ST. CLOUD -- The agenda was lighter than in recent years when bag-limit debates dominated the discussion, but last week's DNR Roundtable provided plenty of fodder for outdoorsmen to ponder in the winter months.
Each year the Roundtable brings together for two days of meetings officials from the DNR's three main branches -- wildlife, fisheries and ecological services -- and representatives from Minnesota's hunting, fishing and conservation groups.
The following is a summary of two hot topics from the wildlife and fisheries roundtables.
Should Minnesota launch a walk-in hunting program?
Success with walk-in programs in neighboring states, primarily South Dakota, has led the DNR to develop a walk-in proposal for Minnesota. The four-year pilot program would involve leasing 12,000 acres in four regions of the state: southwest, southeast, west central and northwest. The estimated cost for the leases would be $488,000. How to fund the program if it's put in place for the long haul was a major topic of discussion.
"If we do this it will have to be done with new money," Tim Bremicker, DNR wildlife division director said. "We've been told that people don't want this program funded from existing sources."
Some at the Roundtable questioned whether or not the money would be better spent on acquiring new Wildlife Management Areas, which allow permanent access The DNR estimates it could buy from 700 to 1,000 acres of WMA land for the same price as the pilot walk-in program.
The DNR also released survey results showing that various DNR employees and members of conservation groups believe the agency's current rate of WMA acquisition isn't enough. More than 90 percent of the 100 respondents said it's not enough. Nearly half said the state should add 2.5 million acres to the system by 2050. A lesser percentage said the state should add at least 1 million acres.
Either number would mean the DNR would have to start adding acreage at a rate that far exceeds the average annual addition of about 5,000 acres. The price tag for 5,000 acres is about $3 million. To buy between 1 and 2.5 million acres would cost more than a billion dollars over the next 50 years, according to DNR estimates. And that's at today's real estate prices. Couple that with a projected $15 million slashing of the DNR budget this year and it's safe to say money will be tight for the foreseeable future.
DNR Land Acquisition Program Leader Kim Hennings said the agency will work with a citizen's advisory group to develop a new WMA acquisition plan. The last time the plan was updated was 1975. It fell short of its goal of having 1.5 million acres in the WMA by 2000 due to lack of funds, Hennings said.
Stabilizing the walleye take on Mille Lacs.
The DNR has three proposals in the works it hopes will help avoid last summer's unexpected tightening of the harvest slot. A plan could be finalized in the coming weeks if approved by the Chippewa Band.
The first proposal would limit anglers to keeping two walleyes within a 3-inch slot for the first six weeks of the season. After that the limit would be increased to six fish and the harvest slot would be widened to 6 inches for the remainder of the season.
The second proposal would be for a 3-inch harvest slot for the entire season.
The third proposal would be for a four-fish limit and a protected slot of 17 and 28 inches with one walleye over 28 inches allowed.
Under a proposal recently submitted to the DNR, the band said it wants to take up to 100,000 pounds of walleyes annually through 2004. Last year the band took about 48,000 pounds of a 85,000-pound quota. It's expected the band could take up to 100,000 pounds of walleye this year because some of the catch could be sold commercially. That right was guaranteed in the original 1837 treaty, but the band has said it has no plans to fish commercially at this time.
Individual waters management also was discussed in several breakout groups. The proposed protected slot for northern pike the DNR had hoped to get as part of its recent bag limits review was shot down by the angling public. Most discussion centered on where do we go next to improve Minnesota pike fishing.
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