I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now

I always liked that Bob Dylan line, even when I first bought Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 at the age of 14 from the Columbia Record Club (13 LPs for a penny, indentured servitude for the next seven years).
I was too young to understand it then, but I believed it anyway because Dylan was Dylan. Next to my Sunday school teacher and Charles M. Schultz, he was the foremost authority on Truth with a capital T.
Bob Statz has now replaced my Sunday school teacher in the Holy Trinity. For reasons too incongruous to recount in 600 words, I call Bob into my office when I need some fatherly wisdom, since my own dear pa — who shared many of Bob’s personality traits (positive and negative) — passed away some 12 years ago.
Then there are the times Bob comes uninvited and his wisdom unsolicited, like yesterday.
He said he was talking to a Messenger reader who was quizzing him about “that Larson guy,” wondering what he’s like. “When he first came, he was too far out there,” the reader allegedly said. “But he’s gotten a little better.”
Guilty as charged, and thanks for noticing. I look back on the columns I wrote in the late ’90s and early ‘00s, and I shake my head at what a pretentious, obnoxious, annoying little turd I was.
It’s the curse of being a writer with strong opinions and a weak internal censor. Would that a still, small voice — better yet a strong hand over my mouth or a wooden ruler to my knuckles — might’ve dispensed some of that fatherly wisdom back in the day.
In my defense, I didn’t ask to be a columnist. I was happily reporting on Isle sports, playing the role of Wally Finn, covering the county board, and writing features about everything from quilters to quantum mechanics, when the Messenger’s left-leaning columnist passed away and I inherited the soapbox.
Believe me, I’ve heard many times how much kinder, gentler, funnier, and smarter my predecessor was than I.
When I quit being a reporter in 2000 to pursue a teaching career, I was asked to continue contributing my every-other-week observations. Unburdened of the need to appear like an objective reporter, I felt even more free to state my positions and at times felt like Public Enemy Number 1 for doing so.
I was often out of step with the local ethos, and I liked it that way.
Five years ago, like Oscar Madison knocking on Felix Unger’s door, I came crawling back to the Messenger, and they kindly — though not necessarily wisely — let me back in. Which brings us back to Bob — Dylan, that is, not Statz.
In the intervening years, I had become a little younger. Kids do that to you. Not only do you play more, but you start to understand your own parents.
You find yourself singing the dad’s part in that old Cat Stevens song. As you get older and wiser, you also get younger and less serious — less convinced of how right you are, and how much it matters.
During a year in New Zealand, I learned that every country is divided, and few of us are ever converted, so getting along seems like a better alternative than getting your way.
This week I celebrate five years as editor of the Messenger. This fall will mark 15 since I first came to work here. Thanks for putting up with me back when I was older, and I look forward to growing younger together.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
This column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Aug. 29, 2012.

One fish, any species, any size

It’s time to rethink fish limits.
Long past time, in fact.
The current model for fishing limits is a century old, and times have changed too much to keep tinkering with an outmoded system.
The old six-fish limit of my youth was based on the collective memory of the mighty hunter setting forth into the wilderness to bring back nature’s bounty for the family.
Back then, people still remembered when fishing and hunting were required to supplement their diet. Families were larger, and most members were busy working. Dad or Grandpa could occasionally be spared long enough to bring back a mess of protein for the extended family.
That reality is long gone, and it’s time to stop tweaking regulations that are based on the nostalgia of a dying breed of men.
The population of the state has doubled since the early days of fishing regulations, and anglers now have the benefit of technologies that increase the pressure on fish. Here at Mille Lacs the resource is shared with Ojibwe tribes, further complicating the situation and threatening the resource.
Bottom line: The four-fish limit needs to be relegated to history’s dustbin — and not just at Mille Lacs, but throughout the state.
This may sound crazy, since angling is so steeped in tradition, but there is simply no reason why any sport angler needs to keep more than one fish per day of significant gamefish species.
Why not two? Because that’s not a drastic enough change to significantly affect fish harvests. Few anglers keep limits, but many keep two.
Besides, one fish can feed one person — or more if it’s big enough — and no angler in this day and age needs to bring home enough for the family. If the rest of the family wants fish, they should go fishing.
That’s my proposal: One fish, any species, any size. I don’t have the numbers to crunch, and couldn’t crunch them anyway, but I’d bet fishery management would be far simpler and equally effective.
Larger limits could be kept in place for rough fish or small panfish. Culling would be illegal. Other kinks would be easy to work out.
If we can change our attitudes on limits, we can also change our attitudes on seasons. That is, when a given allocation for a species is reached, as could happen in a hot year on Mille Lacs, we all agree to shut ‘er down and target other species.
It would not be the end of the world, because we’d all be on board with a more reasonable approach to sport fishing harvests — not stuck in some fantasy of the past.
Fishing today is primarily for sport, not sustenance. We can all agree that most anglers will never pay for their boats and gear with savings on food.
We should also acknowledge this reality: Even though the limits in Minnesota are possession limits, many anglers treat them as bag limits and stock up.
In fact, when I first came to Mille Lacs as a reporter, I assumed limits were daily bag limits and anglers could keep an unlimited number of filets in their freezer. I thought that because I had seen it happen. (It was a moot point for me, since I couldn’t catch a limit to save my life.)
I know what some of you are thinking: Why should we have to embrace extreme measures when tribal members can keep dozens or hundreds of fish? My answer: Forget about it. Don’t worry about what you have no control over.
Instead, spend your time advocating for a sane alternative — not an extreme one — to our ancient, outmoded regulations: One fish, any species, any size.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
This column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Aug. 22, 2012.


Time to stand up to paranoid kooks

When did Americans become such fraidy-cats?
Many among us are scared of each other, scared of the government, and even scared of cold, hard facts.
In 1995 I was shopping for a car in Hibbing, and the salesman opened up to me about his concealed weapon, which he felt necessary when he visited the scary Twin Cities.
He said that whenever he saw a black man approaching, he would put his hand on his piece, just in case he had to draw and fire.
I can’t imagine why someone would confess his racist paranoia to a perfect stranger, nor can I imagine why anyone would feel it necessary to tote a gun in Minneapolis — or in any public place, for that matter.
I’m not advocating gun control laws — which are dead on arrival (pun intended) in Washington these days — but I am advocating gun control by making a personal choice to leave your guns at home.
I’ve been walking Hennepin Avenue since I was 14 years old, and have never been accosted by anyone more threatening than a wobbly drunk.
In my view, most people who conceal and carry are not facing any real threat to themselves or their family. They are fraidy cats, and fraidy cats with guns are more dangerous than their fellow Americans — most of whom leave their guns at home.
And what’s with all the paranoia about the government? Do we have so little faith in our system and our elected representatives — who pretty well balance out the extremes — that we think if Obama is reelected we’re going to Cuba in a handbasket, or if Romney wins we’ll have to recite the Lord’s Prayer to order a chicken sandwich?
Apparently many believe the government is a toxic brew of drug company CEOs and vegetarian earth mothers. Not only will they force us to eat broccoli, but they’ll also sneak thought-control serum into our fluoride.
The scientists at the Centers for Disease Control adhere to the radical notion that disease should be eradicated — while they lace our polio vaccines with autism-causing chemicals.
Scientists are as scary as jackbooted government thugs for many Americans. They apply for grant money from the government in order to destroy the way of life of a nation that gives them grant money to do science.
And they all must be in on it, because the research on climate change and vaccines is peer-reviewed by other liars in the vegetarian-atheist-big-government-pharmaceutical-environmentalist cabal.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we’re not being lied to, manipulated, coerced, misled and brainwashed.
But it’s not the government that’s doing it. A government conspiracy would require every one of the thousands or millions involved — representing all political parties and viewpoints — to keep quiet and march in lockstep like North Korean soldiers.
And if that’s all you think of your fellow Americans, then you’re probably wearing a pistol to church.
The real danger is obvious every time you turn on the tube. Those who are trying to dupe us have this in common: They’re trying to sell us something, and they’re scared to death that the facts will keep us from buying.
There’s little profit in saving the planet, but plenty of short-term gain to be had by convincing us to keep spending, keep polluting and keep believing that the real threat is the government, not its absence.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
This was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger Aug. 15, 2012.

Brett’s blog — DNR/GLIFWC meeting: Excuses, apologies, you’re welcome

I’ve been meaning to do something on the July 26 DNR/GLIFWC meeting (which I tried to get an invite to but was unsuccessful). I requested documents passed out at the meeting and was promptly given a few a couple weeks ago, but honestly, I haven’t had time to do a story on it.
My excuse is that the Messenger is still adjusting to life after the retirement of a valued employee (who is not being replaced) so I’m doing my job plus a portion of hers. That leaves less time for writing/reporting as it’s pedal-to-the-metal just to get the paper out and the website up to date. And although many of our readers live and breathe Mille Lacs walleyes, most do not. We still have to keep up with schools, city councils, feature stories, event coverage, etc. Sorry, walleye wonks, but that’s the reality of my position.

I’ll still try to get something done, but for now, here are the documents the DNR sent in answer to my request.
By the way, an acquaintance of mine (who still copies me on emails even though he’s called for a boycott of my newspaper) apparently was unsuccessful in getting anything out of the DNR.
Word to the wise on requesting public documents: The information officers will often give you exactly what you ask for, and no more. If you request minutes, videos, recordings, etc. that don’t exist, you won’t get them — or anything else.
If you make a more broad request, as I did, you may get something, if the government agency is interested in following the law, which they generally are.
You’ll also get more with honey than with vinegar, generally speaking. If you go around threatening lawsuits, people will put up their defenses and be sticklers about giving you only what you specifically request, instead of being generous with the public data. (Wish I could say I’ve always followed that rule.)
I’ll post the agenda here, and will try to attach the PDFs they sent, which you should be able to download. No smoking guns that I can see, but it’s all moderately interesting, especially to aforementioned wonks.
The minutes from the meeting are being prepared by GLIFWC, which itself seems rather problematic, since they are not as accountable to Minnesota citizens as the DNR would be. Seems to me the DNR should also take notes at these meetings in service to the taxpayers. Are you listening, Commissioner?

Minnesota 1837 Ceded Territory Fisheries Committee
Thursday, July 26, 2012 – 10:00 a.m.
Fond du Lac Natural Resources Building

1. Agenda Approval and Introductions

2. Approval of Minutes
A. January 18, 2012 Working Group Meeting
B. January 19, 2012 Fisheries Committee Meeting
3. Band Harvest Summary – Spring 2012 (GLIFWC)

4. 2012 Mille Lacs Angler Harvest Update (MnDNR)

5. Data Exchange and Review
A. Mille Lacs Lake
1. Creel Survey Report for 2011 Open Water and 2011-12 Winter Seasons (MnDNR)
2. 2011 Large Lake Sampling Program Assessment Report (MnDNR)
3. 2012 VHS Testing in Mille Lacs Lake
B. Other Lakes
1. 2011 MnDNR Summer Assessments (MnDNR)
2. 2011 MnDNR Creel Reports (MnDNR)

6. Management and Research Activities
A. Monitoring and status of Zebra Mussels and other aquatic invasive species in Mille Lacs Lake B. Forage study update

7. Proposed Treaty Fisheries Management Plan for the 1837 Minnesota Ceded Territory for the Years 2013-2017

8. MnDNR Proposal for Walleye Management in Mille Lacs Lake 2013-2017

9. Walleye Overage Plan for Mille Lake Lake 2013-2017

10. Summer and Fall 2012 Survey Plans
A. MnDNR Assessments in Mille Lacs and Other Lakes
B. GLIFWC Assessments in Mille Lacs and Other Lakes
C. Interagency Study to Evaluate Catchability of Assessment Gill Nets in Mille Lacs Lake

11. Planning for Mille Lacs Lake Data Exchange and 2013 Modeling
A. Identify Dates for Exchange of Modeling Data
B. Identify Staff Contacts for Joint Mille Lacs Lake Walleye Modeling

12. Next Meeting

Another interesting bit from the PDFs: DNR biologist Eric Jensen’s report:
Eric Jensen
Aitkin Area Fisheries
Description of the Fishery
The Mille Lacs Lake gamefish community is primarily composed of walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, muskellunge,
and smallmouth bass. Other gamefish include largemouth bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed and black crappie. Common
minnow species include spottail shiner and mimic shiner. Invasive animal species include common carp, zebra
mussel, Chinese mystery-snail, banded mystery-snail, and spiny water flea.
Fall Assessment
Gill Nets
Walleye catch per effort (CPE) in the inshore gillnets was 9.7 fish/net and 16.1 lb/net (Table 1, Figure 1), with an
average weight of 1.7 lb. In offshore nets, walleye CPE was 14.5 fish/net and 28.4 lb/net, and walleye averaged 1.96 lb
(Table 2). The CPE of walleye longer than 20 inches decreased to 2.3 per net in the inshore nets, which is the second
lowest level observed since 2000, while the offshore nets showed a decline to a more moderate level of 4.5 fish per net
(Figure 2). As observed in recent years, the 2000, 2001, and 2004 year classes were poorly represented in the gill
nets, while the 2008 year class appears strong (Tables 3-4, Figures 3-5). Early indications are that the 2009 year
class may be relatively weak. A general lack of males were sampled from ages 4 through 13, which represented the
1998-2007 year classes. In inshore and offshore nets combined, there were 53 males and 178 females from those year
classes .
Walleye growth was below average for female and male walleye aged 1-3, and about average for males aged 4-6 and
well below average for females aged 4-6 (Figures 6 and 7). Condition ranged from about 3% below average for walleye
under 20 in to over 7% below average for walleye greater than 20 in (Figure 8). Most male walleye were mature after
reaching 13 inches in length, while most females were mature after reaching 17 inches (Table 5). The proportion of
mature walleyes that were male in inshore gill nets was near 50% (Figure 9). The number of mature males sampled in
the inshore gill nets was 74, which is similar to three out of the last four years indicating male numbers may be
stabilizing after several years of decline (Figure 10).
Northern pike CPE in the inshore gill nets declined slightly to 1.9 fish/net in 2011, from the 2010 historical high of 2.2
fish/net (Table 1, Figure 11). The average weight of northern pike in the inshore nets was 5.34 lbs. Inshore nets
sampled 10 different year classes, with most of the fish from the 2008 and 2009 year classes (Table 6). Large
northern pike (> 28 inches) have shown relatively stable numbers, between 20 and 30 in the inshore nets, since 1998
(Figure 12). Twenty-one large pike were observed in the inshore nets in 2011. The weight of mature females dropped
from the previous year’s historical high of 310 lbs to 187 lbs (Figure 13).
Pike nets sampled 124 northern pike, or 7.8 pike/net, which is the lowest observed since the pike nets were first used
in 2007 (Table 8, Figure 11). Mean weight of northern pike in the pike nets was 4.3 lb. Pike nets sampled at least nine
year classes of pike (Table 9).

Yellow perch CPE in the inshore gillnets was 44.0 fish/net and 11.0 lb/net (Table 1, Figure 14). Gill net CPE of perch
larger than 9 in has remained stable for the last five years (Figure 15). In the offshore nets, CPE was 34.0 fish/net and
10.4 lb/net (Table 2).

Community journalism is a balancing act

I’ve seen it all my life: Many Americans love to hate their local hospital, schools and newspaper.
That’s okay. All three are essential aspects of a healthy community. All three are basically local monopolies, so consumers have few options to spend their money elsewhere. All three make plenty of mistakes and can always perform better.
But often the criticisms of all three are knee-jerk, unfair, or based on fiction.
Five times each summer, we catch heck for giving one community festival more attention than another.
Believe me, we try to give somewhat equal coverage, but many factors must be considered, including how much advertising we have that week, how much breaking news occurs, how much time we have, and how much information we receive through email, phone calls or submissions.
Onamia Days and Isle Days get full sections in advance because of the number of advertisers willing to sponsor them. Garrison and Wahkon each get a four-page insert.
Garrison’s event has become nearly as big as Onamia’s and Isle’s, but it doesn’t have quite the long history. Rock On Wahkon and the Mille Lacs Band Powwow are a little smaller and shorter and may get a little less coverage.
Onamia and Isle get more coverage as a whole in the paper because they are larger towns with public schools. We do our best with Garrison, Wahkon, Malmo and Vineland, but it’s not apples and apples.
We try to give each summer festival a full center spread of photos in addition to thank you letters, articles on grand marshals and new attractions, and results the organizers send our way.
For the record, here are the numbers so far:
Onamia Days: June 6: 8-page advertising section. June 13: Full front page, 3/4 of center, 30 additional inches.
Isle Days: July 11: 8-page advertising section plus feature on Hometown Hero in regular paper. July 18: Front page photo, 3/4 of center, half of my column, and some follow-up coverage July 25.
Garrison Play Days: July 25: 4-page advertising pullout, plus 3/4 page on grand marshals. Aug. 1: Front page photo, 3/4 of center, 40 inches of additional coverage.
I also got a second-hand criticism last week from someone who thought we made too much of a launch being named the “Best in Minnesota.”
I understand that you can be voted “Minnesota’s best,” “America’s best” or “World’s best” in any one of a thousand contests held online or sponsored by some company or other. There are a bunch of launches that could be voted Best of Mille Lacs or Best in Minnesota and that may be featured on a Twin Cities TV station, as Fisher’s was recently, prompting us to run a story.
I ate the World’s Best donuts in Grand Marais last week, and I can’t really argue, though Isle Bakery might. I could probably be named the World’s Best Journalist if I vowed to use only Acme pencils.
Those little details don’t matter to me. As a community newspaper, part of our job is to be a cheerleader for all things local. Last week it was Fisher’s turn to be in the spotlight. This week it’s Eddy’s turn. Next week it may be Myr Mar or Rocky Reef or the Blue Goose or Castaways.
If you’re a business owner, your time will come, and it will probably come sooner if you take a minute to call the editor of the paper to tell him what’s new or stop by his office, where the door is always open. I like to visit, and the coffee’s on.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger. (Note from a Messenger writer: skip the coffee — it’s awful)
This was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on August 8, 2012.

Follow up to Access Denied

I blogged a week or two ago about my request to the DNR and GLIFWC to allow a reporter at their technical committee meetings regarding Mille Lacs.
Both Ed Boggess of the DNR and Sue Erickson of GLIFWC gave me a friendly and curt “no, thank you.”

The attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association said the meetings would not be covered under the state Open Meeting Law.
However, he said that any data discussed or produced at the meetings would be public under the state Data Practices Act.
Today I sent an email to Mr. Boggess requesting, in the words of the state Data Practices Act, “any data collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated” by the DNR related to the July 26 technical committee meeting between the DNR and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Here’s the state law that makes it clear such data is public:
Subdivision 1.Public data.
All government data collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by a government entity shall be public unless classified by statute, or temporary classification pursuant to section 13.06, or federal law, as nonpublic or protected nonpublic, or with respect to data on individuals, as private or confidential. The responsible authority in every government entity shall keep records containing government data in such an arrangement and condition as to make them easily accessible for convenient use. Photographic, photostatic, microphotographic, or microfilmed records shall be considered as accessible for convenient use regardless of the size of such records.
I always share public documents that come into my possession, so when I get it, anyone’s welcome to it for the cost of the copies if they’re willing to stop in and get it.