What Hath We Wrought?

By Don Arnosti, Isaak Walton League 

Of all the people in these United States, we Minnesotans should have some understanding of what just happened politically at the national level. Those of us older than 35 remember the 1998 election for Minnesota Governor, which brought us Jesse Ventura. He, too, ran “against the system” as a plain-speaking regular guy. He was a skilled public performer. We were sick of “same-old, same-old” and went for the outsider in a last-minute emotional wave.

The danger is to think that “it will be alright” just like in 1998. To paraphrase, “Donald Trump is no Jesse Ventura.” The reality is, almost no one knows what Donald Trump believes, much less what he’ll do with regard to the environment. (I think “no one” includes the President-elect, himself.)

What we do know, is that because this wave of populism swept one party into power at all levels from President (and therefore Supreme Court) to Congress, to both houses in Minnesota, we are very likely to get a strong push to fulfill every wish of every major donor to that party.

In Minnesota, we can only guess what the single-party legislature will propose? Last year, we witnessed roll backs of pollution requirements for the taconite industry, unnecessary subsidies to the Koch Refinery, and strong efforts to eliminate energy efficiency and renewable energy requirements for utilities (which support solar and wind generation across the state.) In a democracy built on a complex system of checks and balances, we have lost nearly every check…

Except the people of this great nation.

There are two essential forms of power in our country. We are all aware of the great, distorting power of money in our political system. I have personally witnessed this here in Minnesota, at work in our legislature, just this year.

The second form of power exists in organized groups of citizens working together with purpose and determination. Nothing can resist this, even concentrated money.

At times of crisis, our nation rises to the challenge. Our history is replete with examples. The flaming Cuyahoga River galvanized a nation to demand the Clean Water Act. Must we see more “flaming rivers” to unite in our defense of clean water? Clean air? Wildlife and habitats? Action to preserve a livable earth for our grandchildren?

We must now step forward, united, to guide our new political establishment to understand that an election “rejecting the status quo” does not mean turning over our public lands for resource extraction. It does not mean rolling back or failing to enforce environmental standards. We must unite and speak firmly to power.

Join the MRVAC Conservation Committee to stay informed and to join with people across Minnesota to stand up for conservation. Contact Greg Burnes at gburnes@comcast.net or keep an eye on the MRVAC Facebook page for updates

In addition, consider joining the “Ikes and Friends” Conservation Committee to stay informed and to join with people across Minnesota standing up for conservation. Contact me to get involved: donarnosti@gmail.com.

Support Lead-Free Public Lands and Waters

Ashley J. Peters, Audubon Minnesota 

Audubon has a long history of working to remove toxins from our environment and toxic lead shot is no different. Every year, eagles, swans, ducks, and other birds get sick and die when they ingest lead shot that remains in wetlands, waterways, and injured or leftover game after a hunt. Just one or two lead pellets is enough to kill a Bald Eagle.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has proposed a rule change that would ban the use of toxic lead shot within certain wildlife management areas (WMAs) and when hunting rails and snipe statewide. Audubon Minnesota supports this proposed rule change because it allows for a reasonable, phased-in approach toward minimizing unintended bird deaths and reducing lead shot deposited on our public lands.

As the DNR works to finalize the rule change next year, we’ll need you to advocate for the use of nontoxic ammunition on WMAs. Learn more about this issue by visiting mn.audubon.org and watch for updates in the next newsletter.

Audubon Minnesota in Action at the Legislature

By Molly Pederson, Executive Director, Audubon MN & Kimberly Scott, Legislative Liaison 

Minnesota is a better place for birds and people because of your commitment to fighting for clean water, reducing carbon pollution, and making homes and communities more bird-friendly. Regardless of political affiliation, we must continue to work together as conservationists to address issues that impact us all.

The Minnesota Legislature kicks off the 2017 legislative session on January 3rd. Your voice is needed to protect, restore, and conserve our natural resources.

What to Expect 

This will be the first year of the legislative biennium, which means legislators will focus on funding the state’s budget. In order to pass a new budget or make other legislative changes, Republicans will need Democratic Governor Mark Dayton’s approval. Gov. Dayton has signaled his continued desire to support clean water programs and policies and Audubon Minnesota will assist those efforts by advocating for budget outcomes that promote clean water.

The 2017 legislative session is not a bonding year, however, both majorities have expressed interest in passing a pared down bonding bill.* An important project that was included in the 2016 bonding bill was funding for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP benefits clean water by helping landowners install and maintain perennial grasses and flowers on their most erodible acres. Many of you wrote and encouraged your legislators to support bonding for CREP last May. Because of your action and others, CREP was included in the 2016 bonding bill for $10 million. Disappointingly, the overall 2016 bonding package failed to pass the Legislature, but we will need your help again to appeal for the inclusion of CREP in any bonding bill considered this session.

Whether you are supporting clean water, habitat for birds, or renewable energy, your voice will make a difference. Audubon Minnesota will endeavor to keep you informed of relevant actions at the Minnesota Legislature and assist you in making your voice heard.

We can help by scheduling and facilitating discussion between you and your representatives at the State Capitol.

Watch for calls to action and consider meeting with your legislators in person to advocate for these important issues.

You can also make an impact by writing a personal letter or phone call.

The best way to support policies and state funding for birds is to get involved. Let us know how we can help you participate in our joint mission.

As a result of the election, below is an update on the make-up of the House and the Senate: 

Senate 

  • ? Republicans have a new majority, led by Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.
  • ? The Senate majority will be held by a single seat (34-33) which will likely necessitate a higher level of cooperation with the Democratic Farm-Labor minority, in order to, pass most legislation.
  • ? Senator Tom Bakk will serve as Minority Leader for the DFL.

House 

  • ? Republicans have an expanded majority in the House (76 seats), led by Speaker Kurt Daudt.
  • ? The DFL will hold 58 seats and be led by Minority Leader Melissa Hortman.

*Bonding dollars generally go towards repair, renovation, or replacement of publicly owned buildings, property, and land. The state raises money for these projects by selling bonds on the bond market and then pays debt service to pay off the bonds over time.

Life is Good: Pass it On!

Support the outdoors by supporting candidates who do, too

By Don Arnosti 

2016-10-19-13-05-59A Minnesota fall – it doesn’t get any better than this. Warm days, cool evenings, fall leaves coming on. Canadian cold fronts drive waves of migrating birds through our backyards – the other day it was a flock of Kinglets and Brown Creepers. Geese “W’s” can be seen and heard at all hours heading south in their ragged lines.

The urgency of the season leads me to take care of chores I’ve been putting off all summer: painting, garage cleaning, working for candidates who love the outdoors as much as I do. Yes, that is an important and necessary “chore” – not just voting, but actively supporting candidates that will work to assure that all I love about Minnesota’s outdoors is available for my as yet unborn grandchildren to enjoy.

We have a real problem in our body politic – you could say a sickness. Partisan gridlock is celebrated by some who believe that a government doing nothing at all is better than one that involves itself in our lives in many ways.

In a year when we are celebrating 100 years of national parks, I heard some at the state legislature browbeating DNR officials who announced that because visitors to the state park system were hitting record levels – they needed more money for rangers and other staff. “Why are the parks losing money?”

When state and federal agencies were ready to work together to pay farmers for 100,000 strategically-located Minnesota River valley acres along ditches, streams and rivers for expanded buffers to improve water quality, the state failed to pass its share of the funds.

Just as Minnesotans have petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to intervene to assure the Minnesota mining industry is actually regulated under the Clean Water Act (the legislature persistently passes legislation hindering this) – we have a major presidential candidate promising to abolish the EPA if he is elected.

Elections do matter. And our action or inaction has consequences.

Put up your storm windows – check.

Take a fall bike ride to enjoy the colors – check.

Call up your favorite pro-environment candidate, tell them why you support them, and ask, “What can I do to help assure you can represent me?”

Then do it. Contribute that time to knock on doors, put up signs or to call your neighbors, even if it’s hard for you. Do it for your grandchildren.

Then vote on November 8th knowing you’ve done your part to share the beauties of future Minnesota falls with those who as yet have no say in the matter.

Sweating the Details: Buffer Battles

By Don Arnosti

Wetland BufferSummer is upon us and we all revel in getting outdoors to enjoy warm weather, time off and our favorite outdoor pursuits. The cycle of nature that is on full display here in the North is one of the great pleasures of living in Minnesota. Cold/hot. Wet/dry. Bloom/senesce. Our landscape is very complex, every-changing and always interesting.

It is tempting to enjoy our birds and wildlife, spend time with family and not sweat the details. However, someone must mind the store. Details matter. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently released buffer maps proposing to downgrade protections for ditched streams and deep water wetlands in rural areas, by interpreting the Governor’s Buffer law very narrowly. Many streams and wetlands are mapped for just a 16.5 foot buffer – or none at all – when they should be receiving 50 feet of vegetative protection.

Do I think this is because the DNR officials don’t understand wetland classifications or the law? No. It is apparent to me that the DNR is taking a “political path of least resistance.” Thousands of miles of streams in southern and western Minnesota were dredged and straightened years ago to “improve drainage” leaving them legally both a “ditch” and a “public water.” DNR expects more complaints from rural interests and certain legislators if they require the full 50 foot buffer on these waters called for in law; they’re expecting that we, the citizens, will be “away at the lake.”

Conservationists can never sleep! Take a moment to dash off a quick note to the Governor. Ask him to instruct the DNR to interpret his Buffer Law correctly. Demand that “DNR Buffer Maps be changed to require a minimum 50 foot buffer on all public watercourses, even if they’ve been ditched, and that all public waters wetlands receive the 50 foot buffer, as well.”

Governor Mark Dayton
75 Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr Blvd #130
St Paul, MN 55155

Write your 5 minute note and get back to enjoying our birds and your family and friends. After all, summer is just too short in Minnesota to  always sweat the details. Thank you for doing your part to protect nature for future generations!

Looking for Osprey in Minnesota

OspreyThe osprey population in the Twin Cities has grown to over 100 known nests since a reintroduction project began in 1984!

The Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch is monitoring all known Osprey nests in the eight-county metro area as part of a long-term behavioral and productivity study. This has become a big job, and we need your help!

If you see a new osprey nest or ospreys carrying sticks, please send a report to osprey.mn@gmail.com.   If you are interested in volunteering to watch over a nest during the breeding season, please contact us.

Ospreys are increasingly nesting on man-made structures such as cell towers, ball field light poles, transmission towers and tele-phone/power poles, so keep looking up!

To learn more about ospreys and the Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch, visit their Facebook page or blog at www.ospreywatch.blogspot.com.

Wintering Golden Eagle Survey Observes Record Number Eagles

Golden EagleThe Wintering Golden Eagle Survey gathers important data to document a regular wintering population of golden eagles in the upper Midwest. This year’s survey broke a record on two fronts. A record number of golden eagles -147 total – with 90 adults and 50 sub-adult/immature were identified.

Combined with our tracking data (see update below), this survey has really expanded our understanding of golden eagles in the Midwest. This year’s survey included surveyors across the blufflands of southeast MN, western WI and northeast IA covering 66 survey areas.

Volunteer observers also document other birds, especially raptors, seen during the survey. This year, volunteers also observed 1,509 bald eagles, which is significant because most of the survey area is focused away from the Mississippi River, where thousands of bald eagle spend the winter. When food sources are abundant even in the bluffs and areas away from open water, bald eagles can be found in many places across the Midwest.

The Wintering Golden Eagle Survey is part of an on-going project to learn more about the golden eagle population in the region, including their migration patterns and habitat needs. The Golden Eagle Project is currently tracking golden eagles using GPS-linked satellite telemetry. More detailed survey results and links to satellite tracking maps are available on the National Eagle Center’s website at www.nationaleaglecenter.org.

Golden Eagle Project update:

The Golden Eagle Project was undertaken in order to better understand the biology and management needs of golden eagles in the upper Midwest and to appropriately disseminate this information to assist landowners and managers in ensuring the conservation of these birds.

In addition to the annual Survey, the Golden Eagle Project continues to track golden eagles in the Midwest using GPS-linked satellite telemetry. Over the last six years, we have put transmitters on six golden eagles. Two of those are still transmitting live signals of their movements throughout the year, and both birds are teaching us more about the range of golden eagles in the Midwest.

#53 Jack is currently wintering along the Arkansas/Missouri border, as he has for the past couple of years. This is a bird that was captured and released up at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory (Duluth, MN) in

November 2012, as he migrated past. He continues to spend his summers in northern Canada, and return to the Ozarks each winter. This is the farthest south we have tracked a golden eagle in the Midwest.

#54 Ripley was captured and released last winter at Camp Ripley in central MN. This bird had been seen on one of the Camp’s trail cams. After some conversation with Camp staff about how often the bird was being seen, the Project determined it would be worth attempting to get a transmitter on this bird. Ripley was released in March 2015. Last summer, Ripley migrated to far northern Canada before returning to central MN this winter. Although well outside the blufflands region, Ripley’s return to central MN means that the possible winter range of golden eagles in MN is much bigger than we may have thought.

#45 Jeanette was released in 2012 near Waupaca, WI. She had been a regular winter inhabitant of the area. Her annual migration to her nest in far northern Canada was an amazing feat. For three years in a row, she arrived at her breeding territory on exactly April 3. This is a journey of more than 2,000 miles. Just this last spring though, she arrived just a few days later on April 6th. On her fall migration back to WI, we stopped receiving a signal in November. A few weeks later we got word that her leg band had been recovered – Jeanette was found dead in a leg hold trap in Ontario.

Here’s what Golden Eagle Project partner Audubon Minnesota had to say:

“It is rare to learn the fate of a bird, even one with a transmitter. You can either assume the transmitter failed, or the bird died. We had been getting some spotty transmissions from Jeanette leading up to her last location, so had assumed it was the end of the transmitter’s lifespan. Only recently did we learn that Jeanette was reported to the USGS Bird Banding Lab as a band recovery through the Bird Banding Office in Canada. The little information we know is that she was caught in a leg-hold trap, typically used to trap wolves and other furbearers. This sort of incidental take does happen and we are working to learn more about how this trap was set and if there are any changes that could be implemented to reduce the potential impact to unintended targets, such as bald and golden eagles. 

 –From Kristin Hall at Audubon MN (Golden Eagle Project partner) 

http://www.nationaleaglecenter.org/golden-eagle-project/ for more about the project and survey

The Golden Eagle Project is a partnership of the National Eagle Center and Audubon Minnesota, with participation from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and funding support from through Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Your Help is Needed for Climate Watch, A New Citizen Science Program

Eastern BluebirdBy Audubon Minnesota

Audubon Climate Watch is a new citizen science program that explores how North American Birds are responding to climate change. In 2014, Audubon released the Audubon Birds and Climate Change report highlighting the risks that climate change poses to birds.

Now, you can help by observing birds and learning more about how birds are responding to climate change.

MRVAC members are needed to volunteer for a few hours during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Jan. 15-18, 2016. This will kick off the pilot phase of Climate Watch. MRVAC will be a key part of the collaborative team that develops materials and resources, including mapping tools, for Climate Watch and will have the opportunity to represent the Audubon chapter network in helping to create this new national program.

The pilot will focus on areas of predicted change for bluebirds and targeted area maps will be provided so volunteers can survey appropriate habitat within the grid cell. At least 10 volunteers are needed.

If you are interested in volunteering for this project, please contact Greg Burnes, gburnes@comcast.net or Ashley Peters, apeters@audubon.org for more information on how to participate.