West End News March 16

Bill notes sudden spring thaws have flooded bears out of their dens in the past. Be on the look out!
Bill notes sudden spring thaws have flooded bears out of their dens in the past. Be on the look out!

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Thank you to all the candidates who ran for office in the recent township elections in Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen. I know from experience that running for public office can be a little uncomfortable for Minnesotans. After all, the definition of an extrovert in Cook County is someone who looks at your shoes while they’re talking to you. In the township elections, it doesn’t really matter what party you identify with, but it’s more about being willing to put in the time and energy. So, I offer my congratulations to the winners of the township supervisor and clerk positions, even though it’s much like congratulating them for getting a brand new pick and shovel.

It’s stylish these days to be contemptuous of people who seek and hold public office. However, like many things in life, it’s a lot harder than it looks. Office holders not only commit a huge amount of time and energy, but they make important decisions that affect our lives on a daily basis. I think it’s important that we honor those who serve, even if we don’t agree with them on the issues.

While I’m on the subject, Tofte Township has scheduled its truth in taxation hearing for Thursday, April 26 starting at 7 pm. This is where you can question the value that the tax assessor has assigned to your property. The Town Board has the authority to reduce total valuation by 1%. Cook County Tax Assessor, Mary Black, and an assistant will be at the meeting to provide advice. If you have questions about your valuation, it’s best to call Mary ahead of time so she can get background information together for you. Her phone number at the courthouse is 387-3000.

I recently heard from Rick Jannett, whom I have known since the early ‘80s. Rick has been researching small mammals, including mice, voles, and shrews, in Cook County since 1983. He has discovered that our most common small mammal, the red backed vole, goes through population cycles every three to six years. Another species, the rock vole, had a very stable population for many years, but recently has almost disappeared in some years.

The smoky shrew first appeared in Cook County in the mid ‘90s, apparently expanding its range from Canada, and now seems to be widespread in the county. Several other shrew species appear to be less common as time goes by.

Rick has found that small mammal populations in the forest have declined since 2004, but the cause is not clear. He suspects that it could be related to severe weather events or a thinner snow pack which leaves the little guys susceptible to weather and predators.

Rick has not found the white-footed mouse in the forest, which is good news because they carry deer ticks that can transfer Lyme disease and other illnesses to humans.

Rick reminds me of our own West End biologist, Bill Lane, who has been studying owls in Cook County for a similar period of time. They should probably get together to compare data, as small mammals and owls are surely inextricably linked in the ecosystem. I’ve seen Bill’s snowshoe tracks heading into the woods off the Sawbill Trail this week, so I know he is out in the dark counting owls as the rest of us slumber blissfully in our beds.

Speaking of critters, it would not be surprising to see some bears wandering around in the next couple of weeks. In the past, when we’ve had these sudden thaws at this time of year, the bears get flooded out of their dens. People see them, but they appear to still be kind of sleepy and out of it. Other than casually destroying the odd bird feeder, they don’t cause any problems.

As always, it’s great to be able to live side-by-side with so many wild animals here in the West End.


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