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Looking back on 2012's outdoor scene

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outdoors Red Wing, 55066
Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

The year started with the Winter That Wasn't and ended with generally improved deer hunting seasons in Minnesota.

In-between, 2012 offered plenty of other memorable moments on the outdoors front. In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources got an increase in hunting and fishing licenses fees it said it badly needed to avoid going into the red.

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Here's a look at the outdoor scene in 2012:

January

Conservation group Ducks Unlimited marked its 75th anniversary with the release of a new book, "The Ducks Unlimited Story," by Duluth author Michael Furtman.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources began planning for the state's inaugural managed wolf season.

Warm winter temperatures and a lack of snow were affecting everything from downhill skiing resorts to ice anglers to snowmobiles. Wildlife such as deer and pheasants were enjoying the reprieve after three consecutive tough winters.

February

Rydell National Wildlife Refuge near Erskine, Minn., marked its 20th anniversary.

Aaron Guthrie of Bemidji landed a 19.54-pound eelpout Feb. 24 near Long Point on Lake of the Woods that would become Minnesota's new state record for the species.

March

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new initiative to entice landowners to enroll their most sensitive wetland and grassland areas into the Conservation Reserve Program. The initiative called for reallocating 1 million acres of CRP land within the current Farm Bill.

Lake sturgeon populations on U.S. and Canadian portions of Lake of the Woods and Rainy River had met short-term recovery goals, which called for male sturgeon to age 30 and females to age 50, with fish larger than 70 inches and 30 age-classes in the population.

Lack of snow was hampering aerial deer surveys. Snow is crucial to spotting deer from the air, and the ground was mostly bare.

The DNR said the estimated deer population in the core area of a bovine tuberculosis outbreak near Skime, Minn., tallied 160 animals, the lowest number since the survey was launched in 2007.

DNR officials were making their case for an increase in hunting and fishing license fees to the public and Minnesota legislators, who ultimately would decide whether to approve the additional funding. Without an increase, the DNR said its Game and Fish Fund would go into the red by June 2013.

April

An early ice-out resulted in an early start to pike spawning operations, but a return to cool weather put the campaign to collect eggs for walleyes, which spawn later, more or less on schedule.

Organizers of the Cats Incredible catfish tournament were exploring boundary changes because of tighter regulations to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in Minnesota and North Dakota. The regulations made it illegal for anglers fishing the river north of Riverside Dam to transport the fish in water to the weigh station on the Minnesota side of the river. They eventually settled on keeping the tournament on the Minnesota side only and limiting the boundaries to the area from Riverside Dam upstream to the Thompson (N.D.) Bridge.

May

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill approving an increase in hunting and fishing license fees. As part of the hike, resident fishing licenses would increase to $22 from $17, with hunting licenses increasing to the same price from $19. Without the fee hike, the first since 2001, DNR officials said the Game and Fish Fund would have gone into the red by July 2013.

Fishing prognosticators were expecting a "typical" Minnesota walleye opener after a cold April negated an early spring that had some people thinking conditions for the mid-May opener would be more like June.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted fewer breeding duck pairs during a survey near Devils Lake, but officials said it was too early to predict what the numbers would mean for duck production.

June

The Minnesota DNR announced spring drumming counts of ruffed grouse were down anywhere from 24 percent to 60 percent in the core northeast range and 33 percent to 73 percent in the northwest.

July

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that continental duck populations set a record at 48.6 million, up from 45.6 million ducks in 2011. Ducks Unlimited said the results marked only the sixth time in survey history the population had exceeded 40 million birds. The survey was launched in 1955.

Spring pheasant crowing counts in North Dakota were up 10 percent from the previous year, and Game and Fish Department officials were expecting better production to result.

August

Preliminary results from a federal survey conducted every five years tallied sizeable gains in hunter and angler numbers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation found hunter numbers increased by 9 percent and angler numbers by 11 percent since the previous survey in 2006.

September

Members of the Badlands Conservation Alliance were touring the state in an effort to revive support for a plan to designate about 40,000 acres of the 1.2-million-acre Little Missouri National Grasslands as wilderness. The plan needed support from the state's congressional delegation to get a hearing in Congress.

October

DNR officials were expecting a good deer season in northwest Minnesota and other parts of the state, despite reduced bag limits in most permit areas. I

n North Dakota, a lot of hunters would be watching from the sidelines after the department reduced available deer licenses from 109,950 in 2011 to 65,300 this year.

The Finley (N.D.) Wildlife Club hosted a "fun day pheasant hunt" that was open to any hunter who brought along at least one person 17 or younger to enjoy the experience. The club released 200 farm-raised birds at 14 sites near Finley, and club members were pleased with the event's success.

November

Minnesota's inaugural wolf season opened on the same day as the state's firearms deer season. Hunters shot 147 wolves during the early season, 53 short of the 200-wolf quota.

Tests of 325 deer in the area of northwest Minnesota where bovine tuberculosis was discovered in 2005 found no apparent signs of the disease this fall.

If lab cultures confirm the results, DNR officials said this could be the last year of testing for the contagious respiratory disease in the area near Skime, Minn. The DNR has sampled nearly 11,000 deer since 2005, with 27 testing positive.

In related news, Minnesota's firearms deer harvest was down 7 percent statewide from 2011, at 151,400 deer. DNR officials expected the decline because of a reduction in antlerless permits. The buck harvest was up 9 percent, while hunters had shot 21 percent fewer antlerless deer.

December

The Nature Conservancy announced the transfer of the final parcel of restored prairie land in Polk County to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge.

The Conservancy bought more than 24,000 acres of "Tilden Farms" land in 1999, setting the stage for the Glacial Ridge Project, the largest prairie restoration in U.S. history.

The final transfer of 2,675 acres puts Glacial Ridge NWR at nearly 21,000 acres.

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