By Doug Leier, NDG&F Dept.
Over the past six weeks or so, North Dakota has had a lot going on that relates to hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation that isn’t always tied in directly with fishing on frozen water or hunting the first flocks spring snow geese in frozen fields.
Since it’s a legislative year, many North Dakota Game and Fish Department administrators are busy keeping track of all the outdoors-related bills, and providing committee testimony and other information to legislators before votes take place.
February and March are also busy times when wildlife and conservation clubs, groups and organizations bridge a slower time for outdoor recreation with banquets and annual meetings that help provide the necessary funding for local, regional and national initiatives. Game and Fish is represented at many of these events by local staff or statewide administrators.
Mixed in between the legislative activity and annual banquets is the annual rotation of sports and outdoor recreation shows. The Department has a presence at many of these shows, and my work in the eastern part of the state involves covering the big show in Fargo and this year also helping out in Grand Forks. These shows are a great time to interact with a variety of people, talking, listening, discussing and sharing stories and a laugh or two along the way.
While several of the shows took place in late February and into mid-March, the question about winter and wildlife was a hot topic. The answer was fairly consistent, in that much of the state experienced an early start to winter, with lots of snow and colder temperatures.
The weather from the middle of January through February and into early March was more wildlife friendly and provided a welcome respite for resident species like deer and pheasants. The total impact, however, won’t be known until surveys provide more accurate information on winter survival.
Another important point was that some areas, like much of southeastern North Dakota, didn’t get nearly as much snow as the majority of the state, and losses may not be as great in that region compared to other parts of the state.
That’s one of the advantages of the Game and Fish Department’s system of managing deer in specific units, so license numbers can be adjusted to reflect population objectives on a more local basis.
A lot of people who asked about weather and wildlife also understand the benefits of winter moisture, which will add water to lakes and wetlands which will help fisheries and waterfowl in North Dakota with a fresh influx of water.
As part of one discussion, with one angler was hoping his favorite new fishing lake would again produce the 13-inch perch he was catching a few years ago. When I asked what that same lake was like 30 years ago, he remarked it was pretty much a dry slough and void of fish.
When I asked if he ever thought that shallow slough would produce 12-inch perch, his answer of “no” was an indicator of how fortunate we are in North Dakota. It was a good reminder for us all to enjoy what we are experiencing now as far as fishing in the state, as there’s no guarantee for how long this current wet cycle will last.
We’d rather see anglers enjoy the bounties of these productive new lakes while they exist, and I know from many first-hand conversations over the last several weeks that a lot of people are looking forward to getting a line in those waters when the transition to spring is complete.