may eat corn and other grains, but cultivated ground doesn't grow birds or much of anything other than the intended crop. Game birds need habitat--grasslands and wetlands--to thrive. Without habitat, an agricultural landscape is a desert not only for game birds, but for all but the most tenacious flora and fauna. Even commonplace species may disappear.
 
Consider the plight of the American bumblebee. The Christian Science Monitor reports researchers have found this wild bee, once the most common species in the Upper Midwest, has nearly vanished from the northern portion of its range. In Illinois, a researcher recently found only half of the wild bee types—54 of 109—that had been collected and cataloged by a naturalist in 1909. Just one American bumblebee, a queen, was discovered. The drastic decline in bees is particularly troubling because they are the primary pollinators on the landscape.
 
Researchers speculate disease and parasites contributed to the bee decline, but doing so comfortably ignores the elephants in the room. A century ago, the farmland of Illinois was a patchwork of varied crops, pastures, wetlands and woodlots, all of which provided habitat for bees. Now nearly every acre is devoted to corn and soybean production and subjected to continued applications of fertilizers and pesticides. In other words, it’s become a place that takes the buzz right out of a bee.
 
Habitat loss becomes permanent when it is accompanied by drainage, as has occurred across much of the Corn Belt. Until recently, less drainage had occurred in the Dakotas, which is why those states contained a remarkable abundance of pheasants, ducks and other prairie wildlife. Now wetland drainage and drain tiling of crop land is rapidly occurring in eastern South Dakota, where conservationists say game birds—and likely other wildlife—are in sharp decline.
 
Accelerating drainage on the landscape not only eliminates habitat, but it alters the land’s ability to use and retain precipitation. This week, the Minnesota DNR announced that despite an average or above average snowpack, the spring melt will do little to alleviate existing severe drought conditions, because the melt water will run off the still-frozen ground. Instead, the DNR warns we should brace for spring flooding in the Red River Valley. It will take rainfall after the ground thaws to ease drought conditions.
 
It seems, well, unnatural that we can experience severe drought and devastating floods simultaneously. But wetland drainage and ditching removes the landscape’s mechanism to retain water and allow it to more slowly enter our waterways and replenish underground aquifers. Instead, the spring melt, once an integral part of the prairie’s ecological cycle, rushes downstream to become someone else’s problem. Catastrophic spring floods have become routine occurrences.
 
Oddly, we are finding, even in this Land of 10,000 Lakes, that we are depleting our groundwater supplies. In short, we are drawing more water out of the ground for irrigation, municipal water, ethanol production and other uses than Nature can replenish. A recent report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune notes that water shortages are already a reality in portions of southwestern Minnesota. While this region of the state is naturally dry, agricultural drainage is exacerbating the situation. Problems with metro area water supplies are anticipated within the next 20 years. The DNR reports that conflicts over groundwater use are becoming more common across the state. Ironically, Minnesota receives enough precipitation to meet its water needs and replenish groundwater supplies. The problem is too much of that precipitation is drained off the land and whisked downstream before we an opportunity to use it.
 
The average hunter may not make the link between April floods and a lack of October pheasants and ducks, but the link exists. Decades of federal farm policies designed to accommodate large scale agricultural production have altered the landscape and modified or destroyed natural functions. While these alterations have improved farm productivity and, some argue, provided low-cost food, we paid a price that can be measured by poor water quality, more soil erosion, increased flooding and a loss of wildlife.
 
Most conservationists believe farmland habitat losses are permanent. While I’m dismayed at the present rate of habitat loss and worried we’ll soon see sharp declines in the abundance of ducks, pheasants and other wildlife, I’m not sure we’ve reached the end of the line. In the future, federal farm policies and priorities may change to encourage the restoration of wetlands and grasslands. Small restorations already occur when former farmlands are acquired by wildlife agencies and converted to habitat. However, if large-scale restoration ever happens, the impetus to do so will likely be related to water management rather than wildlife habitat. After all, we can get by without pheasants, but we can’t get by without water.

Airdate: March 8, 2013


 
"Canadians are crossing the border in droves to enjoy outdoor activities..." (Chad Fennell/Flickr)

Points North: Roles Reversed - Canadians Head to Minnesota for Outdoor Fun

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Working a booth or exhibit at a sport show is not everyone's cup of tea. Days are long as you talk to folks in an endless parade of passersby, promoting the product or organization you represent. What makes shows fun are the short, yet interesting, conversations you have with people who check out your booth.
 
Last weekend, I spent a couple of days at the Central Canada Outdoor Show in Thunder Bay. I've worked the show for a number of years and always enjoy seeing many Canadian friends and acquaintances. I even recognize some of the folks who attend the show every year. The reporter in me regards the many brief encounters with folks from a wide array of backgrounds as a way to check the pulse north of the border.
 
Minnesota's closure of the 2013 moose hunt was a frequent conversation starter. Several people said moose numbers are declining in parts of northwestern Ontario, too. Most Canadians blamed moose woes on mild winters, more deer, and bear predation. Ontario's bear population increased after the spring bear hunt was closed about a decade ago. Many people believe bears prey heavily on newly born moose calves. Ironically, since the spring hunt closed, deer numbers increased as well. Moose are susceptible to deer-borne parasites and disease.
 
I fielded several questions about snowmobiling and ATV riding in Minnesota. Due to the high costs of maintaining trail systems and relatively few trail users, snowmobile trails in the Thunder Bay area are no longer being groomed. Avid sledders are heading to Minnesota to tour trails. Ontario trail passes are expensive, so the cessation of grooming isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because passes aren’t required on ungroomed trails. As for ATVs, Canadian riders are curious about our designated trail system. One man told me he’d ridden the ATV trails near Silver Bay last summer. He was impressed at the quality of trails and the whole experience.
 
Canadians are crossing the border in droves to enjoy outdoor activities such as downhill and cross-country skiing, hiking and bicycling. I talked to folks who were vacationing not only on the North Shore, but also in places like Grand Rapids and the Brainerd lakes region. Grand Marais, about a 1 ½-hour drive from Thunder Bay, is a tremendously popular day trip. Nearly everyone I talked to at the show made regular, recreational visits to Minnesota. Their presence hasn’t gone unnoticed. One group of Duluth motels was at the show promoting a special discount package for rewarding Canadians for frequent stays.
 
All of this southbound traffic is a relatively new phenomenon. Not so many years ago, far fewer Canadians were crossing the border. What changed? The economy. Canada emerged from the Great Recession relatively unscathed. Since then, the northwestern Ontario economy has been going strong, so the folks within driving distance of Minnesota have money to spend.
 
Canadians also take advantage of a favorable exchange rate. For some time, the value of the U.S. and Canadian dollars has been at par or nearly so. Nearly all goods and services are cheaper in the U.S., so a Minnesota excursion is a bargain. Last year, the Canadian government raised the dollar value of purchased goods Canadians can bring back from the U.S. without paying a duty—creating even further incentive to head south.
 
Economics answers another question I was asked at the show: Why are so few Americans now vacationing in Canada? As recently as a decade ago, many anglers from Minnesota and other Midwest states made at least one annual fishing trip to Canada. Now, far fewer fishermen are heading north of the border. Living near the border, I’ve also noticed my friends and neighbors are less likely to go north for day trips or getaways.
 
Some folks say the slowdown in American tourism is related to additional security measures at customs in the aftermath of 9/11, specifically the need for a passport to enter the United States as well as the Canadian denial of entry of Americans who have DUI convictions. While negative experiences with customs agents are a travel deterrent for some folks, a bigger reason is likely the high cost of everything Canadian. Currently, a gallon of gasoline in Thunder Bay costs just over $5. Prices in restaurants, grocery stores and other places tourists are likely to shop are noticeably higher, too. In the past, Americans benefited from a favorable exchange rate that extended their purchasing power. Now, when considering a Canadian trip, they may think first about the additional expense and secondly about the possibility of a hassle at the border. It seems likely some anglers have decided they were better off staying home.
 
Another factor affecting fishing travel is an aging demographic. A fly-in camp outfitter told me his client base has stayed more or less the same, with past customers returning annually. However, those loyal customers are growing older. A new generation of younger anglers isn’t showing up to take their place.
 
What hasn’t changed is the quality of Canadian fishing. Restrictive bag limits enacted during the past decade or so to protect fisheries are making a difference. Generally speaking, the lower bag limits allow you to come off the water with enough fish for dinner, but prevent you from heading home with a cooler packed with filets.
 
I spoke with fisheries scientist Jon George, who recently retired from a 38-year career with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Jon is well-known among Minnesota and Ontario steelhead anglers for a long-term study he initiated to learn more about this popular Lake Superior sport fish. He discovered generous bag limits greatly reduce steelhead abundance. Unlike salmon, which die after spawning, steelhead may spawn more than once. Releasing one after you catch it is a way to make an investment in your fishing future, because your personal fish conservation pays a dividend when the steelhead spawns again.
 
From his study and the work of other researchers, Jon is convinced the adoption of catch-and-release fishing regulations led to significant population gains for steelhead and Lake Superior’s native coaster brook trout. Restrictive bag limits for muskies and walleyes have had similar positive effects on inland waters. The upshot is that Ontario still offers the terrific fishing for which it is justly famed. In fact, the fishing across northwestern Ontario is likely better now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. For this fisherman, the exceptional quality of Canadian fishing is worth the extra hassle and expense needed to enjoy it.

Airdate: March 1, 2013