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OUTDOORS NOTEBOOK: Land swap improves off-road vehicle access in Beltrami Forest, Minnesota small game licenses decline etc.

Tony Moe of the Fourtown-Grygla Sportsman's Club stands by a gate that blocked access to a .7-mile length of trail connecting two DNR-owned parcels of land in June 2017. The DNR recently completed a land swap with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will open the blocked segment of trail and provide continuous access to north and south ATV and OHV trail systems within the forest. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Land swap improves Beltrami ATV access

Riders of off-highway vehicles in Beltrami Island State Forest will have better access after the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources completed a land swap with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that opens the Dam 4 Trail, a route that connects the Elkwood Road with the Morehouse Road within the forest.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., announced the trail opening Tuesday, Oct. 2, in a news release.

The North Star Trail Alliance, a local group comprised of the Grygla-Fourtown Sportsmen's Club and the Roseau-Lake of the Woods Sportsmen's Club, had sought to connect the two roads, separated by dead ends less than a mile apart, as a way to improve its trail system.

Open to snowmobiles in the winter, the trail had been used by ATVs and OHVs until the mid-2000s, when flooding on the Roseau River washed out the land crossing. That limited access for off-road vehicles during the summer season.

The Fourtown-Grygla Sportsmen's Club later spent $60,000 on a new crossing over the Roseau River to improve safety for snowmobiles using the trail in the winter, according to Herald archives. Despite that improvement, reconnecting the trails required a land swap between the DNR and Fish and Wildlife Service because the parcel preventing the connection was part of a patchwork of Land Utilization Project, or LUP, holdings the Service owns within the forest.

The DNR leases LUP lands, but the federal agency no longer considered ATV access a compatible use in a new lease agreement with the DNR. As a result, the stretch of land between two DNR-owned parcels was gated off and open only to snowmobiles, which the Service classifies differently than ATVs and OHVs.

Peterson worked with the two agencies to facilitate the land exchange to accommodate continuous access, and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr signed off on the project in late September, according to a news release from the congressman's office.

"Local sportsmen's clubs have been an invaluable resource in getting this project across the finish line," Peterson said. "I am grateful to work alongside local sportsmen, the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand access to public land and recreational opportunities for Minnesotans."

Representatives of the Trail Alliance said opening the Dam 4 Trail creates "a safer and more desirable experience" for Beltrami Island State Forest trail users by connecting the north and south trail systems.

Without that connection, ATV and OHV riders had to take an 8-mile detour down system forest roads also traveled by cars, trucks and other larger vehicles.

-- Brad Dokken

DNR reports small game license decline

Small game license sales last year in Minnesota were down about 4 percent from 2016, the Department of Natural Resources said in reporting results from its annual small game survey.

Results for 2017, by species:

• Ruffed grouse: 80,654 hunters, similar to the previous year. Harvest was 285,180, down from 308,955 in 2016. Successful hunters shot an average of 4.8 grouse each, down from 5.3 in 2016.

• Ducks: 63,426 hunters, down 6 percent from 2016. Despite the decline, duck hunters shot 12 percent more birds, with 688,225 ducks harvested. Successful duck hunters averaged more ducks bagged for the season (12.5 ducks compared to 10.9 ducks in 2016).

• Canada geese: 44,678 hunters, an 8 percent increase from the previous year. Estimated Canada goose harvest was 267,192 geese, a 23 percent increase. Successful hunters bagged an average of 7.4 geese each, which was similar to the previous season.

• Ring-necked pheasants: 45,263 hunters, a 32 percent decrease from 2016. Pheasant harvest dropped from 196,141 roosters to 171,883, a 14 percent decline. Successful hunters harvested an average of 5.5 roosters each, a slight increase from five per hunter the previous year.

The DNR annually surveys small game hunters to estimate hunter numbers and harvest trends. For the 2017 season, 7,000 small game license buyers were surveyed, of which 4,163 surveys were returned and usable. The complete report is on the DNR website at

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Minnesota DNR

Did you know?

• A deer shot during the opening weekend of archery season in southeast Minnesota's disease management zone has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the DNR said. Eighteen deer shot in the disease management zone have tested positive for the disease since fall 2016.

• Videos about how to get deer tested for chronic wasting disease, how to quarter a deer, how to cape a trophy deer and how to remove lymph nodes from a deer now are available on the DNR's website at The videos aim to help hunters minimize risk to wild deer populations, DNR wildlife research manager Lou Cornicelli said.

• The DNR is taking comment through Monday, Oct. 29, on a proposal to open South Dakota-Minnesota border waters to continuous angling for walleyes, bass and northern pike beginning in the spring of 2019. Waters affected by the proposal are Big Stone, Traverse, Hendricks and Mud lakes; and the Bois de Sioux and Mustinka rivers. To comment, go to the DNR rulemaking webpage at; write to Al Stevens, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul MN 55155; or email him at

-- compiled by Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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