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A year in review for Minnesota's DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources tackled important issues in 2012 and achieved major successes -- successes that touched Minnesotans across the entire state.

"Gov. Mark Dayton has directed all his agency commissioners, including me, to make Minnesota work for Minnesotans," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "DNR's accomplishments in 2012 show what we can achieve when we collaborate with others and address hard issues."

There were many highlights to the work the DNR did in 2012.

Preserving forest access

The Minnesota Forests for the Future program worked with the Nature Conservancy of Minnesota to complete several land protection projects totaling nearly 12,000 acres.

These projects included the Koochiching 4 and LaMinora conservation easement projects and the LaMinora, Checkerboard and Snake River fee title acquisitions. Funding for future projects will be possible through a $4.5 million Outdoor Heritage Fund grant from the Minnesota Legislature following recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

Minnesota Forests for the Future also developed and refined a mapping tool to help identify and prioritize future forest conservation protection efforts.

Response to natural disasters

In 2012, the DNR dealt with historic flooding in east-central Minnesota, destructive winds affecting the state's northern forests and a drought that culminated in severe wildfire conditions.

DNR staff worked with local governments in the Duluth area following the June storm in northeastern Minnesota to address emergency infrastructure repairs for roads and culverts. Staff continues to assist local governments with stream restorations in the area to minimize winter recreational impacts in municipal parks and regional spring flooding.

DNR staff also responded to two major wildfires this fall: the North Minnie Fire in Lake of the Woods County that burned 27,000 acres, and the County 27 Fire near Karlstad in Marshall and Roseau counties that burned 4,480 acres and destroyed 11 homes.

DNR crews also were deployed to help with the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Recreation construction projects

The DNR broke ground on the new Lake Vermilion State Park near Tower.

Also, the agency constructed 3.8 miles of the Gitchi-Gami Trail and completed construction on the Agate Bay public access, both along the North Shore.

Other projects underway include the McQuade Safe Harbor access shelter, a new Bear Head Lake State Park trail center, and a new Paul Bunyan trail bridge over Highway 197 in Bemidji.

Prairie and grassland management

DNR led efforts to implement a major plan and new strategies for prairie and grassland conservation.

Multiple agencies and non-profit organizations signed a Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan memorandum of understanding. DNR is leading efforts to develop a plan to coordinate and track efforts to protect, restore and enhance Minnesota's prairie.

Conservation livestock grazing on wildlife management areas is an emerging area of collaboration with Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Board of Soil and Water Resources, federal agencies, cattle ranchers and non-profit organizations. The DNR hopes to increase the number of public lands being grazed from 10,000 to 50,000 by 2015.

Aquatic invasive species

The DNR implemented new watercraft inspection authority and increased enforcement in 2012.

The agency entered into joint powers agreements with 18 local governments to further expand inspection and education programs. Working collaboratively with local governments, DNR staff responded rapidly to reported discoveries of new infestations and dramatically increased public outreach efforts, including a new documentary on aquatic invasive species.

The agency beefed up its training efforts with volunteers, lake service providers and others to help the DNR curb the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Asian carp

The DNR aggressively expanded its efforts to prevent and curb the spread of Asian carp. DNR officials worked with partners to plan, design, modify and/or install more effective barriers for Asian carp in southwestern Minnesota and helped fund a barrier in Iowa to keep carp from entering Minnesota.

DNR is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a preliminary design for a barrier at Lock and Dam No. 1.

Firsts in wildlife management

The federal government removed the wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species on Jan. 27, 2012.

Subsequently, the DNR initiated its first-ever regulated wolf harvest season after wolf legislation was included in the game and fish bill signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

In response to longstanding hunter concerns about the negative impact of waterfowl regulations on hunting success, the DNR made a second round of significant changes to waterfowl season regulations, including zoned seasons and an earlier opener. Early reports indicate waterfowl hunters enjoyed a good season.

Engaging people in the outdoors

DNR introduced several thousand new people to Minnesota state parks, trails and outdoor recreation through the "I Can!" series of skill-building programs.

A total of 877 people participated in the overnight "I Can Camp!" programs in 2012, up 51 percent since the program began in 2010. Another 650 people participated in "I Can Climb!" and 260 participated in "I Can Paddle!"

The DNR also exceeded its target of 1,000 trained Master Naturalists. The Master Naturalist program, a partnership with the University of Minnesota Extension, creates a network of skilled volunteers to help with natural resource projects and increase Minnesotans' understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Enhancing hunter access to private lands

The federally funded Walk-In Access program completed its second year of the pilot program in 2012. At least 12,500 private acres of pheasant, small game and deer habitat will be open for public hunting in 21 southwestern counties through 2015.

The program started with 9,117 acres in 2011. The agency is considering expanding the program to an additional 15 counties and is exploring options for funding through hunter fees.

Enforcement academies

The DNR held two conservation officer academies and hired 16 new officers, which were the first new hires for the Enforcement Division since 2008.

The first group of new officers is now at new field stations across the state, while the second group will be on duty in March 2013.