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The Minnesota DNR has been making great strides towards improving our environment and habitat in pretty much all phases of the outdoors. The Lessard/SAMS amendment has been instrumental in the funding of many worthwhile projects that the DNR has undertaken since the amendment’s inception in 2008.

A record number of people visited Minnesota state parks and enjoyed trout fishing in lakes and streams in 2015, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The agency noted other accomplishments in 2015, including a growing deer herd and increased deer harvest, an improved fleet of aircraft for fighting wild fires, more acres devoted to wildlife management areas and more fishing opportunities.

The DNR made strides in improving groundwater management, protecting waters from invasive carp and enhancing pheasant populations and hunting-land access.

“Whether you hunt, hike, camp, or just appreciate the state’s abundant natural resources, Minnesotans can take satisfaction in seeing more recreation opportunities and enhanced conservation efforts in 2015,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us to increase pheasant and deer populations, which are key priorities in 2016, but I believe we’re on the right track.”

Among this year’s highlights from the DNR:

A record number of people visited state parks in 2015, with overnight stays up 11 percent from the previous year and daily permit sales up 17 percent. The DNR launched Parkfinder, a new mobile-friendly app that helps visitors learn about park locations and amenities. Also, a record number of anglers purchased trout and salmon stamps in 2015. The DNR allocated $1.2 million in matching grants to 51 shooting organizations to enhance trap shooting opportunities for the public and the growing youth clay-target league. In northwestern Minnesota, a new fishing boardwalk was opened on the Tamarac River in Waskish, providing a more enjoyable fishing access at the mouth of the river at Upper Red Lake.

The agency acquired 6,413 acres of new lands as part of 40 existing and new wildlife management areas in 28 counties. These WMA lands provide important habitat for game and nongame wildlife species and public access to hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching.

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It looks as if it is business as usual for the local “hard water” fishermen as there have been many fish houses popping up on Fountain Lake in the past week. There were about 20 houses on the lake in the City Beach area last Sunday. I haven’t heard many fishing reports as of yet, but from some of the folks I’ve talked to it has been a little slow. If the trend from past years holds true the “hard water” fishermen should be getting sunfish, crappie and perch on a regular basis with an occasional walleye, northern or bass thrown in.

Although it is usually holds true that early ice fishing is best, I have to wonder if that still holds true when early ice is towards the end of December or if that has a negative effect on things? Either way you look at it, the lakes in the area are frozen, but with the snow cover that we’ve had I’d have to say “tread lightly” and I for one wouldn’t be driving my vehicle on this ice. I have always been a little overly cautious when it comes to ice fishing, but one experience a fellow told me about made me even more leery about driving on the ice.

A few years ago I was up at my cabin in the fall and decided to take a drive to a small lake close by our cabin, which is one of my favorite things to do that time of year. At the access I met this gentleman who said he’d heard about this lake and was going to give it a try. As we spoke, the topic of ice fishing came up and this guy said he had given it up after he lost his pickup. It seems he was ice fishing near Chamberlain, South Dakota and the ice was deemed thick enough for vehicle traffic. Unfortunately, shortly after ice-over they experienced some rain, then snow, then a warm-up followed by more snow. This created pockets of unsafe ice and as he was driving to his hot spot the ice started to crack and his pickup went through. Luckily for him he was able to get out before it sunk further into the water. After telling me the story he went to his car, an older model Ford Taurus, and reached under the seat to produce a photo album. He showed me pictures of the towing company retrieving his brand new pickup from the depths of the lake. I could tell it was a traumatic experience for him because his truck was gone and the insurance didn’t cover it, so all he had was pictures and a lesson learned a little too late.

Until next time, be careful when you do decide the ice is thick enough to venture out because with the weather we have been experiencing ice safety will be nothing but unpredictable.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers, n not only during the holiday season but for the rest of the year. They are the reason that we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

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