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Join the WTIP News Staff for a program packed with news, music and some humor.  This program covers politics, local news and issues. DayBreak airs 7-8 a.m. on weekdays.

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Dave Zentner (Shawn Perich)

Points North: Outdoors, Age Doesn’t Matter

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Sometimes, it’s not what you do so much as the company you keep. This spring, I had very different, but equally enjoyable, outdoor experiences. A 15-year-old young buck tagged along as I trapped nuisance beavers in a neighbor’s pond. I also spent an afternoon on a trout stream with an enthusiastic old fox—age 75.

A neighbor asked me to catch the beavers which were plugging the outlet culvert in his pond, an annual occurrence. I waited to do so until Vikki’s grandson, Joe, came for a visit during his spring break. He’s a young buck who likes to get out in the woods and hadn’t experienced trapping. Tagging along for a few days as I tended beaver traps was a good way to give him a taste of it.

Beavers are surprisingly large rodents which may weigh 30 pounds or more. To catch them, I use large, body-grip traps, which quickly kill the captured beaver. These are powerful traps, which would cause a painful bruise or even fracture a bone if you inadvertently caught yourself.

I showed Joe how to set a body-grip, using a special tongs to squeeze and hold the springs while slipping on the safety catch to prevent an unintended release. Once the two springs were secured with catches, I showed him how to pull open the jaws and set the trigger mechanism. Then I put the trap on the ground, removed the safety catches and handed Joe a long stick.

“Push the trigger wire with the stick,” I said.

He did. The trap went off with a whack. Joe gained immediate respect for the body-grip trap, which was my intent. He was also curious to see if he could set it himself. It wasn’t easy. I coached as he struggled to open the springs with the tongs and hook the safety catches. As he pulled open the jaws, the trap got away from him. The safety catches were in place, but the trap still snapped in midair as Joe demonstrated his newfound respect by quickly stepping away from it.

As we walked around the pond, I showed Joe how to look for places where beavers climb on the bank. I set a trap in one such place, placing the body-grip in the water, as required by law, to minimize the chance of inadvertently catching some other critter. We used part of an aspen sapling, a favorite beaver food, for bait, pushing it into the mud so any beaver attracted to it would swim into the trap.

Aspen trees were harvested near the pond during the winter, so the scent of fresh-cut wood was in the air. The smell was attracting beavers, who could find plenty to eat in the limbs and branches left behind by the logger. We found a well-used trail where the beavers left the pond to go after the downed trees and set a trap there.

When we checked the traps the following day, we found a beaver in the first trap. Joe asked if he could carry the heavy animal back to the truck, which was fine with me. I also set a couple more traps along a nearby creek that’s a travel route for beavers, again showing Joe how to pick the best places.

We caught another beaver, heavier than the first, the following day. This time, Joe wasn’t so quick to volunteer to haul it out, though he did so without grumbling. Back home, we skinned the first beaver. For me, this is a time-consuming task. Joe watched and asked lots of questions. He was surprised to learn the fur mostly goes to foreign markets, such as China and Russia. He learned the amount of work that goes into beaver trapping has little financial reward. I expected to receive about $20 for the pelt.

The next day he watched me skin the second beaver. This time he was less curious, because I nicked a gland with the skinning knife and it oozed yellowish fluid. That triggered Joe’s gag reflex. Unwilling to lose face by going inside, he stared at the sky, walked around and took deep breaths while I continued skinning. By the time he was ready to leave for home, Joe could easily set a body-grip trap, but he probably won’t try skinning a beaver anytime soon. For that matter, he may not become a trapper.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the beaver,” he said.

The day after Joe went home, I received a Saturday morning phone call from the old fox, Dave Zentner of Duluth. He was coming up my way for an afternoon of fishing and wondered if I would join him. We agreed to meet for lunch in Grand Marais.

At lunch, our conversation ran long. Zentner, a nationally recognized conservation leader, is an interesting guy. He’s also one of the most passionate hunters and anglers I know. We traded tales about trout fishing throughout the Lake Superior country. I’ve done a lot of it, but Zentner has done far more. At age 75, he still spends numerous days along the rivers.

Storytelling was a better option than fishing. The midday sun was high and the rivers were abnormally low and clear, making for tough fishing conditions. After lingering over lunch, we headed for the Brule River at Judge C. R. Magney State Park. I fished up one side, while Dave worked the other. Since the Brule was one of the few rivers which wasn’t too low to fish, we shared the river with other anglers.

I caught a sucker. Dave hooked a steelhead just long enough to get a glimpse of the fish. But that was it. As we worked our way upstream, he began wading along a rock wall where the water is normally too deep and swift to traverse. When he reached the best spot, a long riffle downstream from a deep pool, he settled in to fish. I fished the deep pool without success and then crossed the river to meet Dave.

As I was doing so, I saw a sizeable steelhead rocket from the water. My view of Dave was obscured by the rock wall, but I assumed the steelhead was attached to his line. I hustled over to him hoping to get a picture. When I got there, all Dave had was a smile.

“I lost him on the fourth jump,” he explained.

Although we didn’t actually catch a fish, the one that got away capped off a fine afternoon. Afterward, I thought about Joe and Dave. Though one is a young buck and the other an old fox, both outdoorsmen are good company to keep.

Airdate: April 27, 2012

Program: 

 
Will Minnesota Fishing and Boating Stop Being Fun?

Points North: Will Minnesota Fishing and Boating Stop Being Fun?

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Minnesota boaters are now required to stick a new decal on all watercraft from kayaks to sea planes under penalty of law. Currently, no penalty is in effect, but DNR conservation officers can issue a warning for not displaying it. After Aug. 1, 2014, it will be a petty misdemeanor for boaters who fail to display the decal on their watercraft.

The new sticker has nothing to do with boat registration and licensing. Instead it lists the rules we the people must obey in the state’s newly declared war on aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels, Asian carp and Eurasian water milfoil. Pull your boat’s drain plug. Pick the weeds off your trailer. Don’t dump your minnows in the lake.

Remember back in Kindergarten when your Mom attached your mittens to a string inside your jacket so you wouldn’t lose them? Now that you are a grown-up, the Minnesota Legislature, not unlike Mom, wants to make sure you remember to pull the drain plug at the boat landing, because forgetting to do so is now a crime. The decal even includes a second, reminder sticker to put beside your boat winch lest you forget to pull the plug or wear your life preserver.

Gee, thanks Mom.

So far, the DNR has printed 400,000 decals. Minnesotans own over 800,000 watercraft, not counting boats nonresidents bring along when they visit our state. Those nonresidents, also known as tourists, will be required to have the sticker, too. Since many nonresidents are unlikely to know about the decal mandate, an unintended consequence may be many visiting anglers having a negative experience with state conservation officers and boat landing inspectors who can issue them warnings for not displaying a free sticker.

Gee, what a great way to welcome tourists to our state.

Then again, even residents may have trouble tracking down a decal. The DNR issued decals to DNR offices, deputy registrar offices, large sporting goods shops (like Cabela’s or Gander Mountain), and DNR watercraft inspectors and conservation officers. When I called Buck’s Hardware Hank in Grand Marais, the place where hundreds of Cook County anglers—resident and nonresident--buy fishing licenses, I was told they didn’t have the decals, because they don’t sell boat licenses. Later, Buck’s called back to say they requested decals and would have them on hand.

To be fair, the DNR has handed out up to 1,800 decals per day at busy sport shows. The decals will also be mailed with boat license renewals. In fact, the agency has distributed most of the initial printing. A reprint was delayed, however, because of concerns the Legislature may soon change the rules printed on the sticker. I don’t know if that means the existing stickers will then be obsolete.

If all of this sticker stuff strikes you as an example of state government gone amok or as just plain silly, don’t blame the DNR. The agency is not making the rules regarding invasive species, just enforcing them. Simply put, the ideas behind the decal mandate and other aquatic invasive species rules originated in DNR-convened stakeholder meetings a couple of years ago. The stakeholders included anglers, environmentalists, lake association members and more, though more fervent, anti-invasive species viewpoints prevailed. The Legislature used the recommendations from the stakeholders to develop aquatic invasive species regulations.

A few states require decals, which some stakeholders thought was reason enough for Minnesota to the same. The big difference is the other states are out West, where lakes and boaters are few. A much different scenario exists in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Among the stakeholders and some lawmakers, the fervor to do “something” to protect Minnesota waters may have trumped common sense. The threat of ecological havoc caused by zebra mussels and Asian carp is real. It is very likely they will continue to spread into new waters even with preventative measures in place. But those preventive measures have to be practical and enforceable in order to be effective.

I spoke with a northern Minnesota tourism official who is concerned overzealous regulations will create unnecessary confusion among anglers and tourists. My tourism friend strongly believes in protecting our waters, but isn’t sure the current rules are the best way to do so. Consider the new rule requiring anglers to empty the water from their minnow bucket before leaving a lake. You can’t refill the bucket unless you’ve brought water from home. Also, you can’t dump your minnows in the lake or on the ground. So either you return home with a bucket full of dead and soon stinky minnows or you dump them in a trash can at the boat landing.

Now, let’s say you and I decide to paddle and portage across a couple of lakes to fish for walleyes in the Boundary Waters. When we reach the first portage, do we dump the water from the minnows, haul them gasping and wriggling on the bottom of the bucket across the portage and refill it on the other side? What if the two lakes are connected by a stream, as is often the case? Do we still need to empty the water from the bucket? Maybe we should just shoot the rapids with our canoe and avoid portaging the minnows altogether.

No matter what we do, we can’t dump out the minnows, because there are no trash cans in the Boundary Waters. For that matter, there are no trash cans at the vast majority of northern Minnesota public accesses. One can also wonder about the wisdom of replacing the water in your minnow bucket with water from home. In my experience, chlorinated tap water is toxic to minnows.

Heck, maybe we should just forget about fishing and go golfing instead.

My friend also mentioned a small boat rental business that was advised to allow their trailers to dry out for four or five days before being backed into the water on another lake. Since the business provides rentals to several lakes, the owners are now confronted with the real possibility they may need to buy a fleet of trailers—just to continue doing business as usual.

Heck, maybe they should rent golf carts instead.

My friend says questions like these must be answered by state officials so anglers, outfitters, resorters and others in the fishing business know how comply with aquatic invasive species rules. If compliance proves too difficult or impractical, rule changes may be necessary. Otherwise, 2012 may go down as the year fishing and boating stopped being fun in Minnesota.

Airdate: April 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Sarah Korf via Flickr.

Program: 

 
Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton, MN

Points North: An Elephant for Easter

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On an Easter Sunday drive, we saw an elephant. Since this was our first Minnesota elephant sighting, we pulled off the highway to get a better look. We learned that the elephant belonged to a small travelling circus, which was giving a show in Carlton the following day. Tiny was her name. We were told Tiny was gentle, weighed 7,000 pounds and was very smart.

She was also devious. Tiny reached her long and dexterous trunk into a trailer of circus gear parked near her cage and probed the contents. Eventually, her owner stuck his head out the door of his nearby RV and yelled, "No Tiny! Knock it off." Tiny obeyed, briefly. Not long after the man went back into the RV she reached into the trailer again.

Pulling back on the highway, we decided seeing an elephant was better than seeing the Easter Bunny. Our Sunday drive was off to an adventurous start. Along for the ride were my mother and 15-year-old Joe, who was coming to visit his grandmother Vikki and me for the week.

We headed for Jay Cooke State Park, where my parents took countless drives when my father was alive. In spring-time, the melt-swollen St. Louis River roars and rages through several miles of rock-studded rapids in the park, drawing sightseers and adventuresome whitewater paddlers. At least, that’s what happens most years. No paddlers were present at the put-in below Thomson Dam, where a modest flow poured over the spillway. The river was as low as I’ve ever seen it in the spring.

High water or not, Jay Cooke is a beautiful park where forests of mature white pine and hardwoods shroud rugged hills. Highway 210 winds along the ridges, offering views of the St. Louis snaking through the valley below. The park is the Duluth area’s best-kept secret, even among locals. Joe, for instance, lives less than 10 miles away and hadn’t been there before.

We stopped at the Swinging Bridge, the site of the park office and a famous landmark. After purchasing a park sticker, we walked down to the bridge and crossed the river. First constructed by Civilian Conservation Corp crews in 1933, Swinging Bridge is one of only two suspension bridges in the state park system. A nearby plaque has a picture from April, 1950, when the river was so high the bridge was washed away. This year, the river is at least 10 feet beneath the bridge.

We weren’t alone. Families, hikers, and photographers were out enjoying the beautiful day. Mom and I remarked how years ago, when we visited Jay Cook with my father, we encountered few people. We were pleased to see the park getting more use.

Back in the car, we continued along Highway 210 reminiscing about Dad. He grew up Duluth’s Gary neighborhood, not far from the park, during the 1930s and 40s. He often talked about fishing for walleyes in the river and sneaking into the park’s backcountry to poach deer. A lot of water has passed beneath the Swinging Bridge since then, but the walleye fishing remains as good as ever and the park now holds an annual deer hunt.

We passed a place where I had a very early memory of Dad. As a young boy, I was interested in trapping, so Dad stopped where a tiny creek crossed the road to show me tracks left by mink or other critters in the fresh snow. As we stood beside the road, a park ranger, no doubt long since retired, pulled up beside us and rolled down his window.

“What are you doing?” he asked in an authoritarian tone of voice.

“We’re looking for tracks,” Dad answered.

“What kind of tracks?’ asked the ranger, his tone suggesting we were up to no good.

“Fish tracks,” Dad answered with a step toward the ranger’s truck. “What does it matter to you?”

When you are a kid, you just don’t expect adults to become confrontational. Never one to mince words, Dad made it clear to the ranger that he was done answering questions. Wisely, the ranger concluded his interrogation and drove away. Dad and an eight-year-old boy whose eyes were now the size of saucers went back to looking for tracks.

Joe thought the fish tracks story was a pretty good tale. He remarked more than once that going for a Sunday drive was pretty cool. We continued on, stopping briefly at Duluth’s Chamber’s Grove Park on the river bank and a couple of out-of-the-way spots we knew thanks to Dad. Joe learned a little about his hometown and a little more about life’s simple pleasures. No one knew better than Dad that you really don’t need anything more than fresh air, clean water and public land to enjoy a day outdoors. It was a good lesson for Joe—and one I hope sticks with him. After all, it’s hard to forget the day when you saw a Minnesota elephant.

Airdate: April 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of MN Photos via Flickr.

Program: 

 
"The use of this land for activities ranging from hiking to hunting to logging is taken for granted"

Points North: Will We Pay for Access to Public Land?

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The Minnesota Legislature wants to make more money from the state’s School Trust Lands. Separate bills in the House and Senate forward proposals ranging from the creation of a new agency to manage the lands to reforming the existing DNR management in order improve economic returns. The revenue derived from the lands go to the Permanent School Trust.

What the Legislature does or doesn’t do with trust lands is especially important to people who live, recreate or derive a living from the land in northern Minnesota. Currently, the use of this land for activities ranging from hiking to hunting to logging is taken for granted. Some of the current proposals in the Legislature may alter that status quo. For instance, hunters and others may find themselves paying an access fee to use trust lands.

About the only way you can identify trust lands is with a plat book, because they’re not marked with signs or property boundaries. Looking at a map, you’ll see trust lands intermingled within a patchwork of public ownership that includes state forests, county tax-forfeited land and national forests. Seven northern counties contain 100,000 acres or more of trust land, ranging from Cook County with 121,000 acres to Koochiching County with 850,000 acres.

Mineral leases, mostly on the Iron Range, are the primary source of trust land revenue. Although much of the land is forested, logging is less lucrative than mining. The DNR’s administrative costs eat up about 80 percent of timber sale proceeds, so only 20 percent is returned to the Permanent School Trust. Some legislators criticize the DNR’s high costs and propose creating a new bureaucracy to manage trust lands. Others are calling for more accountability from the DNR.

At the March 21 meeting of the Minnesota Forest Resources Council in New Brighton, member Gene Merriam briefed the Council, of which I am a member, on the school trust lands issue. Merriam has a unique perspective on the topic. Currently, he serves on the Permanent School Trust Advisory Committee, but he is also a former Minnesota DNR commissioner and a former state senator.

He began with a history lesson. When Minnesota became a state, the federal government granted two square miles in every township, Sections 16 and 36, for schools. A Permanent School Trust was established in the State Constitution for revenues derived from the lands. Today the trust lands comprise about 2.5 million acres mostly in the forested north. Lands suitable for farming were sold years ago.

Merriam said over the years, the management of trust lands for revenue suffered from benign neglect. When he was in the Legislature, school trust revenue was simply used to reduce the General Fund expenditure for education. No one talked about managing the lands for maximum revenue generation.

About four or five years ago, the Legislature changed the visibility of school trust revenue by putting it on the top of the school aid formula and showing how much was available per pupil across the state. Trust revenues average about $25 million annually, but Merriam said education expenditures total in the billions. Still, when education budgets are being cut, the trust land revenue becomes noticeable and important.

In Minnesota, not all trust lands can produce revenue. They are located in state parks or scientific and natural areas, and even include 86,000 acres within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The state statute guiding trust land management has a goal of producing maximum economic return while following sound conservation principals. In parks and wilderness areas, the underlying conservation principles preclude managing for economic return.

When Merriam was DNR commissioner, he began getting trust lands out of state parks, a task which continues today. In the Boundary Waters, the federal government is currently negotiating a combination purchase and exchange for state and county lands. The state would receive national forest lands where logging and mining may occur as a swap for some of its wilderness holdings. The federal government also will purchase some of the state land, with proceeds going to the Permanent School Trust.

The land-and-cash deal isn’t good enough for some legislators, who are demanding a land-for-land exchange, thus freeing up more land outside of the Boundary Waters for development. Environmentalists, on the other hand, want a complete purchase of state lands to minimize development, especially new mining ventures. Either all-or-nothing position is likely to deep-six the current exchange efforts. Ironically, the Minnesota has tried to make a Boundary Waters land swap since the area was declared wilderness 35 years ago. The current process is the closest the state has come to succeeding.

Merriam said three schools of thought exist regarding future trust land management. The first is to create a new management entity and take the management away from the DNR. The second is to leave management with the DNR, but to create an advisory committee to provide oversight and ensure the DNR manages the lands for maximum economic return. The third option is a recent DNR commissioner’s order which creates a new staff position to ensure the agency maximizes revenue opportunities.

The differences in these schools of thought are apparent in legislation emerging from the House and Senate. House File 2224 calls for creating a new board to manage trust lands and passed overwhelmingly on the House floor. It will also make big changes to the way Minnesotans recreate on public lands by charging fees to access trust lands for hunting, trails, or other public uses. The fees could be tacked on as a surcharge on existing licenses and permits.

Merriam was not up to speed on Senate legislation, so another council member, Wayne Brandt, gave a brief update. The Senate is taking a more deliberate approach and is attempting to deal with specific issues. While Senate File 1889 calls for a new oversight commission, management authority would remain with the DNR. However, the agency would be directed to certify its costs and the Legislative Auditor would provide a benchmark cost comparison with management costs on other public land.

The Senate language also resolves the conflict between sound resource management principles and maximizing economic return. Where there is conflict, the DNR would be directed to resolve it for the long-term revenues. Where the land’s designation prohibits economic return, such as in a state park, the trust would be compensated. The bill sets a 2016 deadline for this process to allow time for the compensation to be included in legislative appropriations.

Conflicts between the House and Senate bills need to be resolved in a conference committee. The resulting legislation must then be signed by the Governor to become law. Whether all of this will occur before the Session ends is uncertain. If not, we can count on the trust land issue continuing to percolate in the Legislature next year.

Airdate: March 30, 2012

Photo courtesy of kurafire on Flickr.

Program: 

 
Rainbow Trout

Points North: Let’s Hear It for Hatcheries

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When you catch a fish, do you ever think about its origins? It might have been naturally spawned where you caught it or reared in a hatchery hundreds of miles away. Even if the fish was naturally produced, its species may have been introduced to the watershed—possibly so long ago that its presence now is taken for granted. If so, a hatchery likely played a role in its introduction.

Fish hatcheries often get a bad rap because they have been used to introduce and maintain nonnative fish populations in many waters. Even fish managers may complain that only a small percentage of fish stocked from hatcheries are eventually caught by anglers. Despite such criticisms, hatcheries play a vital role in sustaining the nation’s fisheries—and the communities and economies they support.

The Fall/Winter 2011 issue of Eddies magazine, published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, highlights the role America’s 71 national fish hatcheries play in restoring fisheries, preserving endangered and threatened species, and supporting recreational fishing. A new federal report on the economic value of fisheries conservation finds every dollar spent in the National Fisheries Program has a $28 return on investment. The program’s total economic impact is estimated to be $3.6 billion annually.

The national hatchery system has been around for 141 years and includes facilities across the U.S. from Alaska to Florida. They are used for everything from raising salmon for stocking to preserving some of the few remaining specimens of critically endangered river mussels. Federal hatcheries play a key role in restoring fisheries devastated by overfishing, invasive species and habitat degradation.

Consider the Great Lakes, where overfishing and the invasive sea lamprey had nearly wiped out lake trout by the 1950s. The development of lamprey control methods and the cessation of commercial fishing during the 1960s allowed fish biologists to begin working on lake trout recovery. Using brood stock native to the Great Lakes, lake trout were reared in four national fish hatcheries, including a Lake Superior facility at Iron River, Wisconsin.

By 1995, lake trout recovered to the point that stocking was no longer necessary in most of Lake Superior. Recovery has come more slowly to the other Great Lakes, although biologists are hopeful for Lake Huron, where natural reproduction accounts for about half of the adult lake trout population. The Iron River Hatchery is now devoted to other Great Lakes fish population recovery efforts. Native “coaster” brook trout and lake sturgeon are raised there.

Elsewhere in the country, federal hatcheries played a key role in restoration of striped bass along the Atlantic Seaboard and the Gulf Coast. In the Southwest, federal hatcheries produce rainbow, brown and brook trout for recreational fisheries, but also house the brood stock for native Apache trout. Restoring the natives to their original habitat in Arizona’s White Mountains is a goal of federal, tribal and state biologists.

From California to Washington State, federal hatcheries pump out millions of Pacific salmon and steelhead to augment greatly diminished natural populations. In northern California’s Sacramento River alone, salmon fishing is valued at over $100 million annually. Throughout the Pacific Northwest, salmon are stocked to provide tribal subsistence fisheries. Nationally, fish populations managed for subsistence are valued at $300 million.

This figure is dwarfed by economic activity resulting from recreational fishing associated with national hatchery stocking programs. Anglers spend 13.5 million days in pursuit of fish stocked by federal hatcheries. All this fishing generates $554 million in retail sales and $903 million of industrial output, as well as 8,000 jobs worth $256 million in wages. It also returns $37 million in federal tax revenues and $35 million in local taxes.

While the National Fish Hatchery System makes substantial contributions to the ongoing health of America’s fisheries, plenty of challenges lie ahead. Fish populations continue to suffer from habitat loss, competition with nonnative species and other environmental factors. Some of these fish species have little recreational or commercial value, but nevertheless are important components of aquatic ecosystems.

In the wake of drought and disastrous wildfires last year, biologists captured rare species to hold in refugia at hatcheries. Most are fish you’ve never heard of, such as the Little Colorado spinedace, the bluehead sucker, the Pecos bluntnose and the Chihuahua chub. In Texas, some of the species rescued from drought aren’t even fish, including the Texas blind salamander, the Comal Springs riffle beetle, Texas wild rice and the Peck’s cave amphipod. Providing refugia for species found only in localized ecosystems is a priority for hatcheries located in the nation’s arid regions.

Room for improvement also exists within the hatchery system. Some environmentalists criticize the stocking of nonnative fish for recreational purposes. Examples are rainbow trout, natives of the Pacific West, and brown trout, native to Europe. Both species are routinely raised and stocked in coldwater streams and lakes across the country. In their defense, rainbows and browns are often stocked in degraded and altered habitat where native species no longer thrive.

In the Pacific Northwest, critics say the federal government relies on hatchery production rather than habitat restoration to bolster salmon runs. Recently, fishing-oriented environmental groups sued the federal government and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe over their plans to build a new hatchery on the Elwha River after the removal of two dams allowed salmon access to 90 miles of historic spawning habitat within Olympic National Park. Environmentalists are concerned the introduction of hatchery fish will greatly hamper the recovery of wild, self-sustaining salmon runs.

The proposed Elwha Hatchery probably is a bad idea, especially if it is intended to simply produce generic salmon for harvest rather than using wild brood stock in an effort to restore wild runs. But it would be unfair to judge the entire National Fish Hatchery System based upon this one facility. Hatcheries are not a panacea for all fish management issues, but it is difficult to imagine how we would sustain our fisheries without them.

Airdate: March 9, 2012

Photo courtesy of the Bridge Family via Flickr.

Program: 

 
Rep. Kurt Zellers (second from left) with (left to right) Majority Leader Matt Dean, Gov. Mark Dayton & Rep. Joe Hoppe

Points North: Outdoor Banquet Serves Political Indigestion

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The old saw “never turn down a free lunch” is good advice, even if it takes some effort to reach the table. Recently, I took an afternoon off and drove to St. Paul for a free dinner. Minnesota Outdoor News Editor Rob Drieslein invited me to attend the annual legislative banquet for the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance.

A coalition of conservation, sportsmen’s and shooting organizations, MOHA’s mission is to protect the right to hunt, fish and pursue similar activities. Held while the Legislature is in session, the banquet allows MOHA members to mix with politicians and bureaucrats.

“You can get a feel for what is going on in the Legislature,” said Drieslein when he invited me to attend.

During the social hour, hundreds of dinner guests mingled with politicians, DNR brass and political insiders. When it was time to take a seat, it was hard for three of us to find places at the same table.

After dinner was served, a line-up of speakers took the podium. Among them was Senator Amy Klobuchar, an adept and entertaining speaker who briefed the crowd about her work on national issues. Klobuchar’s efforts in Washington were key to removing Minnesota wolves from the federal Endangered Species List. She quipped that since the governor holds a deer hunt, maybe she should host a Minnesota wolf hunt. She touched briefly on her efforts related to slowing the spread of invasive species and retaining conservation provisions in the impending Farm Bill.

Three state legislators followed Senator Klobuchar. First up was Rep. Kurt Zellers, the speaker of the house, who told stories about accompanying Governor Dayton on the openers for fishing and pheasants. They were good stories, and may have been even better if the governor--who cancelled due to illness--was in attendance. After a few minutes, it was clear Rep. Zellers was sticking to stories, rather than outdoor issues in the Legislature. I nudged Drieslein and whispered, “He isn’t saying anything.”

Smiling, Drieslein responded, “Yeah, but he says nothing very well.”
After Zellers came Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and then Rep. Denny MacNamara, chair of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. When I’ve listened to many previous committee leaders speak in similar settings, they’re usually given quick rundown of the issues their committee may address during the legislative session. This time, that didn’t really happen.

Their short talks were heavy on remarks that made little sense to anyone other than political insiders, and light on substance regarding outdoor issues. From what little they said, I surmised the Legislature might pass hunting, fishing and boating license fee increases. They may also mess around with the management of school trust lands. And quite possibly they will not approve all of the habitat funding recommendations forwarded from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Committee. About the only thing that seems certain is that the Legislature will pass some kind of wolf hunting and trapping season. I asked Drieslein if it was just me, or if what the legislators had to say came up short of his expectations.

“Maybe they don’t have much to offer,” he said.

After dinner, I met others who were unimpressed with what the legislators said—and didn’t say. A friend with long experience in conservation politics summed his feelings about the dinner speakers by saying, “I don’t know why we let politicians get away with this crap.”

Later, driving north on I-35, I contemplated what I’d learned at my free dinner. If the MOHA banquet is an opportunity to take the pulse of the Legislature, then we may not see much accomplished for conservation and the outdoors during this session. If, as Drieslein says, the current politicians don’t have much to offer Minnesotans who use and care about the outdoors, that’s probably a good thing.

Another writer who attended the banquet, Star-Tribune outdoor columnist Dennis Anderson, wrote that those of us who are dismayed with politicians’ poor performance in protecting and conserving our state’s outdoor resources really have only ourselves to blame. Maybe so, but successful conservation mostly benefits the natural resources we hold in common. In politics, public good is often trumped to benefit special interests with deeper pockets.

Still, Minnesota is not Indiana or New Jersey, where what was once the outdoors has been paved, plowed or polluted. Our politicians should be mindful of the fact that we occupy a state brimming with outdoor splendor. Moreover, they should act in ways that demonstrate they share our collective pride in this place. Given their lackluster performance at the MOHA banquet, I’m not so sure that they do.

Airdate: March 2, 2012

Photo courtesy of Mark Dayton via Flickr.

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"Tovar's doctor and his wife suggested adding animal products to his diet might help him feel better"

Points North: When A Vegan Goes Hunting

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Tovar Cerulli has AOH, an increasingly common syndrome. The symptoms appeared in his 30s and were somewhat of a surprise. AOH is the acronym for what Cerulli terms Adult Onset Hunting. Prior to developing a case of AOH, Cerulli was a vegan.

Cerulli is among the growing cadre of people who take up hunting as an outgrowth of their desire to eat healthy, locally produced food even though they may have a deep-seated aversion to killing other creatures. The story of his journey from eating no animal products to killing and butchering deer delivers a fresh perspective to the Vermont writer’s new book, The Mindful Carnivore, A Vegetarian's Hunt for Sustenance.

In a recent telephone interview, Cerulli said he enjoyed fishing when he was growing up. As a teen he began to question eating meat due to what he learned about the ethical aspects of animal welfare and the ecological effects of growing corn and other grains solely as livestock feed. At age 20, he caught a trout and while killing it had a profound feeling of doubt and regret.

"Killing the fish felt unnecessary, because I realized I could eat other things," he said.

He became a vegetarian and then a vegan--someone who doesn’t eat any animal products and, by doing so, purports to cause no harm to other creatures. He followed a vegan diet for about a decade, but eventually found himself with low energy and other health concerns. His doctor and his wife suggested adding animal products to his diet might help him feel better.

"So my wife and I took a radical step and started eating yogurt and eggs," Cerulli said.

He started feeling better. Soon he was eating fish and locally raised chickens, too. At the same time, Cerulli developed a growing awareness of the negative impacts of agriculture on the environment and wildlife—land cleared for crop production supports no other life. He pondered how a vegan diet indirectly relies upon animals. Even organic farmers kill deer to minimize crop depredation and use the manure of domestic animals as fertilizer. Such thoughts began to complicate his view of responsible eating.

“Even my garden had consequences,” he said.

To become personally involved in catching and killing his food, Cerulli took up fishing again. Then he started thinking about hunting—quite a leap for someone who once considered eating yogurt as dietary radicalism. But he enjoyed spending time in the woods and thought killing a deer would provide him with free-range meat while causing less suffering for the animal than factory farming and leaving a minimal ecological footprint. At the very least, hunting would deepen his connection to the landscape.

Once he decided to try hunting, he had to learn how to do it. He corresponded with an uncle living on Cape Cod who was a hunter. Taking the state’s hunter safety class, he discovered most of his classmates were 12-year-olds. He read books about hunting and acquired the necessary gear. His first quarry was a snowshoe hare and he decided to wait another year before attempting deer hunting.

Inexperienced and short on confidence, he began deer hunting alone. Cerulli enjoyed the sights and sounds of being in the woods, but wasn’t successful. Once he happened upon where another hunter had field-dressed a deer and discarded a pair of plastic gloves used in the process, which he found offensive. Late in the season he hunted with his uncle on Cape Cod. and helped process a small deer his uncle killed.

Cerulli hunted for four years before he had success and then he wasn’t sure it was worth the wait. Taking the life of an deer triggered unsuspected emotions.

“I was mostly in shock. It took so long for me to succeed in the hunt and suddenly this animal was dead,” he said.

Most hunters say they feel a mixture of elation and sadness when they make a kill, but Cerulli just felt grief and confusion. He was unsure he wanted to continue hunting until he butchered the deer. Something about the process of taking apart the animal and converting it to food brought him to a place where he wanted to hunt again. Since then, he’s killed several deer and, although it remains an emotional experience, he no longer feels what he calls “the intensity of the initial storm.” Instead, for a day or two afterward, he becomes deeply introspective and reflects upon the reality of killing to live.

As a former vegan, this is perhaps the most radical step he’s taken. Once, he believed, as do many vegans, that unintentional harm to other creatures, such as eliminating habitat to create a plowed field, was a better option. Now he thinks otherwise.

“I’ve found to my surprise I prefer the occasional intended killing,” he said. “I face it, deal with it and make my peace with it.”

The biggest lesson Cerulli has derived from becoming a hunter is the moral ambiguity of human existence. He said a basic dilemma of being human is the contrast between a desire to be moral and compassionate and the harm to other creatures or the environment resulting from human actions. In the modern world, we are mostly unaware of the ecological or moral implications of the food and other products we purchase in a store, because we do not see the factory farm or the strip mine where it originated.

“Much of my perspective is rooted in the idea that humans are part of Nature and ecological systems, “ he said. “We are participants, rather than overlords.”

Cerulli intends to remain a hunter and continue thinking about hunting. Having returned to graduate school, his master’s thesis explored the concept of adult onset hunting. Now working toward a PhD, he is examining hunting and its relationship to place and land. He isn’t sure where this academic path may lead, although he expects to become involved with educational efforts and research associated with hunting and, more broadly, the relationship between the food we eat and the landscape. For a yogurt-eating radical, he’s come a long way.

Airdate: February 24, 2012

Photo courtesy of Malevda on Flickr.

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To permit the common man to derive enjoyment, if not sustenance, from a public resource, we limit angling to catch and release"

Points North: New Hunter-Gatherers Need to Know the Conservation Story

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Recently, a chef who wrote a book about hunting and cooking was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio. She talked about making a recent trip to Colorado to do a cooking demonstration. While there, she was taken fly-fishing on a local river, where the guides and other anglers refused to keep fish for her to use in her demonstration. She told the MPR interviewer she was miffed by their catch-and-release ethic.

"I don't believe in catch-and-release," she said. "It's playing with your food."

The interviewer smugly agreed. As a listener, I smiled at the irony. Here's a woman who travels around the country catching, killing and cooking critters as part of her business enterprise--and she's accusing some conservation-minded anglers of playing with their food? As the interview continued, the chef portrayed anglers who release fish as well-meaning but misguided nature lovers. For her, the only reason to participate in fishing or hunting was to bring home something to eat.

Very recently, we've seen a welcome surge in epicurean hunter-gatherers, folks who are drawn to the outdoors as a source of healthy food. Arguably, this offshoot of the healthy foods movement has done more to rejuvenate hunting and fishing than a decade's worth of youth recruitment efforts. It's attracted men and women who have no background or mentors in hunting and fishing. Not only must they learn outdoor skills, but they also must find places to put them to use--a daunting task in places where sprawl dominates the landscape.

Many of these new hunters and anglers say they find interacting with Nature to procure food is a profound human experience, which gives them an appreciation of hunting and fishing traditions. However, because they've come to hunting and fishing on their own, they are minimally aware that the current abundance of wildlife, whether Canada geese on a metropolitan golf course or trout in a mountain stream, is not an accident. It took a century of conservation to restore North American fish and wildlife to the present abundance.

The conservation story, both present and past, is on the periphery of the American mainstream. We may learn in a high school history class about Teddy Roosevelt's role in the formation of the national parks system, but that's about it. We learn very little about the nearly complete destruction of America's fish and wildlife resources in the pioneer era and even about the remarkable century of conservation that led to their recovery.

At the turn of the 20th century, populations of many common wildlife species, including white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, beavers and Canada geese, were severely depleted and absent from much of their original range due to indiscriminate killing and habitat loss. The turnaround began when forward-thinking leaders such as Roosevelt began managing wildlife, a public resource, for the benefit of the common man. Commercial harvests of game and fish were curtailed. The public's fish and wildlife resources were made available to all through regulated hunting and fishing under a system intended to provide the common man with enjoyment as well as sustenance. Licenses are required to participate in these activities, with the proceeds dedicated to fish and wildlife management.

The North American wildlife management model successfully restored a host of fish and wildlife species. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, beavers and Canada geese are now commonplace or even localized nuisances. The new hunters who just recently become aware of these critters may take this abundance for granted. They don't know that just a few decades ago, a turkey gobbling at dawn or the cries of a passing flock of geese were rare, wild music.

The same is true for fishing. In North America's freshwater fisheries, the restoration of self-sustaining, wild fish populations is a relatively recent phenomenon. Throughout most of the 20th century, we allowed our fisheries to decline as we followed management strategies allowing anglers to catch and kill lots of native fish. When catch rates tumbled and anglers complained of poor fishing, hatchery-reared fished were stocked to make up for natural deficits.

Gradually, we learned if wild fish have clean water and healthy habitat, they can maintain self-sustaining populations. We also learned anglers can easily overharvest wild fish in many waters, from pristine trout streams to vast natural lakes. Using regulations, we limit angling harvests to quantities the fishery can sustain. On some waters, allowing every angler to kill just one fish creates a total harvest that is more than the fishery can bear. So, to permit the common man to derive enjoyment, if not sustenance, from a public resource, we limit angling to catch and release. Within this context, it is unfair to anglers to call catch-and-release fishing “playing with your food.”

I suspect most of the new arrivals to hunting and fishing will develop an awareness and appreciation for conservation as they gain field experience and integrate into the sporting tradition. I am less hopeful the principles of conservation will ever resonate with the non-outdoor-oriented mainstream. For many, maybe a majority of Americans, the only time they encounter wildlife is when they brake for a deer crossing the highway. They are barely aware of wildlife's existence, much less what deer need for habitat and protection from people to thrive.

We have entered an era where many people take the essentials of life--clean air and clean water--for granted. Some even say we can relax existing pollution regulations because they are no longer necessary. It is hard to imagine we have so quickly forgotten the recent past, when an American river caught on fire and air pollution in some cities obscured the sun. While we've made substantial progress in pollution control, it has only occurred within a regulatory framework that--like wildlife conservation--is intended to benefit the common man.

The new hunters and anglers are unlikely to buy into this cavalier attitude toward pollution prevention. They'll seek healthy habitat to procure healthy food. Hopefully, they'll come to understand conservation well enough to demand policies and regulations ensuring the food foragers bring home is safe to eat. If it isn't safe, all hunting and fishing will truly be playing with our food.

Airdate: January 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of heathzib via Flickr.

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Ann Ward unloads a kiln full of bowls for the upcoming fundraiser/photo by Joan Farnam

Empty Bowls fundraiser draws attention to growing demand for food support

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Empty Bowls, an international event to raise money to fight hunger while promoting art and community action, takes place at the First Congregation Church in Grand Marais this coming Thursday. Artists, community members, and students at every school in the county came together to make bowls and to help support our local food shelf.

On the Monday before the annual Empty Bowls event in Grand Marais down to the wire preparations are underway at the Art Colony. With just a few days to go, volunteers work tirelessly to get things done. Ann Ward is a potter and volunteer for the event she says the last week has been full of back to back kiln firings and community glazing workshops, “It’s been a lot of pretty busy days and nights,” says Ward.

Ward has personally thrown more than 100 bowls for the event. In addition to her own work, she’s helped many other folks in the community with making their own creations for the fundraiser.

Shining a light on hunger in our community is more important than ever. The number of folks seeking help has skyrocketed in the last year. Jan Parish works for the county’s Health and Human Services Department and had been taking a close look at the numbers of people seeking food support. She says, “We’ve seen a great increase in our case load. We’ve started tracking the caseloads from 2006 through 2010 on a chart and the numbers that we see in 2010 are at least double the 2006 and 2007 numbers.”

To be exact, the county has seen an increase of 130 percent in the last year. Overall the state of Minnesota has seen a greater demand for food support since the onset of the economic downturn, but the local growth in need surpasses the state-wide growth by percentage. “State-wide,” says Parish, “the increase for September, comparing that to 2005, is 86 percent. So actually Cook County has seen a little higher increase in the food support need than state-wide.”

The increase in demand for assistance doesn’t stop at the county’s Health and Human Services Department. It’s the same story at the local food shelf. Amy Demmer is the director of the Art Colony in Grand Marais, which right now could be well described as Empty Bowls central. Most of what needs to get done to pull the event off locally happens right at the Art Colony. Demmer says she and other folks on the Empty Bowls committee gathered data on the need in our community. “What we found,” says Demmer, “is that last year we were saying that 75 families in our community use the food shelf from month to month and that had increased from 50 families the year before. Now it’s 100 kids and 160 adults that are using the food shelf every month.”

Demmer is fired up about this year’s event and that’s not just because her office sits right above the Art Colony’s kiln. “We have people in our community that are hungry,” says Demmer, “and it’s not this abstract thing of you know people hungry in Africa—there’s people hungry here in Cook County. You know 10 percent of the people in our county, over 500 people, use some sort of food support program every month…and that doesn’t even address those that remain silent in their need.”

Demmer says she hopes the event helps address the silence and stigma surrounding the issue of hunger. “One of the really interesting facts we found out is that for every $5 in food support it generates $9.20 in economic activity for our community,” says Demmer. “That’s a really powerful figure that says when people spend that it creates economic activity in our community and that says that this is a really good thing for our community,” Demmer concludes.

Empty Bowls is this Thursday, Nov. 11. This year, there will be both a lunch seating from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a dinner seating from 5 to 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Grand Marais. Between then and now you can bet the kiln at the Art Colony will be going non-stop. But for Grand Marais Potter and event volunteer Joan Farnam, the big pay off comes when the public gets a look at all the hand-crafted pots, “Well I’ll tell you what,” says Farnam, “for me personally there’s nothing like seeing a table full of bowls that the community has made, that are beautiful, and are donated to help other people. I love it!”

A bowl of soup costs $10, but you keep the bowl and the money raised goes to the Cook County Food Shelf.

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Election results

WTIP Election Night Roundup

The election turnout in Cook County was once again large with 77 percent of registered voters casting their ballots. The highest turnout was in Cascade Precinct 7 with 89 percent of the eligible voters voting.
 

The Cook County Schools ISD166 Operating Levy Referendum won approval from voters. The final vote total was 1,487 yes and 1,336 no.
 
In county commissioner contests, incumbent Janice Hall kept her District 1 seat defeating Bill Hennessy 315 to 134. In Commissioner District 3 Sue Hakes defeated Lloyd Speck 361 to 261. In the 5th District it was incumbent Bruce Martinson winning over Diane Parker 387 to 215.
 
The Grand Marais mayoral race saw write-in candidate Larry “Bear” Carlson defeat former mayor Mark Sandbo with 329 votes to Sandbo's 308. For city council the two winners were Bob Spry with 357 votes and incumbent Bill Lenz with 355 votes. Dave Palmer placed third with 332 votes.
 
For ISD166 school board, Mary Sanders ran unopposed in District 3 and got 463 votes. Jeanne Anderson got 328 votes in District 5. Challenger Michael O’Phelan had dropped out of the race but his name remained on the ballot and he got 217 votes. In ISD166 District 1, Deb White pulled 298 votes to Andrew Warren’s 116.

The 6th District Court race went to Mike Cuzzo, who topped Tim Costly with 60 percent of the vote. Locally the breakdown was a bit different with Tim Costly getting slightly more votes than Mike Cuzzo (1,283 to 1,240).
 
DFL 8th Congressional Rep. Jim Oberstar was defeated by Republican challenger Chip Cravaak. In Cook County however, Oberstar took more votes than Cravaak receiving 1,606 votes to Cravaak’s 1,152.
 
In Cook County, 6th District DFL State Sen. Tom Bakk easily defeated Republican Jennifer Havlick 1,910 to 923. He won district-wide. In Cook County, District 6A DFL Rep. David Dill handily defeated Republican Jim Tuomala 1,911 to 873. He also won district-wide.
 
The governor’s race Mark Dayton has a narrow lead of less than 10,000 votes over Republican Tom Emmer. The race may be headed for a recount as Minnesota law requires all ballots to be recounted if the margin of victory is less than one half of 1 percent of all votes tallied. In this case, a vote difference of around 11,000 or less would likely trigger a recount. Cook County gave the nod to Democrat Mark Dayton 1,673 votes over Republican Tom Emmer’s 878 and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner’s 292.

In the Secretary of State race, Cook County voted for Democrat Mark Ritchie over Republican Doc Severson. Ritchie won state-wide.
 
For State Auditor, Cook County went for Democrat Rebecca Otto over Republican Pat Anderson. Otto won state-wide.
 
For Attorney General, Cook County chose Democrat Lori Swanson over Republican Chris Barden. Swanson won state-wide.

All local election results are unofficial until certified by the canvass board on Friday, Nov. 5.

Check out a county-wide breakdown of the results.

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