Snowfall totals in Minnesota's Arrowhead region continue to increase as winter rolls on and, slowly but surely, could be headed toward a snow depth on the ground that might impact deer by winter's end.

The winter severity index last week across Lake and eastern St. Louis Counties - where snow depths range from 18 to more than 30 inches on the ground - ranged from 41 to 60. That compares to an index of 27 to 52 at this time last year in a mild winter. An index of 90 to 100 at this time would be considered a severe winter.

"These are all pretty typical WSI indices for a northeastern Minnesota winter,'' said Tom Rusch, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager in Tower.

If several more heavy snows occur, however, the index could increase through March and into April, the toughest time to be a deer in a bad winter. Snow depth at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center Is already at 37 inches.

With the recent extreme cold weather deer have moved into areas of heavy conifer cover which are both warmer and have less snow on the ground.

Rusch said snow depth, especially the duration of deep snow, is the most important factor in deer winter survival in northern Minnesota. The winter severity index awards one point for each day with 15 inches or more snow on the ground and another point for any day below zero. Severe winters can impact herds when old or under-nourished deer can perish and does can have fewer or no fawns the following spring because their winter nutrition isn't good enough.

An index of 180 at the end of April would be considered a very severe winter. The worst winter index in recent years was 212 in 2014. But Rusch said the one-two punch of a 202 index in 1996 and a 162 index in 1997 had the most devastating impact on the Northeastern Minnesota deer herd.


BWCAW permit reboot Feb. 27

Superior National Forest officials on Friday set a new date for Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness visitors to apply for permits for the 2019 summer season.

Applications will open at on Feb. 27 on a first come, first served basis.

The permits originally were available on Jan. 30, but the system was quickly shut down when it became clear some applicants were not being allowed to access the application page on the website.

The U.S. Forest Service decided to nullify all permits that had been issued on that day and start over from scratch.

More than 100,000 people visit the BWCAW between May 1 and Sept. 30 each year, the period during which permits are limited.


DNR wants input on Duluth area lake plans

Anyone interested in learning about or commenting on Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans for managing lakes and streams in the Duluth area have until March 1 to get involved.

That's the last day to comment on several separate DNR plans for local waterways. The plans identify specific management activities planned for that lake or stream in the next 5-20 years, said Deserae Hendrickson, DNR Duluth area fisheries manager.

Plans now up for review include:

• Cole Lake (Carlton County) - updated plan focusing management on largemouth bass and bluegill and discontinuing unsuccessful walleye stocking.

• Upper Comstock Lake (St. Louis County) - updated plan detailing evaluation of fry stocking program with recommended reduced walleye stocking rate and change in sampling frequency.

• Upper Island Lake (Carlton County) - updated plan focusing management on largemouth bass and bluegill, with discontinuation of unsuccessful walleye stocking.

• Strand Lake (St. Louis County) - updated plan adding bluegill and black crappie as primary species managed in lake and management of walleye through natural reproduction.

• St. Louis River Estuary (St. Louis County) - updated plan detailing stocking evaluation proposal for supplemental muskie stocking.

• St. Louis River Estuary Sturgeon Plan (St. Louis County) - new plan detailing lake sturgeon history and restoration efforts, including proposed additional stocking.

Review plans or make comments at the DNR's Duluth area fisheries office, 5351 N. Shore Drive in Duluth from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Or call (218) 302-3267 or email to request a copy of a plan or submit comments on a plan.

Snowmobilers raise big bucks for ALS fight

For the third straight year the Blackwoods Blizzard Tour snowmobile ride raised more than $1 million to battle ALS disease - this year hitting a record $1.23 million.

The tour has now raised more than $10 million over 20 years to help research to stop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease.

The three-day event that ended Feb. 2 was hampered by cold temperatures but 700 people still converged on the Cirrus Aircraft hangar in Duluth for the final banquet. Twins legends Kent Hrbek, Ron Gardenhire, Terry Steinbach, and Jack Morris were joined by Tigers great, Kirk Gibson.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that slowly robs a person of the ability to walk, speak, swallow and, eventually breathe. With no known cause or cure, a person can expect to live typically 2 to 5 years from the time of diagnosis. The regional ALS Association also holds an annual fishing contest on Island Lake with money going for research and to make life for ALS patients more comfortable.

New rules March 1 on Lake of the Woods

A reminder: Walleye fishing regulations change starting March 1 on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River.

In the the lake, the aggregate walleye and sauger limit drops from eight to six, with no more than four walleye. The protected slot limit remains in effect that requires anglers to immediately release any walleye between 19.5 and 28 inches, with only one fish over 28 inches allowed in possession.

On the Rainy River and in Four Mile Bay, a catch-and-release season will be in effect March 1 to April 14. In recent years anglers could keep two eating-size walleyes.

The DNR hopes the new, more restrictive limits will protect sauger in the lake and smaller male walleyes in the river.