Activists fear state’s ring-necked pheasant population is at a crossroads

Wildlife and hunting activists say the expiration of 290,000 acres of Minnesota’s existing Conservation Reserve Program in 2015 – or about one-fourth of the state’s total – puts the pheasant population at a crossroads.

Habitat losses and harsh weather conditions are taking their toll on the state pheasants, writes Dana Melius of the St. Peter Herald. Wildlife and hunting activists say the expiration of 290,000 acres of Minnesota’s existing Conservation Reserve Program in 2015 – or about one-fourth of the state’s total – puts the pheasant population at a crossroads. The state’s 2014-15 pheasant season concluded Jan. 4 and the hunting was poor, experts say. “Every Sunday, I’ve talked to hunters who said the same thing, that they never even saw a pheasant,” said Ed Roozen, a Waseca County Pheasants Forever member. More than 1 million pheasant used to be harvested in Minnesota each season. In 2007, 655,000 birds were taken. In 2013-14, that number was estimated at 169,000. A committee convened by Gov. Mark Dayton to look in to the matter is set to release recommendations on Friday.

Scott Yeiter agreed to become Lewiston’s police chief in December, and expects to be formally hired at Wednesday’s regular city council meeting after the city wraps up all of its required background checks, writes Brett Boese of the Rochester Post Bulletin. Yeiter will be the city’s seventh police chief in the past seven years. The police chief vacancy was created last January when Joe Hastings resigned after allegations that he’d “committed illegal interception of oral communications,” according to Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem. Troy Leibfried has served as the department’s interim police chief since Hastings resigned. Ken Bradford was offered the job in June 2014, but submitted a two-sentence letter last fall saying he was no longer interested. Yeiter was the only candidate interviewed during the city’s second search. Five others have held the post since 2008. 

Folks in Rochester really like President Barack Obama’s idea of tuition-free community college education, writes Matthew Stolle of the Post Bulletin. Riverland Community College President Adenuga Atewologun said the proposal would encourage students to take a closer look at two-year colleges, which would prepare people for jobs and bolstering the state’s economic competitiveness. However, state Rep. Gene Pelowski, a Winona Democrat, fears that the proposal may negatively affect student loan debt accrued by four-year college students who will have to pay more for school so two-year college students can go for free.

Residential building permits in St. Cloud totaled more than $61.5 million in 2014 — an 18 percent increase from the $52 million in permit valuation during 2013 and a 50 percent increase over the $40.9 million total in 2010. The numbers include new construction and remodeling and repairs, writes Kevin Allenspach of the St. Cloud Daily Times. Construction of single-family dwellings is the sweet spot because it produces longer periods of employment for subcontractors. Allenspach says permits for 216 new homes were issued last year in St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Augusta, St. Joseph and Waite Park. The hotbed was in St. Cloud, where 93 homes were built or under way, compared to 2011 when there were 26.

Student population growth in Worthington is leading the school board to consider asking voters to approve a new high school, writes Robin Baumgarn of the Worthington Daily Globe. The board would like to build a new high school and move middle-school students into the current high school. While some board members disliked having to go to voters to ask for money to build the new school, Superintendent John Landgaard challenged the board to determine a direction and stand behind it. “Quite frankly, I’m going to tell you in my view it’s time to be bold. It’s time to say ‘this is what we need to do.’ … let’s quit dancing about being afraid to tell the public we need a new high school and let’s make a consensus that that is what we’re going to do.”

The state’s corn harvest was down from 2014, but soybeans were up, reports the Associated Press via the Albert Lea Tribune. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that Minnesota’s corn production was 1.18 billion bushels. That’s down 8 percent from the USDA’s November forecast and down 9 percent from 2013. Yields averaged 156 bushels an acre, down 9 bushels from the November forecast and 3 bushels below 2013. Minnesota soybean production for 2014 remained steady from the November forecast at an estimated 305 million bushels, up 10 percent from the previous year. Spring wheat production is estimated at 64.9 million bushels, down 2 percent from 2013. Yield was 55 bushels an acre, down 2 bushels from 2013. The sugar beet harvest is estimated at 9.77 million tons, down 12 percent from 2013.

Brainerd Mayor James Wallin says the city has to improve its ability to follow up on problem rentals, writes Chelsey Perkins of the Brainerd Dispatch. Wallin was speaking specifically of last week’s shooting on Juniper Street in north Brainerd. According to Brainerd Police Department records, the apartment building has been the subject of 57 calls since January, 2012. About one-third of these calls were welfare checks, compliance checks, medical calls or other non-criminal calls. Five calls were for disturbances, four were noise complaints, three were for assaults, one call was providing drug information and one call was for kidnapping. City code says police must talk with landlords about conduct on properties deemed disorderly. If another instance occurs within 12 months of that contact, the landlord has to submit a written plan to manage the conduct issues; if a third instance occurs within the next 18 months, the landlord is subject to denial, revocation, suspension or nonrenewal of their rental license for the property. City Administrator Patrick Wussow said although not all of the calls at the Juniper Street apartment building would have generated a letter to property owners Tom and Melissa Lake, there were enough instances to have at least required the second letter and a written management plan. He said Police Chief Corky McQuiston is currently working on a plan for tougher enforcement on conduct deemed disorderly on rental premises.

Radon is a problem throughout most of Minnesota, and it is especially bad in Rice County, reports Brad Phenow of the Faribault Daily News. The colorless, odorless radioactive gas is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, he writes. Rice County offers free radon tests and from 2012 to 2014, the number of tests conducted has more than doubled. One factor that has led to the uptick in tests was the Minnesota Radon Awareness Act that went into effect just over a year ago, which requires sellers to inform buyers whether their home has been tested for radon, and if so, what the levels are and whether it has been mitigated. That growing trend pleases Rice County officials, who see dangerous levels of radon in more than two in five homes based on the tests that have been picked up from Public Health.

Bemidji may move the mandatory bar closing time from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m., writes Zach Kayser of the Bemidji Pioneer. The impetus for the change is to save money in overtime spent for police officers and public works employees. Although hard numbers aren’t available, both Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin and Public Works Director Craig Gray said the move would save money spent on overtime.

Doctors in Duluth are seeing an increase in neck pain from people looking at their cell phones, writes John Lundy of the Duluth News Tribune. “Those neck muscles, they don’t just quit and let your head drop,” said Dr. Edward Martinson of St. Luke’s Physical Medicine and Rehab Associates. “(The muscles) just keep getting tighter and tighter. That’s where the headaches come in, by having your head hang out there like that.” Chelsea Sparrow, an athletic trainer and ergonomic specialist in the occupational medicine department at Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic, said “people will come in with thumb, neck or elbow discomfort … They’ll say, I haven’t been doing anything different or odd, but they might sit on the table with a hot pack on their neck to treat their neck pain, and then they do this (Sparrow hunches forward, shoulders and neck bent, and mimics the act of texting with her thumbs) while they’re treating their neck pain.” Sparrow’s colleague Janalee Reineke Lyth — case manager, occupational therapist and ergonomic specialist — has her own name for the posture: turtling. Others call it iPosture or text neck.

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