Weiss: Whitewater WMA grasp plan seeks stability for hunters, leisure lovers – Publish Bulletin


The Whitewater Wildlife Management Area “is managed to preserve, protect, enhance and restore its unique natural, historical, cultural and ecological resources for the benefit of fish, wildlife and present and future generations of Minnesotans.” — WMA Master Plan

BEAVER — In the cold and near-zero powder of a week ago, the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area was a soft shade of white as I spun around and saw a different side of the WMA, which is an important part of their new master plan.

Of course, the most common aspect is that it is famous for its deer, turkey, squirrel and waterfowl hunting as well as trout fishing. The other page I saw contained:

  • A small flock of Trumpeter Swans, a magnet for photographers including myself, resting on ice or swimming in the Dorman Pools where part is kept open by water from a nearby spring.
  • Boot tracks in the fresh snow, next to cross-country ski trails, on the old stagecoach road in the refuge. I have snowshoeed and hiked this ancient road many times, also hiked through the bush in the snow in the Siebenaler ridge above the valley, randomly following the deer trails.
  • A sign on a wooden gate informed hikers that over the next year loggers would use the road to cut timber to improve habitat for the red-headed woodpecker, which is facing difficult times.

    The WMA in the heart of the Whitewater River has this non-consumptive side that is growing in popularity, a side that is reflected in the draft version of the first new master plan for the WMA in about 40 years. This one looks just 10 years later.

The plan is available for all users to review. The DNR is asking for comments by January 9th. He has held one public session and will hold two more — an in-person meeting from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 4 at the office at nearby Whitewater State Park, and a webinar from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 5. For more information, go to the DNR home page www.dnr.state.mn.us and look for the administration area page.

Make no mistake, hunting is paramount. “The priority … is still with the hunters,” said Christine Priest Johnson, WMA assistant manager. “But we definitely consider all of our other users out there… they’re definitely a big part of our considerations when writing the plan.”

The two main objectives, as noted in the master plan, correctly emphasize first the maintenance of the habitat and second how we can use it. Goals are: “1. Conserving, enhancing and restoring a variety of forests, savannas, prairies, grasslands, wetlands and agricultural habitats for the benefit of wildlife, with a particular focus on rare plant and animal species; and 2. Providing quality public opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing and other forms of compatible outdoor recreation.”

The natural beauty, like the snow on the trees in the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, draws photographers and tourists to the WMA.

John Weiss / Contributed

These other uses have been part of WMA usage for decades, but “it probably hasn’t been emphasized as much,” Johnson said. “It makes management more comprehensive.”

Not that it’s always easy.

“It’s just a balancing act of figuring out what’s best ecologically and what’s best for wildlife populations and balancing that with the landscape and habitat that we have,” she said.

But she also noted that improving deer and turkey also means improved habitat for countless non-wild species, from giant trumpeter swans to tiny sparrows to butterflies and beetles.

One of the reasons that hunting is at the forefront is that almost all of the country was paid for with hunter money, beginning in the 1940s after poor farming had ravaged and eroded the valley. For years the best the state could do was plant lots of trees and let the land heal. Now it performs more active management, e.g. B. controlled burns on the prairie and grazing cattle on a lowland to stop unwanted plants.

The Whitewater WMA is in the heart of a much larger public land complex. To the south is the 2,700-acre Whitewater State Park, one of the most popular in the state; to the north is the 3,000-acre Snake Creek unit of the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest and the McCarthy Lake WMA; to the south is the Trout Valley Forestry Unit and the Whitewater WMA borders the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

“It hosts a high proportion of the State’s Species of High Concern, Threatened and Endangered and has one of the greatest biodiversity of rare/unique native plant communities on state-owned land in Minnesota,” the plan reads.

The reason for the diversity is habitat, Johnson. “We have a different complex here, or different habitat types,” she said. In other places there are many more of one or two habitat types, but in the coastal cliffs “it’s a mosaic in the landscape,” she said. The WMA has everything from dry goat prairie to large oak or maple forests, open meadows, wetlands and the river itself.

While it definitely explains that hikers, collectors, photographers and cross-country skiers are welcome, there’s not much talk about how to dress them up because “it’s already happening,” she said.


Ski boot and cross-country skiing trails indicate that some parts of the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area are popular with those who enjoy good exercise and the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors.

John Weiss / Contributed

It’s common for the other users to stop at the headquarters to find the best spots to rebuild, Johnson said. The nice thing is that these uses don’t usually conflict with hunting.

However, some potential uses, such as driving all-terrain vehicles, conflict with wildlife, she said. Keeping them out of the WMA is one of the things the DNR is trying to do. Another problem — trespassing — is also being mentioned, both by hunters going onto private land and farmers going onto public lands, she said.

The DNR has many collaborative agreements with farmers who plow and plant on state lands and leave a third of the harvest for wildlife. The plan calls for some of this to be phased out because access to small tracts of land is not worth the time and effort of road maintenance and because the DNR wants to turn some of the tracts of land into prairie or savannah. The DNR is also urging farmers on the remaining state farmlands to use cover crops and other ways to control water and chemical runoff, she said.

The biggest headaches and obstacles to management include climate change and invasive plants and animals that are constantly attacking the cliffs, forests and bodies of water, the plan said.

What the DNR is trying to do now is listen to voters, Johnson said. Part of that communication explains that it can’t muster a trophy buck for every hunter, she said.

If the master plan is implemented as it is now, users won’t see much change in the WMA, she said. But it will be better suited to continue offering good hunting and fishing, as well as hiking and photography.

Some other highlights of the plan include:

  • “Whitewater Valley Important Bird Area covers 46,000 acres and includes both WWMA and adjacent Whitewater State Park. This IBA is an excellent stopover region for migratory birds in spring and autumn and provides a nesting shelter for rare species such as the trumpeter swan and red-shouldered hawk. An estimated 242 bird species occur within this IBA.”
  • “Public lands and waters in and around the WMA are an important source of tourism revenue for the local economy. Trout fishing is particularly important to the area. Only 5% of the land in Southeast Minnesota is public, and access to private land is becoming increasingly difficult.”
  • Much of the WMA is listed as outstanding or high for biodiversity. It includes habitats as rare as Algic screes, which are only found on northern slopes and contain some extremely rare plants and animals.
  • Over the past decade, the WMA has become an important nesting and feeding area for the rare trumpeter swans. The state has the largest bird population outside of the Alaskan/Canadian breeding swamps.
  • It has almost 50 species of animals from white-tailed deer to white-footed mice and even more species of fish and amphibians.
  • Management of trout streams is left to the DNR fishery managers.
  • Climate change could really hurt the country with increased rainfall and the arrival of new plants or animals. “Adaptations to changing climatic conditions must be comprehensively embedded in planning, budget management and maintenance.”
  • Work with parks and local counties to better interpret and highlight historic sites in the governorate.
  • Work with communities to clear roads with minimal maintenance that lead to illegal ATV and other off-road use.

John Weiss has been writing and reporting on outdoor topics for the Post Bulletin for more than 45 years. He is the author of Backroads: The Best of the Best by Post-Bulletin Columnist John Weiss.