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OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK: Survey shows drop in ruffed grouse

Survey shows drop in ruffed grouse Ruffed grouse drumming counts are down across most of the bird's range in Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources reported last week in releasing results from its annual spring survey. Populations, which ...

Ruffed grouse population

Survey shows drop in ruffed grouse

Ruffed grouse drumming counts are down across most of the bird's range in Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources reported last week in releasing results from its annual spring survey.

Populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state's forested regions. Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population.

"This decrease was not unexpected because the ruffed grouse population is still in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle," said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse biologist. "Drum counts peaked most recently in 2009."

Counts dropped from 1.1 to 0.9 per stop in the northeast, which is the forest bird's core range in Minnesota. Counts in the northwest declined from 0.9 in 2012 to 0.7 drums per stop in 2013. Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.9 and 0.4 drums per stop, respectively.

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This year, observers recorded 0.9 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2011 and 2012 were 1.7 and 1.0 drums per stop, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer. Drumming did occur later this year because of the late spring, suggesting that nesting likely occurred later than normal.

"Later nesting would have pushed the hatch out a bit, hopefully beyond the spring rains," Roy said. "Time will tell if that occurred and the impact on production."

In related news, the DNR said sharp-tailed grouse counts in northwest Minnesota were similar to last year, while numbers in the east-central region declined significantly. The statewide average of 9.2 grouse per dancing ground was similar to the long-term average since 1980.

-- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

DNR sets Canada goose hunt for August

Minnesota will conduct its first August Canada goose season from Aug. 10 to Aug. 25, the state Department of Natural Resources said. The early season will be limited to an intensive harvest zone in west-central Minnesota, and the daily bag limit will be 10 with no possession limit.

"The state's Canada goose population is very high and exceeds our statewide goal," said Steve Cordts, the DNR's waterfowl specialist. "We have continued agricultural depredation concerns in the western portion of the state with large numbers of Canada geese. This is one more option for us to try and increase our harvest of Canada geese."

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the hunt as a management option for states dealing with overabundant populations of resident Canada geese. North Dakota also is offering an August hunt again this year, with a season that opens Aug. 15 and closes Sept. 15.

In Minnesota, the DNR will announce details of fall waterfowl seasons, including the regular September Canada goose hunt, in early August.

-- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

N.D. sets fishing license record

North Dakota fishing license sales hit a record last year, the state Game and Fish Department said.

Officials attribute the increase to rising water, a record number of fishing lakes and aggressive fish management.

According to Greg Power, fisheries chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, just about every category in 2012-13 established either a record high or substantial increase.

"Even more impressive is this was spread throughout the state, and not just in the rapidly growing counties of western North Dakota," Power said.

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Game and Fish Department statistics show more than 218,000 fishing licenses were sold last year, 20 percent higher than the previous record set in 1982. A total of 159,500 resident fishing licenses were sold last year, also breaking the record set 30 years ago. In addition, nearly 59,000 nonresident fishing licenses were purchased last year, easily surpassing the previous high set two years ago.

"North Dakota remains near the top in the country in terms of per capita residents who fish," Power said.

In terms of actual anglers participating in fishing, the past year again was record-setting with more than 200,000 active anglers and about 2 million days of fishing. Both open water and ice fishing activity experienced substantial increases. Lake Sakakawea, Devils Lake and Lake Oahe, including the Missouri River, remained the top three fisheries in the state.

-- North Dakota Game and Fish Department

N.D. pronghorns gain but remain below goal

North Dakota's pronghorn population is finally growing after five years of steady decline, but the numbers aren't yet high enough to warrant a hunting season, the state Game and Fish Department said.

Bruce Stillings, big game supervisor for Game and Fish, said numbers are still below population objectives, and the agency is recommending the pronghorn season remain closed this year.

Recent survey results indicate the statewide population is 5,400 pronghorn, 49 percent higher than last year, but still 62 percent below 2008, the last year a hunting season was held.

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"We expected to see a population increase due to another year without a hunting season and a mild winter across much of our pronghorn range, which led to high adult and fawn survival," Stillings said.

This year's fawn production was average to below average in all management regions, Stillings said. He said another mild to average winter in 2013 should encourage future population growth, but challenges remain with pronghorn habitat in the west.

"Fragmentation of habitat due to energy development and loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres in the secondary range are challenges facing future pronghorn recovery in the state," Stillings said.

Biologists will continue to monitor pronghorn numbers in the future, and will reopen the season when the population returns to a level capable of withstanding a harvest.

-- North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Did you know?

Minnesota's breeding duck numbers are up from last year, the Department of Natural Resources reported last week. According to results from the DNR's annual spring waterfowl season, the state has an estimated breeding duck population of 683,000, compared with last year's estimate of 469,000. The estimate is 10 percent higher than the long-term average of 620,000 breeding ducks. Included in the estimate are 293,000 mallards, up 30 percent; 144,000 blue-winged teal, up from 109,000 in 2012; and a combined 246,000 population of wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads, 82 percent higher than last year.

This year's estimated Canada goose population in Minnesota was 250,000, which was considerably less than last year's estimate of 416,000. The numbers are based on an April helicopter survey that includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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Hunters drawn in this year's Minnesota bear lottery must buy their licenses by Aug. 1, the DNR said. Remaining licenses will be available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Aug. 7. Licenses for the no-quota zone in northwest Minnesota will be available after Aug. 1. Info: mndnr.gov.

-- Compiled by Brad Dokken, Forum News Service

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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