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Wetland district open to public comment

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Though it’s a matter of housecleaning and paperwork, the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District is asking for comments on some of the more common uses for the land.

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“This is one of the things we’re required to do, and this is the public’s opportunity to have input on the management and the things we do out there,” Project Leader Ryan Frohling said.

When the district’s comprehensive conservation plan is written 15 years out, it must also include a 10-year review of compatibility determinations. It’s time for comments on those compatibility determinations.

Under the Refuge Administration Act, which was passed by Congress, the wetland district must take part in the compatibility determination process.

“We need to go through it to inform the public of what we’re doing and allowing them to comment on those things,” Frohling said. “In the interest as being as open and transparent as we can, this is kind of that process.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns, as of 2013, nearly 179,000 acres of Waterfowl Production Areas in Minnesota. Each of those wetland districts have a comprehensive plan in place, which are the same because the mission of each is the same.

They also have the same compatibility determinations, for the most part, because they are broad items that take place in the districts.

“We just tailored some of the things to individual specific districts,” Frohling said. “So these compatibility determinations, while they have to be site specific, they will be pretty much the same for all the wetland districts.”

Then when something specific comes across his desk, Frohling said he will do a special compatibility determination throughout the year.

He said that they rarely get much feedback on these determinations because they are fairly mundane. It’s when there are hunting or farming compatibility determinations that the feedback starts coming. Those are not included in this report.

“Unless it’s a hot button issue, we tend not to get many comments on them,” he said.

The compatibility determinations that are open for public comment from Feb. 10-March 3 are as follows. A snippet of each section is included to describe what the determination is. More details can be found at the district’s website, http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Detroit_Lakes_WMD/alert.html.

Collection of plants, seeds and fruits

The harvest of plants, seeds and fruits in the district would take place along the river and wetland edges and in the uplands.

The edible foods that are hand harvested include such items as mushrooms, asparagus and apples. Wild rice, through licensing from the state, can also be harvested in the wetland district.

“For a small number of people, this is a traditional, family oriented activity,” the determination says of harvesting the plants, seeds and fruits.

“Gathering allows the public to build a connection to the district through personal outdoor experiences that engage the senses and foster an appreciation of the outdoors,” it says. “For a small number of people, this is a traditional, family oriented activity which provides an opportunity for those participating to collect wholesome, healthy foods while enjoying the beauty of the natural environment.”

Installation of nestling structures

It may be a natural habitat, but what bird couldn’t use a little assistance in finding a home?

Allowing the installation of nest structures such as bluebird nest boxes, henhouses, and wood duck boxes by individuals or groups can enhance “the existing waterfowl habitat by providing safer locations for duck nests.”

The wetlands’ project leader has to approve all structures and their placement throughout the district.

“Nest success is the primary factor influencing annual population growth of ducks,” the determination says. “Nest success in Minnesota nest structures (Henhouses) is very high, averaging 83 percent since 2007. Recent research on ground nests in the same region of Minnesota found nest success of 12.9 percent, which is below the threshold believed necessary to sustain duck populations.”

Besides providing the wildlife with a place to live, structures also provide visitors with wildlife viewing, photography and environmental education. It can also provide management data through monitoring and record keeping.

Irrigation travelways

Allowing wetland crossing/irrigation travelways help accommodate sprinkler irrigation equipment where irrigation is not capable of working throughout the wetland in its natural condition.

These travelways could include wooden beams placed together with cable in a railroad track style, metal mats made of corrugated, expanded or punched metal, removal of the muck layer from the bottom of the wetland and replacing it with sand, gravel or small rock to the natural bottom contour of the wetland and others.

Short-term upland disturbance in road right of way

“Every year, requests are made by state and local government agencies and utility companies to complete repairs and improvements to existing road ways and utility facilities associated with existing rights-of-way on WPAs throughout

Minnesota,” the determination says.

“The work typically involves temporary disturbance to previously farmed uplands. Once work is completed, these disturbed areas are then reseeded to native vegetation by the requesting organization.”

This would allow for those short-term disturbances, which cause minimal and temporary disturbances.

Small parking area

Allowing a small parking area would be to provide off-road parking for the public to partake in hunting of migratory birds and resident game animals, hiking, wildlife observation, photography, fishing, and/or interpretation, all priority public uses on National Wildlife Refuge System Lands.

Service personnel would also use the parking for district activities like surveys, assessments and activities.

The small parking areas will be primitive — grass or gravel surfaces.

“Due to the accessible nature of our land, safety of the public and our staff is a huge concern. By developing parking areas we can ensure people are safely off roads and out of traffic.”

Timber removal

For years, contractors have frequently been hired to remove trees as needed from the wetland area. This covers all wood removal activities regardless of the ultimate use of the wood — firewood, pulp, biomass, etc.

Trapping

Trapping is permitted for a wide variety of species, however, mink, raccoon, muskrat, red fox, and beaver are the primary target species. This is not for commercial trapping purposes.

“By regulation, lands acquired as WPAs are open to public trapping unless closed under the authority of 50 CFR 25.21. Within the Minnesota Wetland Management Districts (Districts), only nine WPAs have been partially or entirely closed to trapping: three in the Detroit Lakes District, one in the Litchfield District, and five in the Fergus Falls District,” the determination says.

“Using 2013 data, trapping is permitted on approximately 197,000 acres of WPAs in Minnesota.”

The Minnesota DNR maintains information on numbers of trappers, harvest and population trends of furbearers on a statewide basis. It is estimated that approximately 10,751 trapping licenses were sold during the 2012 season 1. A percentage of these trappers use WPAs.

Trapping in Minnesota is on the rise, and it is assumed that activity on WPAs mirror the statewide trend.

According to the determination, for the 2-year period ending in 2009, the estimated annual average number participating in trapping was 6,593. For the 2-year period ending in 2011, this number had increased to 7,582.

Walleye stocking

Along with the DNR, the wetlands district provides a place to grow walleye.

“When the DNR contacts the District with a request for walleye rearing sites, we provide them with ‘closed’ sites that have poor water quality due to an over-abundance of fathead minnows,” the determination says. “These sites are desirable to the DNR as the walleye grow very fast and are also desirable to the District as the water quality generally improves after the minnow population has been reduced.”

First the walleye fry are reared at DNR Fisheries facilities. Then fry are stocked into rearing ponds from late April through early May at the rate of approximately 5,000 fry per acre of wetland.

Sharing this activity is a win-win for the DNR and the walleye population and the WPA’s water quality improvements.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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