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Todd and Edie Wilkinson caught the only limit to win the Starboard Choice Big Bass Challenge on the St. Joseph River at Constantine Sunday.

The winners had 7 pounds, 15 ounces caught on a toad, Texas-rigged craw and a jig in 8 feet of water.

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Top finishers in the Arjay’s Weeknight Circuit event at Coldwater Lake last week made it a family affair.

The tournament drew 22 boats and four of the top five teams consisted of family members.

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By Louie Stout

You’ve heard my rants about how the Indiana DNR took away our district wildlife biologist position.

Well, the good news is the state has restructured its wildlife division to provide a little more help.

But does it really fill the void and serve sportsmen’s needs in St. Joseph and surrounding counties?

Here’s the deal:

The DNR will add a district wildlife biologist to cover north central Indiana counties, but none in our immediate area. Also added to northern Indiana are an “urban” biologist, a “landscape” biologist and two “farm bill” biologists.

The new district biologist, who hasn’t been named as yet, will cover central Indiana counties south of Starke and Marshall counties. That person will be located at the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area at North Judson, Ind.

Northern urban biologist Megan Dillion has been commissioned to focus on urban areas and assist in habitat development around “corridor” areas – interstate roadways, along flood plains and waterways - of northern Indiana.

And by the way, she’s also responsible for the traditional wildlife management needs in Elkhart, St. Joseph, LaPorte, Porter and Lake counties as well as five others, including some north of Indianapolis.

The landscape biologist is former district biologist Jason Wade who works out of a Huntington, Ind. office. He will cover much of northern Indiana and focus on large projects to enhance habitat and steer a partnership programs with other agencies, landowners and conservation groups to create more habitat. He also will act as the district wildlife biologist for Marshall, Kosciusko and Lagrange counties as well as others.

And, thanks to contributions from Pheasants Forever, Quail Unlimited and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, two Northern Indiana “Farm Bill” biologists have been hired to work with farmers on lands under the Federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to enhance habitat projects. One will work out of Fort Wayne and another in Lafayette.

No one can question that Indiana needs more wildlife habitat or that there aren’t some opportunities around roadways, in farm fields and away from the woods and swamps.

Habitat is critical, but so is closely monitoring things like deer herds and other game animals, especially in this era where disease among deer is a real and serious threat.

The DNR says the aforementioned biologists can do that.

Really? Sportsmen here and in nearby counties will have to rely on Dillion, who isn’t located in this area and has a big area to cover with overwhelming responsibilities.

Meanwhile, southern Indiana has retained its four “traditional” wildlife biologists.

A few years ago we had four. Now we have one.

No shock there. Southern Indiana has always gotten top priority in the DNR.

I understand the agency is trying to maximize its dwindling financial resources. I understand the need to develop more habitat; all wildlife benefits from that, and theoretically, hunters should ultimately benefit, too.

But there’s a lot to be said about having district biologists living among their constituents, tromping through the woods they hunt and being accessible to their concerns.

Like fish biologists do. Our district fisheries people are intimately familiar with the waters they manage and often fish them in their spare time. If you come across a fish kill, they are accessible.

If a deer hunter comes across sick deer, he’s expected to call West Lafayette, more than two hours away. If it’s a week-day, he might catch Dillion, providing she isn’t helping some city officials chase nuisance geese or deer out of town.

Perhaps all of this will work out and we can only assume the DNR knows what it’s doing.

Maybe I’m just too old school in beliefs that district wildlife biologists are more efficient when working within their districts.

It apparently works well for our southern Indiana neighbors.

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