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Minnesotans have two fewer weeks to ice fish every winter than we did 50 years ago.

Ice-in dates across the state are, on average, coming nine days later than they were in 1967, according to new data released by the Minnesota DNR and MPCA. On the other end, ice-out dates are coming about five days earlier.

"That means two fewer weeks each winter for ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling across our state’s lakes," the agencies said.

Related: Warm fall weather leads to potentially harmful algae blooms on Minneapolis lakes

Some of the most-impacted lakes are hugely popular spots for winter recreation. Take a look at the average loss of ice duration over the past five decades for these bodies of water:

  • Bemidji Lake, Beltrami Co.: -18.9 days of ice cover
  • Detroit Lake, Becker Co.: - 9.5 days
  • Itasca Lake, Clearwater Co.: -14.0 days
  • Lower Hay Lake, Crow Wing Co.: -15.1 days
  • Medicine Lake, Hennepin Co.: -11.7 days
  • Siseebakwet (Sugar) Lake, Itasca Co.: -12.6 days
  • Waconia Lake, Carver Co.: -14.8 days
  • Washington Lake, Blue Earth and Le Sueur Cos.: -13.7 days

The reason for this drop-off? Climate change.

Leaders with both agencies pointed to the ongoing climate crisis as having a substantial impact on Minnesota winters — which, in turn, harms lakes and their natural ecology, impacts the state's economy (outdoor recreation generates more than $8 billion annually), limits the time residents and visitors have to enjoy certain activities, and allows problematic algal blooms and invasive species to flourish.

MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler, in a news release, said climate change is "threatening some of Minnesota’s most cherished traditions," while DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said the data "reflects the changes that Minnesotans who enjoy our outdoors have already felt."

Related: Worried about climate change? Here's what experts say you should lobby your politicians about

In addition to the fewer days of ice cover, the data show the average water temperatures in Minnesota lakes from July to August are 3.0-3.9 degrees higher.

The climbing regular temperatures mean:

  • Toxic blue-green algae, which prefers water at 75 degrees or warmer, becomes more likely to bloom
  • More fish kills, as areas in the water with sufficient oxygen shrink
  • A higher prevalence of habitat-destroying aquatic invasive species (e.g. curly leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil.)
  • Warm-water fish, such as large-mouth bass and carp, may migrate north; walleye might as well 
  • Cold-water species, including brook trout and cisco, may decline in numbers until they're no longer in Minnesota waters

"We want to have lake trout and walleye in northern Minnesota," said Scott Niemela, MPCA supervisor of biomonitoring for the north region. "Who are we if we don’t have those species? These fish won’t disappear in our lifetime, but their populations may shift.”

Just this past summer, Minnesota experienced a historic drought, weeks of devastating wildfires that spread harmful smoke throughout the state, record heat waves and bouts with toxic, harmful algal blooms

“We must take bold action to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change — for the sake of our lakes, our economy, and to save winters as we know them in our state," Kessler said.

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