Spring brings with it a whole lot of opportunity. Beyond a clean slate and a chance to start over personally for a lot of outdoors enthusiasts, spring does the same for wildlife populations throughout the region. Whether it is nesting wood ducks or pheasants, or spawning walleyes or bass, or whitetail does finding a spot to set their fawns, spring is the time where everything starts anew and sustainable populations of wildlife continue on. But that fresh beginning and continuation of hunting and fishing opportunities doesn’t come without our help.
Throughout most of the upper Midwest, wildlife species are dependent on state wildlife management areas (WMAs) for sprawling blocks of contiguous habitat. There they are able nest and raise their young during the spring season. From that point on, these places provide cover and food to young birds and animals, allowing them to mature throughout the summer. Unless you’re lucky enough to be in the thick of the far western reaches of the Dakotas, or the arrowhead of Minnesota, where state and federal grasslands and forests provide incredible amounts of protected habitat for wildlife, your local wildlife populations depend on WMAs. As a result, in spring it is particularly important for hunters, anglers and the general public to respect the rules governing these parcels, in order to provide the best quality wildlife opportunities down the road.
Perhaps the most important requirement for WMA use in the spring is that hunters keep their dogs off of these properties, to avoid disturbing nesting birds during a particularly vulnerable time, or stressing out adult animals such as whitetail deer, which may be dropping or tending to their fawns. Most states in our region restrict the walking, release or use of dogs on WMAs from mid-April to mid-July in order to accommodate the rearing of the next generation of wildlife.
Additionally, WMAs are not shooting ranges, and recreational shooting on a great majority of them is banned – not only in the spring, but year round. Too often I have come upon piles of shotgun shells, smashed clay targets, cardboard boxes and once a even a shot-up TV set on the various WMAs which I have hunted. Your money, time and aim are better served at a local gun club or designated shooting range, where casings and garbage can be disposed of properly, and the odds are the money you pay for rounds or a membership go to good causes, like getting youth involved in the outdoors, and improving or cleaning up habitat. On WMAs particularly close to population centers, it is not uncommon to see the remains of these activities. Make it a point to call it in to your local conservation officer, or if safe, to pick up after those who don’t know the rules, to prevent any negative effects on the local wildlife populations.
The agencies in each state set the rules on these properties, and they are generally the same and usually based in common sense with a dash of biology mixed in. If you have questions, consult your local hunting regulations, which usually set out the extent of the regulations on these public lands and others, including opening dates and slight variations from parcel to parcel. When in doubt, reach out to your local office or game warden for more information.
WMAs provide all sorts of unseen benefits beyond rearing grounds, including soil retention and filtration for the endless groundwater cycle which provides many nearby areas with drinking water. It is our job as the public which benefits from these great places to protect them and respect the rules governing them, assuring continued generations of wildlife will benefit from them, and in turn the next generation of hunters will as well…in our outdoors.