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2017: THE YEAR IN OUTDOORS: Surprise wildlife sightings and encounters make news in 2017

A trail camera image of a mountain lion crossing a trail on the west side of Six-Mile Bay of Devils Lake in November was the source of many coffee shop conversations.1 / 11
Grand Forks resident Cindy Kuster took this photo in January of an animal that was confirmed to be an opossum in her yard near Altru Hospital. The animal was killed by another homeowner a few days later and ended up being taken to the University of Michigan for research.2 / 11
Nick Genereux, owner of Outdoor Addicitions Taxidermy in Crookston, was named Minnesota Taxidermist of the Year in April. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 3 / 11
Student researchers Henry Hansen (left) and McKenzie Hauger of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln implant a radiotransmitter into a channel catfish May 18 on the Red River in Grand Forks. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 4 / 11
Erika Kolbow (left) of Turtle River State Park and licensed bander and raptor expert Tim Driscoll of Grand Forks handle peregrine falcon chicks June 12, 2017 during a public banding event below the UND water tower. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 5 / 11
Erik Argall of Thompson, N.D., won the overall singles championship in August at the AIM Grand National Trapshooting Tournament in Sparta, Ill. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 6 / 11
Henry Duray retired in September as manager of Grahams Island State Park on Devils Lake after a 42-year career with the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald) 7 / 11
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources predicted a banner season for ruffed grouse after a 57 percent increase in spring drumming counts. That forecast proved to be overly optimistic, much to the chagrin of many hunters. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)8 / 11
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department predicted pheasant hunters would have a tougher season after surveys showed declines in both adult pheasants and brood numbers. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)9 / 11
Jan Johnson of rural Roseau, Minn., shot this bear Oct. 1 in the Malung-Pencer area of Roseau County in the No-Quota Hunting Zone. The bear weighed more than 700 pounds live weight on two different scales and 602 pounds field-dressed, making it one of the heaviest bears to be shot in Minnesota in several years.10 / 11
North Dakota held its first otter trapping season in modern times in 2017. The season, which opened Nov. 27, closed Dec. 4 when the quota of 15 otters was reached. (Submitted photo)11 / 11

Opossums, otters, elk, bears and and mountain lions were among the wildlife to make news across the region in 2017, and the big cats remained a hot topic in northeast North Dakota as the year drew to a close.

Also in 2017, pheasant hunting in North Dakota proved to be every bit as challenging as the Game and Fish Department had predicted, while ruffed grouse hunting in much of Minnesota fell short of the rosy forecasts the Department of Natural Resources had made going into hunting season.

On the legislative front, the Minnesota DNR got its requested increase in fishing and deer hunting license fees, and a trespass bill that failed to pass in North Dakota is expected to resurface in future sessions.

Those were just a few of the happenings that made news in the outdoors during 2017 in Minnesota and North Dakota. Here's a closer look.

January

The Minnesota DNR confirmed a 19-pound, 10-ounce burbot from Lake of the Woods was the new state record for the freshwater cod species. Brent Getzler of Roosevelt, Minn., caught the big pout Dec. 19, 2016, topping the previous record of 19 pounds, 8 ounces, which came from Lake of the Woods in February 2012.

A trespass bill was expected to be among the more prominent pieces of outdoors legislation on tap when the North Dakota Legislature convened. In Minnesota, the DNR was expected to request an increase in some hunting and fishing license fees to bolster the Game and Fish Fund, which was projected to go into the red without an influx of new funding.

A Grand Forks resident photographed an animal in her yard south of Altru Hospital that was confirmed as an opossum, a mammal not commonly found in North Dakota. An area resident killed the possum a few days later, and the animal was shipped to the University of Michigan for research purposes.

February

Adequate snow conditions allowed the North Dakota Game and Fish Department to conduct aerial deer surveys across the state for the first time in three years. Big game biologist Bill Jensen in a February story said the department was able to fly 25 of 32 deer hunting units before a mid-January warm snap put the survey on hold.

Anecdotal results from a DNR winter creel survey on Lake of the Woods indicated anglers were having better luck than they had the previous winter.

The DNR wrapped up its winter aerial survey of northwest Minnesota's three elk herds and was able to time the Kittson County portion of the survey to coincide with a similar count being done on the Manitoba side of the border.

March

After a rough start, the winter of 2016-17 was shaping up as a "could have been worse" season for fish and wildlife, according to natural resource managers across the region.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department was proposing modest increases in the number of elk and moose licenses available for the 2017 hunting season.

Plans to implement zone-based northern pike regulations in Minnesota were put on hold after an administrative law judge ruled the DNR first had to repeal a one-pike-over-30-inches regulation in statute. The regulations were set to go into effect March 1 but had to be delayed until 2018 so the Legislature could rescind the old rule, DNR officials said.

April

Officials for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said a limited otter trapping season was likely for the coming fall. The proposed season would open Nov. 27 and continue through March 15, 2018 or until a quota of 15 otters was reached.

The Grand Forks County Wildlife Federation, formed in 1947, was folding and transferring its assets to the North Dakota Wildlife Federation. Changing times and an aging membership contributed to the decision, club president Erik Fritzell of Grand Forks said.

The Grygla elk herd in northwest Minnesota dropped to 17, down from 21 in 2016, the DNR said in reporting the results of its winter aerial survey. Observers counted 61 elk in the Kittson Central herd near Lancaster, Minn., up from 52 in 2016; there was only one elk from the international Caribou-Vita herd on the Minnesota side of the border, while Manitoba crews tallied 163 animals on the Canada side of the border.

Nick Genereux of Crookston earned Minnesota Taxidermist of the Year honors in the Masters Division of the Minnesota Taxidermy Guild's annual convention that wrapped up April 2 in Rochester, Minn.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department tallied 3,349 mule deer during the annual spring survey, an increase of 16 percent from 2016.

A trespass bill failed to pass in North Dakota, but Game and Fish Department director Terry Steinwand said he didn't expect the emotional issue to go away anytime soon.

May

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department announced a small increase in deer gun licenses for the 2017 season. The department was offering 54,500 gun tags, up from 49,000 in 2016.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection selected the Northwest Angle area for a pilot project aimed at simplifying the border-crossing process in the remote area by allowing visitors to check in via iPads set up at several resorts.

A research crew from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was fitting catfish with radiotransmitters along the U.S. portion of the Red River as part of an effort to learn more about where the fish travel. The researchers also implanted transmitters in bigmouth buffalo, a native rough fish species.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation authorizing a small increase in fishing and deer hunting license fees beginning in 2018. Legislation calling for the increase came together late in the legislative session despite not being included in either the House or Senate environment and natural resource budget bills.

June

Rydell National Wildlife Refuge near Erskine, Minn., was marking its 25th anniversary.

North Dakota's spring duck survey showed an index of 2.95 million birds, down 15 percent from the previous year, the Game and Fish Department said.

About 150 people showed up to watch Grand Forks raptor expert Tim Driscoll band three peregrine falcon chicks below the UND water tower. The annual banding event has become a popular public attraction in recent years.

Another opossum was confirmed in Grand Forks when a UND research crew live trapping skunks and fitting them with radio collars caught one of the animals. The adult male opossum was released.

July

Minnesota spring drumming counts of ruffed grouse were up 57 percent statewide from the previous year, the DNR said.

Hillsboro, N.D., angler Shawn Hennings was preparing to fish the 2017 World Predator Fishing Championship, set for Sept. 2-3 in Russia, as a member of the four-man U.S. team.

August

Adult fish populations in Devils Lake were in line with historic averages, the Game and Fish Department said in reporting results from its annual July survey.

More than 2,800 antlerless deer gun tags remained after the first lottery, the Game and Fish Department said. The tags were available for North Dakota residents who weren't drawn in the first lottery.

Bob Brott of Eden Prairie, Minn., reached out to share the story of the harrowing encounter he and his cousin, Gary Soucie of Fairfield, Neb., experienced when Brott's boat swamped near Garden Island on Lake of the Woods. The pair clung to the overturned boat, which drifted onto an island in Ontario waters, where Canadian authorities rescued the men two days later while conducting a routine patrol of the border.

Erik Argall, 17, of Thompson, N.D., won the overall singles championship with a perfect score of 250 during the AIM Grand National Trapshooting Tournament in Sparta, Ill.

North Dakota's fall duck flight was projected to be down 8 percent from the previous year, based on results from midsummer brood surveys, the Game and Fish Department announced. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that continental duck numbers remained higher than the long-term average at 47.3 million breeding birds.

September

North Dakota's summer roadside pheasant survey revealed a decline in broods and total birds, the Game and Fish Department said. Statewide pheasant observations per 100 miles were down 61 percent from 2016, and brood counts declined 63 percent.

Minnesota DNR forest wildlife biologists were bullish on prospects for the upcoming ruffed grouse season after a 57 percent increase in spring drumming counts. That prediction later would prove to be overly optimistic.

Henry Duray retired as manager of Grahams Island State Park on Devils Lake after a 42-year career with the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department.

October

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department was predicting a tough go for pheasant hunters when the state's pheasant season opened Oct. 7.

Jan Johnson of rural Roseau, Minn., shot a black bear that unofficially weighed 721 pounds live weight, making it one of the heaviest bears to be taken in Minnesota in several years.

Two unusual vehicle-wildlife collisions were reported within a week in Grand Forks County when a motorist hit an elk on U.S. Highway 2 near the airport, and a driver hit a bear a few days later on County Road 33 between Manvel and Gilby, N.D.

DNR wildlife managers were expecting good hunting when Minnesota's firearms deer season opened Nov. 4.

November

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department said hunters fortunate enough to draw a deer gun tag likely would have a decent shot at bagging a deer when the gun season opened Friday, Nov. 10.

Fawn mule deer production in 2017 in North Dakota was lower than the previous year, the Game and Fish Department said in reporting the results of its fall mule deer survey. Biologists tallied 2,548 mule deer in the aerial count, down from 3,003 in 2016.

North Dakota's first otter trapping season in modern times was open only a week before the season limit of 15 was reached. The season opened Nov. 27, and Game and Fish announced the season closure Dec. 4.

The DNR reported continued strong walleye and sauger populations on Lake of the Woods, based on results from its annual September survey.

December

A video on the Kittson County Sheriff's Office Facebook page shed light on the extent of gray wolf livestock depredation in the far northwest Minnesota county.

A mountain lion that showed up on two of a landowner's trail cameras in November remained a hot topic weeks later around Devils Lake, where rumors of other sightings continued to surface.

A hunter legally shot and killed a mountain lion Tuesday, Dec. 19, northwest of Hillsboro, N.D. The Game and Fish Department said it was the farthest east a cat had been shot in North Dakota in several years.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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