January 2006

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.






The DNR along with its many public and private partners recently completed an alternative set of standards for shoreland management. What will this mean for shoreland property owners and Minnesota lakes?

The shoreland standards developed by the Shoreland Advisory Committee are not new rules; they are alternative standards, which local governments may consider including in their existing shoreland ordinances. For example, if a county chooses to adopt all or parts of these alternative standards, it is still required to conduct a public review and comment period for any proposed ordinance changes. These standards focus on new development and construction along lake front property. However, existing property owners who wish to renovate their cabins or make improvements to their shorelines may or may not be affected by these standards. The alternative standards provide additional tools for local governments to address increasing growth and development that can negatively impact water quality and habitat. The Shoreland Advisory Committee believes development is possible without jeopardizing the natural resources, including lakes. Lakes provide an economic stimulus to the area, and research has shown that property values are generally higher on lakes with better water quality.

Russ Schultz, DNR lake management supervisor


With the relatively mild winter we have been having lately are there any ice safety tips for anglers to remember before they head out on a frozen lake?

Presently, the ice condition of many lakes throughout the state is not good. Some areas that are traditionally frozen over by now with 18 inches or more of ice are only half that thickness or less. It typically takes a week of near-zero temperatures to harden and thicken the ice. Thus, anglers or anyone else should take all necessary precautions before venturing out onto a frozen lake, or, perhaps, wait until temperatures become more winter-like. Thickness guidelines for new clear ice that are used in the early part of the season really do not apply right now, as the ice is so soft and slushy in much of the state. White ice is only about half as strong as clear ice, so when 8 inches would normally be acceptable for a small car, now you might need 16 inches or more to support that same weight. The DNR highly recommends calling the local bait shops to find out the most current ice conditions of where you plan to fish or recreate.

Tim Smalley, DNR Boat & Water Safety specialist


Why does snow make different sounds at different temperatures when it is walked on?

The quality and amount of snow as well as air temperature all influence if snow will be noisy or quiet underfoot. Snow has air trapped between each flake, and when stepped on, those air spaces absorb sound. Dry, fluffy, new snow has more air trapped between each flake resulting in quiet footsteps. Wet, hardened, old snow has less air trapped between each flake, which means that less sound is absorbed resulting in noisy or squeaky snow. The amount of snow affects sound, too - the more it snows, the more air gets trapped, and thus, the quieter the snow. However, snow only makes sound when the thermometer dips below 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius). Temperatures above 14 degrees allow the snow to melt just enough to slip silently under your boots as you walk. So your boots can be a good indicator of just how cold it is outside in the winter.

Retta James-Gasser, Gooseberry Falls State Park naturalist


Not every bird species migrates from Minnesota to warmer climates down south before winter sets in - some stay behind. Is there anything that can be done to help these brave birds survive winter

An easy plan for winter bird feeding is to provide three main choices of food - large seeds, small seeds and suet. Black-oil sunflower seeds and cardinal mixes have the greatest appeal to the broadest variety of winter birds and contain a high-energy content. Water is a critical ingredient of a winter-feeding program. There are excellent birdbaths with heating elements and thermostats available from bird feeding supply stores. The heated water is primarily for drinking. Don't worry about birds freezing if they bathe on a cold winter day, because native song birds seem smart enough not to bathe when the wind chill is 40 below. For more information on winter bird feeding, check out the DNR Web site at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us.

Carrol Henderson, DNR Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor


Humans and fish are similar in that they rely on the senses of taste, smell, sight, hear and touch to live and cope with their surroundings. However, fish also have a sixth sense. What is it?

Fish have a built in motion detector called the lateral line, a row of tiny holes that run along each side of the body. The sensitive hairs inside each hole help detect the location and direction of vibrations in the water. This is especially important to anglers. The sound and movement of bait in the water attracts attention. Once at an angler's lure, fish will use their other five senses to determine if the bait is something that sounds like, feels like, looks like, smells like and tastes like something they might usually eat. While the lateral line helps fish find a meal, it keeps them avoid becoming one, too. The lateral line also enables a school of fish swim together without bumping into each other.

Jenifer Matthees, DNR Aquatic Education supervisor


DNR Question of the Week Archive