The past year held plenty of news about the Kansas outdoors. Here's a list of the most important stories:
Heat and drought
The drought and heat of 2011 is something our great-grandkids will get tired of hearing about. The 1-2 punch clobbered a lot of Kansas' outdoors resources.
After several good years, the drought nearly wiped out pheasant reproduction over most of Kansas. The heat then baked both chicks and adult birds. The result was probably the largest year-to-year reduction in birds in state history.
The drought and extreme heat also contributed to a record number of blue-green algae outbreaks.
Many lakes carried warnings against contact with lake water. For the first time in history a major lake, Milford Reservoir, was totally closed because toxic algae levels were more than 50 times what is considered dangerous.
The drought dried thousands of lakes and ponds. The Big Salt Marsh at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, one of the best birding spots in the nation, was basically dry through fall migrations.
Extreme heat and blue-green algae warnings also drove annual state park revenues down about 10 percent while increasing their utility costs.
KDWP — and T
Gov. Sam Brownback merged the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Tourism, hoping to better market the Kansas outdoors to American sportsmen.
Former Gov. Mike Hayden was replaced as secretary for the new Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism department. Brownback appointed ex-speaker of the House Robin Jennison to lead the new agency. Jennison had spent several years as a lobbyist and been involved in several commercial hunting ventures.
Invasive species spread
The discovery of zebra mussels at Council Grove, Kanopolis and Melvern reservoirs, and the Jeffrey Energy Center, means Kansas has at least 13 lakes infested with the problematic mollusks.
Populations of white perch, another invasive species, continue to grow rapidly at El Dorado Reservoir and could impact sportfish populations soon.
Hoping to prevent the accidental spread of Asian carp, Wildlife and Parks commissioners passed a regulation that restricts anglers to using self-caught live baitfish in the waters where it was caught.
That forces many anglers to buy things like green sunfish for catfishing. They're expensive and only about half of Kansas' counties have a licensed baitshop.
The commission also passed regulations that all drain plugs be pulled from boats when they exit state-managed waters. All fish also must be dead or dying before they can be removed from the same waters.
The new regulations take effect today.
Major poaching bust
After several years and more than 5,000 hours of investigation by federal and state game wardens, some defendants in what's believed to be the nation's largest trophy deer poaching ring got their day in U.S. District Court in Wichita.
Dubbed "Operation Cimarron," the case centered around Camp Lone Star, an outfitting business in Comanche County.
More than 100 mounted deer and antlers were confiscated during the investigation and about 60 hunters initially implicated.
Game law violations include shooting a deer with a rifle during archery season, using a spotlight at night, illegal use of deer permits and shooting deer without a permit.
Camp owner James Butler Jr., of Martinsville, Texas, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail and $50,000 in fines and restitution. His brother, Marlin, also of Martinsville, was ordered to serve 2 1/4 months in jail and pay $20,000 in fines and restitution. Their sentences are under appeal.
More than a dozen clients, from Texas and Louisiana, have entered pleas in the case. Some have paid up to $15,000 in fines and restitution.
More are expected to face charges in coming months.