More than anything, perhaps, hunters and anglers will remember 2019 for the wet fall that affected hunting and fishing and created disastrous conditions for agriculture.
But the year was eventful for many reasons. Some good, some definitely bad.
Zander, those European walleye cousins stocked one time into Spiritwood Lake near Jamestown, N.D., in 1989, continued to show up, and a bass fisherman even caught a new state record last summer. On the downside, chronic wasting disease continued to expand in North Dakota with the first confirmed case in the Badlands, and larval zebra mussels were found in Lake of the Woods, a disappointing turn of events for one of the region’s top walleye fisheries.
Typically, we wrap up the Year in the Outdoors with a story on the last Sunday of 2019, but we’re jumping the gun this week to make room for a Top 10 Outdoors Stories of the Decade piece that’s scheduled to run Sunday, Dec. 29.
With that in mind, here’s a look back at some of the outdoors highlights — and downers — from 2019.
The “Walleye Wars” fishing competition between tourism officials on Lake of the Woods and Devils Lake on Thursday, Jan. 3, ended with a tally of 71 fish for Joe Henry of Lake of the Woods Tourism and 14 fish for Tanner Cherney, who represented the Devils Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Thief River Falls Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association collected and processed a record 3,327 deer hides as part of the MDHA’s Hides for Habitat campaign.
Sarah Strommen, new commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, outlined challenges, priorities and opportunities in an interview. Habitat loss is one of the biggest issues facing the DNR, Strommen said.
A DNR conservation officer shot a mule deer buck that wandered into northwest Minnesota and took up residence north of Thief River Falls after authorities determined its unusual behavior posed a safety risk. Subsequent testing determined the buck had brain worm but tested negative for chronic wasting disease.
Ducks Unlimited was planning to expand its Cover Crop Livestock Integration Project — known as CCLIP, for short — after receiving a $1.25 million grant from the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund.
A Nevada-based helicopter crew captured and collared 90 elk in western North Dakota as part of a research project to learn more about the animals’ home ranges and habitat preferences.
Results from a study by UND and the Game and Fish Department indicated a majority of archery deer hunters in North Dakota would still prefer to hunt with a gun if they could draw a rifle tag.
Jan Swenson, longtime executive director of the Badlands Conservation Alliance, was preparing to retire from the post. She said she was most proud of the group’s persistence in promoting its conservation agenda during North Dakota’s energy boom.
A group of movers and shakers in Minnesota fishing circles announced the formation of MN-FISH, an organization aimed at giving anglers a stronger voice in the Legislature and with the Minnesota DNR.
A raghorn bull elk hanging out in a field on the east side of Interstate 29 near the exit to Manvel, N.D., was turning heads and by some accounts had been in the area since last fall.
With flood season underway in the Red River Valley, natural resources experts said they expected the impact on fish and wildlife to be minimal.
Oklahoma angler Billy King had never been ice fishing before catching a 13.57-pound whitefish on Lake of the Woods that later would be confirmed as the new Minnesota state record for the species. The big fish, which measured 29½ inches long, topped the previous record of 12 pounds, 4 ounces and 28½ inches caught March 21, 1999, on Leech Lake near Walker, Minn.
The Red River Snowmobile Club was preparing to mark its 50th anniversary.
North Dakota lawmakers voted down the so-called “trespass bill” on the final day of the 2019 legislative session but private lands issues will remain a prominent issue. The bill would have considered all landed posted for no trespassing except for the purpose of hunting.
A 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye caught from the Heart River, a Missouri River tributary, initially was proclaimed as the new North Dakota state record walleye but later was disqualified after a Game and Fish Department investigation concluded the fish had been snagged.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department was offering 65,500 licenses for the 2019 deer gun season, an increase of 10,350 from the previous year.
Zander catch reports were becoming more frequent, most notably in Alkali Lake, a 680-acre lake basically connected to Spiritwood Lake, where the North Dakota Game and Fish Department stocked zander in 1989 before scrapping the program.
The Minnesota DNR announced it was increasing elk permits in Kittson County after winter aerial surveys near Lancaster, Minn., tallied a population that remained above management goals.
Minnesota lawmakers approved, and Gov. Tim Walz signed, a bill directing $1.87 million from the state’s general tax fund and $2.85 million from the DNR’s Game and Fish Fund to battle chronic wasting disease.
Members of the East Grand Forks firefighters union, organizers of the Cats Incredible Catfish Tournament, said the event was in jeopardy because of low sign-up for the July 27-28 event. As of June 17, only 25 teams had signed up for the competition that’s open to 125 two-person teams.
North Dakota spring pheasant crowing counts were up about 6% statewide from 2018, the Game and Fish Department said.
The Minnesota Fishing Museum and Hall of Fame in Little Falls, Minn., was in danger of closing its doors without an influx of funds because of road construction that hampered access to the site and summer tourism. A fundraising drive eventually was able to cut into the $35,000 deficit and keep the facility open.
The outlook for the Cats Incredible catfish tournament took a turn for the better after East Grand Forks native Kelly Clement, who owns a marketing and sales company in Eden Prairie, Minn., stepped in to take over social media and marketing for the event. More than 90 teams ultimately fished the tournament.
Off-highway vehicle enthusiasts in northwest Minnesota celebrated the launch of a two-year pilot project that opened the Moose River Dike Road in Beltrami Island State Forest to OHV access from mid-July to mid-September.
Smaller walleyes continue to dominate Devils Lake fish population surveys, with 10- to 15-inch walleyes outnumbering 15- to 20-inch walleyes by a margin of 26.1 to 3.9, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said in reporting results from its summer adult fish population survey.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to consider lake sturgeon for federal protection wouldn’t have any immediate impact on sturgeon management or regulations on Lake of the Woods, Rainy River or anywhere else in Minnesota, the DNR said.
The Minnesota DNR was expanding its efforts to sample ruffed grouse for west Nile virus during the upcoming hunting season.
Minnesota ruffed grouse experts continued to look for answers to lower populations and hunting success that hasn’t lived up to expectations in recent years.
Buoyed by a 9% increase in spring dancing ground surveys, sharptail prospects in North Dakota looked favorable for the season opener Saturday, Sept. 14. Waterfowl prospects also were good, driven by a duck index of 3.4 million birds, a 20% increase from 2018.
North Dakota was set to receive more than $1.5 million and Minnesota more than $2.9 million in grants through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, federal money funded by offshore oil revenues.
North Dakota pheasant brood counts were up 17% from 2018 and total pheasants observed per 100 miles increased 10%, the Game and Fish Department said in reporting results from summer roadside surveys. Minnesota pheasant numbers were down 17% from the previous year, the DNR said.
Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Pete Stauber, R-Minn., introduced legislation to return management of gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan back to the states.
North Dakota pheasant numbers looked favorable going into the opening weekend, but wet conditions were expected to challenge hunters.
For the second time in three years, Susan Felege of the UND Biology Department was named The Wildlife Society’s Student Chapter Advisor of the Year.
Deer hunting prospects were favorable both in Minnesota and North Dakota, but wildlife managers predicted continued wet conditions would play into hunting success.
The Minnesota DNR confirmed the presence of larval stage zebra mussels in Lake of the Woods after routine testing detected the invasive species from a site in Muskeg Bay on the west side of the lake near Warroad, Minn.
Anglers on Upper Red Lake would have a four-walleye bag limit, with one fish over 17 inches allowed, under winter regulations announced by the Minnesota DNR.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a general signup for the Conservation Reserve Program would begin Monday, Dec. 9, and continue through Friday, Feb. 28. The general signup was the first since 2016.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department was exploring an expanded bighorn sheep hunt in the Badlands south of Interstate 94 to remove a struggling herd and replace it with healthy sheep from the Missouri Breaks in central Montana.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.