Polar vortex creates ice that is a mixed blessing

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All those days below zero have created an thickened ice on Minnesota lakes and waterways that is turning into a boon for anglers but a problem for wildlife and Great Lakes shipping.

Detroit Lakes Online called the ice on lakes in that region "excellent." The story said that travel on the ice is good for ice fishing, but reminded winter anglers heading out in the warmer temperatures to be sure to take proper gear to the fish house, adding that the extreme cold can leave engines sluggish. "Four-wheel drives won’t engage and you can get stuck, propane tanks and regulators freeze up," the story warned.

Writing in the Pioneer Press, outdoors editor Dave Orrick shared his successful ice fishing trip on Upper Red Lake, where he estimated 1,000 ice houses were sheltering anglers. The eastern portion that is open to nontribal members. The draw: what Orrick termed "enormous schools" of walleye. He added that "...the fish are healthy: yellow and thick. It's easy to find eaters."

But the same weather that is contributing to successful outings for anglers is stressing some wildlife. Another Detroit Lakes Online story found that some species of wildlife could have difficulty finding food because freezing rain encased their food source in ice. Cory Netland, Department of Natural Resources wildlife supervisor said pheasants could find it challenging to peck through the icy snow. He said opossums are stressed because they have little fur, and the already low muskrat population may suffer when low water levels in wetlands freeze solid. But because the snow isn’t deep, he said deer should be able to successfully forage for food.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Public Radio reported this winter is shaping into a troublesome one for ice in the Great Lakes. The National Weather Service says this is the second-fastest and thickest ice-up in 35 years.

As a result, the Coast Guard said that ice has halted ship traffic for several hours each day for vessels going to and from ports. A spokesman said that a trip from Duluth to Gary that normally would take three days now takes six to seven, adding that many ships on the Great Lakes are tying up early for the winter.

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