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How the county is helping hunters

Duluth News Tribune file photo

What does a mobile mapping app, ATV ordinance and 900,000 acres of land have in common? They're all ways your St. Louis County government is making it easier for hunters to better enjoy their time in the woods and on the lakes.

From the various small game seasons that opened last weekend, to deer season coming in November, hunting is a big deal in this area. For many of our residents, it's a family tradition. The same can be said for hunters from other parts of the state and country who are drawn to our vast expanses of undeveloped land, and that's good for the businesses in the county.

The county's Land and Minerals Department is responsible for managing nearly 900,000 acres of tax-forfeited rural land. Much of this land is wooded and ideal for wildlife habitat. In most cases we keep these lands open for public use. Hunters, of course, need a valid hunting license issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources but beyond that, no special permit is needed to hunt on these public lands.

The Land and Minerals Department also works with public and private agencies to develop and maintain motorized and non-motorized trail systems on and connecting these public lands. These trails are designed and constructed to protect water, wetlands, soils and other sensitive sites, as well as to minimize land use issues.

We're anticipating the county's new ATV ordinance, approved by the County Board last spring, may bring even more hunters to the area, by making it easier for them to get around and access hunting lands. The ordinance makes it legal to operate ATVs on county roads outside of cities. That means for a hunter traveling from his or her cabin, camper or home to their hunting destination; if its county roads connecting point A to point B, they can ride their ATV directly. They no longer have to spend the time trailering their ATV to drive what may be a very short distance down the road.

In recent years, thanks to our growing use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, we've made it easier than ever for hunters to scout and select hunting locations and to figure out the best way to access them. The County Land Explorer first launched in 2013 and continues to be one of the most popular features on the County's website. The Land Explorer is an interactive online map that gives users the ability to search land records by address, township, range and other methods. Visit stlouiscountymn.gov/explorer if you'd like to check it out.

We also offer a free mobile app, which gives hunters the ability to access up-to-date property details right from their phone, even while in the woods or on a lake.

Of course we still offer the traditional county land atlas and plat book. The 2016 edition is expected back from the printer this week and will be available for purchase. For the first time, we've published it as a single book. (Previously there's been one book for the northern part of the county, and one for the southern part.) The cost to purchase a book is $25. Visit stlouiscountymn.gov/platbooks for additional information.

The fall season is an exciting time for all of us, especially for hunters who have an eye on opening day. So if you're among the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who will be dressing in camouflage or blaze orange in the coming weeks, know that we're working for you. We ask you to please be respectful of others as you share the great resource of public lands in our county. Happy hunting! We wish you a safe and successful season.

Kevin Z. Gray is the St. Louis County administrator.

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