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Iced-in ice houses making removal difficult; deadline looms

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It is officially time to start hauling away those ice houses.

For waters along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, the Minnesota DNR says shelters need to be removed by Saturday, March 1. In the southern two-thirds of the state, ice houses have to be hauled away by March 3.

But there is a problem: Some anglers literally can't move their shelters.

The Winona Daily News reports the winter's below-average temps and above-average precipitation have trapped ice houses in ice or thick snow. And with temperatures remaining freezer-like for at least the next few days, the structures might be frozen in place for awhile longer.

Even getting to the shanties is proving difficult, WCCO reported. The station said so much ice and snow has piled up on lakes – thanks to everyone's favorite winter in decades – that trucks can not get through.

“It’s about 100 yards out there, but it might as well have been a mile out there, when you are looking at (all this snow) to try to get there,” Jeff Dowd told the station about his fish house in Chisago City. He said it took about two days and nine hours to chisel out and remove the structure, after it sank down about 5 inches and became "one with the ice."

KSTP also spoke with Dowd.

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The situation could be a problem with deadlines looming.

Officials are offering some flexibility, however. The paper says the Minnesota and Wisconsin DNR will work with people struggling to wrestle free their shanties.

But the removal deadline is not changing.

A news release from the Minnesota DNR said conservation officers will enforce deadlines, "except where shelter owners have made all reasonable efforts to remove the shelter but are not successful because of inaccessible travel conditions."

Said the department's Col. Ken Soring: “We hope anglers understand they are going to face difficult conditions when they remove their fish houses this year. We’ll work with anglers who show due diligence to get their shelters off the lakes but we are urging everyone to take responsibility.”

For Minnesotans, the Daily News says to call local conservation officers directly. You can find who that is by heading to the DNR's officer locator website.

The Wisconsin DNR is applying a similar strategy.

A department release says anglers "still need to work actively to free their shelters." That includes immediately seeking help from friends and local vendors, and calling the DNR hotline (1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367) to inform the agency of troubles.

“We’ve heard about shanties frozen in place by several inches of slush — and some lakes have thick snow from the recent major storm which poses even more challenges,” Wisconsin DNR chief warden Todd Schaller said in a statement. “There is not enough time to modify the law before the deadline removal dates. But we can use discretion for those who are working hard to get their structures off the ice.”

In Minnesota, failure to remove an ice house can result in a fine of $125, plus court costs. Owners can be prosecuted, the DNR says, and shelters will be confiscated or destroyed.

Those up in northern Minnesota have some more time, to keep fishing or start chiseling away: That deadline is end of day, Monday, March 17.

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