The DNR communications team works with agency experts to develop the weekly questions and provide the answers. This feature addresses current DNR issues, interesting topics, or the most frequently asked questions from around Minnesota.
Q: How is Minnesota's pheasant population being affected by the lack of snow this winter?
A: The lack of snow is a great benefit to pheasants. Pheasants rely heavily on waste grain in crop fields for food, which becomes buried under snow in severe winters. The DNR provides food plots on wildlife management areas, and some private landowners do the same, but only a small fraction of Minnesota’s pheasant population has access to food plots. Similarly, pheasants rely on grass, cattail and brushy habitat for winter cover. In severe winters, grass is buried in deep snow and not useful as cover. But in mild winters, cover is widely available. This should result in greater survival of birds over winter.
-Kurt Haroldson, assistant regional wildlife manager
Q: What is the current drought situation in Minnesota and will winter snows have an impact on the drought?
A: Currently, the U.S. Drought Monitor Map places more than 80 percent of Minnesota in the "severe drought" or "extreme drought" categories. The drought situation will remain unchanged until spring because the deeply frozen soil assures that very little winter precipitation will make it into the ground. As of late autumn, the soil moisture content in the plant rooting zone was near all-time low levels at many locations. Without abundant spring rains, a number of critical drought issues involving agriculture, forestry, horticulture, tourism and public water supply will begin to emerge.
For more information about the drought in Minnesota, go to www.mndnr.gov/climate/drought.
-Greg Spoden, state climatologist
Q: A couple of years ago it was reported that the population of crows in Minnesota was declining. What is their status now?
A: American crows are still quite common in most of Minnesota, having adapted well to human activities. North American Breeding Bird Survey trend data for Minnesota show a gradual increase in crow populations since these surveys began in 1966. However, the number of breeding crows stabilized or decreased slightly between 2000 and 2010. Minnesota’s winter crow population, based on Audubon Christmas Bird Count data, also increased significantly since the 1960’s, although the population has fluctuated over the years. After several years on the down side of one of these fluctuations, the winter crow population seems to be on the upswing again.
-Steve Stucker, ornithologist, Minnesota Biological Survey