Wisconsin may close grouse season early

The recent decline of ruffed grouse in Wisconsin and the threat of a potentially deadly disease has the state on the brink of an emergency rule change. The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board will host its regular meeting in Hayward on Tuesday and ...

Ruffed grouse (file / News Tribune)

The recent decline of ruffed grouse in Wisconsin and the threat of a potentially deadly disease has the state on the brink of an emergency rule change.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board will host its regular meeting in Hayward on Tuesday and Wednesday and will vote on a number of items - including a proposal to shorten the state's grouse hunting season by two months.

The season, which opened Sept. 15 in the northern reaches of the state and is scheduled to go through Jan. 31, would instead close Nov. 30 under the proposed emergency rule.

The first bad news for grouse came unexpectedly last fall when the estimated hunter harvest of declined from 262,943 in 2016 to 185,336 in 2017, a 30 percent drop in what was supposed to be a year of high grouse numbers.

The board first raised the issue at its June meeting after reports of West Nile virus in Michigan and Pennsylvania grouse and concerns that this year's grouse population survey, the so-called spring drumming count, was down an unexpectedly hefty 34 percent from 2017.


Many biologists generally agree the impact of hunter harvest of grouse on the overall population is very small compared to predators and natural hazards grouse face, like winters when they are unable to roost in crusty or non existent snow, or heavy spring rains that can kill young chicks.

The Ruffed Grouse Society - which advocates for grouse conservation, habitat and grouse hunters - said the Wisconsin rule may be well-intentioned but isn't based on any scientific data. Grouse numbers traditionally have fluctuated wildly, the society notes. And in most instances, hunting does not reduce grouse populations significantly lower than the winter carrying capacity so hunting "does not substantially affect grouse population trends."

"Given the level of information available, RGS does not support the proposed emergency rule,'' the group said in a statement. "RGS would support season changes if data suggested a pressing conservation need. We do not believe that is clearly the present case."

But Wisconsin natural resource officials suggest they are being proactive.

"The department finds that an emergency rule is necessary in order to protect the ruffed grouse population and so that the state can continue to properly manage the species..." a DNR fiscal analysis of the rule notes.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board has the authority to set policy for the state DNR. The board administers wildlife, fish, forests, endangered resources, air, water, waste and other issues related to natural resources. Any action by the board still must be signed by the governor to take effect.

Grouse opener: Warm, wet and slow

Reports from across the Northland for the grouse opener last weekend were mostly of low turnout and slow hunting.


It was wet in some places Saturday of opening weekend and very warm Sunday and rain reappeared through part of the week. In nearly every case it was reported that heavy foliage, as usual in September, made the opener challenging to see and hit flushing birds.

Here's a smattering of reports from conservation officers in the region:

CO Keith Olson checked hunters in the Duluth and Two Harbors areas. "One hunter checked was wearing shorts, a tank top and flip flops due to the warm weather," Olson noted. "He reported seeing no grouse during his jaunt."

CO Troy Fondie from Orr said grouse hunters were greeted on opening day by wind and rain. "There were few hunters and fewer birds."

CO Marc Hopkins around Tower said he saw "more grouse than hunters."

CO Mark Fredin of Aurora said he saw "the fewest number of hunters in years. Warm, wet weather was probably the reason."

CO Anthony Bermel said he noticed "some very small, late-hatch grouse were noted in hunters' bags with meat equal to that of a woodcock."

Duluth's Kinziger wins conservation award


The Minnesota DNR recently awarded Madeline Kinziger of Duluth and Calyn Rieger from Dassel in Meeker County with the agency's Commissioner Youth Awards for conservation.

Kinzinger received the 4-H award and Rieger won the FFA award which are based on demonstrated initiative, leadership, creativity and achievement in conservation and wise use of natural and agricultural resources. This is the 27th year of the award program.

Encouraged by her biology teacher to pursue a community-based learning project, Kinziger chose to build wood duck boxes and install them over wetlands at the North Star Academy in Duluth. Kinziger reached out to local science teachers and DNR staff to learn more about the construction and installation of a wood duck box. Students at the North Star Academy will now be able to monitor duck usage of the boxes as part of their outdoor education program. After near extinction in the early 20th century due to overhunting and loss of suitable forest habitat, wood ducks have made a remarkable recovery, in part due to wood duck box efforts by folks like Madeline. She is the daughter of Brian and Aundrea Kinziger.

Rieger has worked for the Minnesota Conservation Corps for three seasons as a crew member, wilderness crew member and Backcountry Leadership Program member in work that included trail repair, invasive species removal and erosion control.

Mille Lacs walleye harvest below goal

Surveys of Lake Mille Lacs anglers over the summer show they took fewer fish than expected, which should help make up for 2016 and 2017 when too many fish were harvested.

That was the recent report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources which said catch frates were good this summer but below levels of recent years. All walleyes caught this summer had to be immediately released back into the lake, although a certain amount of those fish are expected to die. That estimated release mortality, coupled with walleyes kept during ice fishing season, remained below the state's goal for the year.

The DNR is trying to keep as many walleyes in the big lake as possible to help Mille Lacs recover from a dearth of small walleyes in recent years. Studies continue to determine the cause of the decline and find a solution.


The DNR is conducting its standard fall fish community assessments through September. The DNR's angler creel survey runs through Oct. 31. The DNR will announce its winter walleye regulations - whether and how many walleyes can be kept ice fishing - in early November.
Angler survey results and more information about Lake Mille Lacs can be found on the DNR website at

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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