Crew collars 90 elk for N.D. study

A Nevada-based helicopter crew recently captured and collared 90 elk in western North Dakota as part of a research project to learn more about the animals' home ranges and habitat preferences.

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Ultimately, information gleaned from the project will help managers better survey and monitor elk herds in western North Dakota, officials say.

Native Range Capture Services captured and put tracking collars on the elk in less than three days, said Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. A majority of the collared elk were cows, but the wranglers also put the tracking devices on a handful of smaller bulls, Williams said.

"Everything went very well as far as capture and collar," he said. "It's a pretty significant research project of a large sample size.

"We're pretty excited about it."

The effort focused on eight locations from the northern Badlands to the southern Badlands, Williams said.

"One of the things that made this capture effort so successful was a lot of homework on our guys' end as far as doing recon flights and knowing exactly where the elk were located," Williams said. That allowed the capture crew to efficiently move from spot to spot without having to hunt for the animals.

In other big game news, the abundance of snow across North Dakota has allowed department staff to begin aerial white-tailed deer surveys, Williams said. Snow is essential for spotting the deer from the air.

Many winters, there isn't enough snow to fly the surveys, at least in parts of the state. The abundance of snow this year presents a good news/bad news scenario, Williams said.

"That's always one of those double-edged swords," he said. "It's good to get the data and a very good way to get information, but it also means if you're flying, you're experiencing a winter where there's pretty consistent snow cover that makes counting easy."

Coupled with extreme cold, that means deer soon could be under stress if they aren't already.

"It's one of those situations where we're fortunate we did not receive a lot of winter until mid-January," Williams said. "It helps with fat reserves and things like that when they're not having to struggle in December.

"We're in a pattern here that hopefully will be short-term."

-- Brad Dokken

Winter fishkill likely on some lakes

A few lakes and reservoirs in northeast North Dakota likely will experience winter fishkills, which occur when snow and ice block out sunlight, inhibiting photosynthesis and reducing levels of dissolved oxygen fish need to survive.

"We haven't had any reports from the public, but our own dissolved oxygen testing has shown that Matejcek Dam in Walsh County, Battle Lake in Eddy County and Niagara Dam in Grand Forks County all had low oxygen levels and will likely suffer winterkill to some extent," said Todd Caspers, district fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake. "We haven't gotten around to all of our lakes yet, though, and other lakes that we already tested could get low on oxygen later in the winter, too."

Most lakes in the region have 8 inches to 12 inches of snow on top of the ice, he said.

-- Brad Dokken

Limited walleye take set for Mille Lacs

After several seasons of catch-and-release fishing, anglers on Lake Mille Lacs in central Minnesota will have an opportunity to keep some walleyes during this year's open-water fishing season, the Department of Natural Resources said this week.

Last year, state anglers stayed well under the lake's safe-harvest allocation for walleyes. With an improving walleye population, the DNR will allow some walleye harvest when the season opens Saturday, May 11.

The DNR will announce the Mille Lacs walleye regulations for the upcoming season in mid-March.

"We're happy to announce that, with some very conservative fishing regulations over the past three years, walleye are now at a level where we can cautiously allow anglers to start keeping some fish during the open-water season," DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a statement.

The state and the Ojibwe tribes with harvest rights in Mille Lacs recently agreed on a safe harvest level of 150,000 pounds of walleyes, which provides a state allocation of 87,800 pounds. Under the catch-and-release only regulation last year, the kill from walleye anglers who released fish was just over 47,000 pounds.

The walleye safe harvest level for Lake Mille Lacs is determined annually. It is based on population status and predictions of how harvest will affect walleye population in the future. State anglers share the safe harvest level with eight bands of Chippewa that have fishing rights under an 1837 treaty. By agreement, the bands and the state are required to monitor harvest according to their respective allocations.

More info:

-- Minnesota DNR

Did you know?

• The fifth annual Northland Fat Bike Rally is set for 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 2, at Lake Bemidji State Park. The main event begins at 11 a.m. with a mass start on Lake Bemidji and then heads into Lake Bemidji State Park and up the Rocky Point Trail. Both a 10K and 28K route will be offered. Info: Lake Bemidji State Park, (218) 308-2300 or visit the Bemidji Area Mountain Bikers Facebook page.

• Don't expect any birds for a few weeks yet, but North Dakota's spring light goose conservation order opens Saturday, Feb. 23. The spring hunt is open only to light geese-snow, blue and Ross's geese-and continues through Sunday, May 12. More info/regulations: or the North Dakota 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Guide.

-- compiled by Brad Dokken