By Doug Leier, NDG&F Dept.
The State Game and Fish Department recently posted the 2017 version of the North Dakota Private Land Open to Sportsmen or PLOTS guide to its website.
In addition to the updated maps showing PLOTS acres and other public lands available for hunting this year, the guide also has a question-and-answer section with Game and Fish private land section leader Kevin Kading, who provides some further information on the status of this popular program.
Following are some excerpts from that article. To read the entire document, visit the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, or pick up a printed copy of the PLOTS guide, which will be available in late August at vendors around the state.
Q: What is the acreage forecast for the PLOTS program in 2017 and how does that compare to 2016?
A: In early 2017, the Department made a targeted effort to further promote the program, adding nearly 30,000 acres of CRP. At the same time, about 15,000 acres were set to expire from the program as well, so the end result for 2017 is a net gain of approximately 15,000 acres of high-quality CRP. The PLOTS program will have about 737,000 acres available for the fall 2017 hunting season.
Q: Because of the extensive drought in the state, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program acres. How will this action influence PLOTS tracts around the state with CRP?
A: CRP is an important component of the PLOTS program and many PLOTS contain CRP. In all cases, the landowner must abide by the terms and conditions of their CRP contract. The conservation community supported an early release date for emergency haying of CRP because of the serious drought conditions. It’s good to have those grass reserves that can help some farmers and ranchers in times like this.
Game and Fish recognizes that hunters are funding the PLOTS program and they expect habitat to be on these areas when they show up to hunt in fall. It is a balancing act. We need to be reasonable and flexible with landowners, but we also need to make sure we are still providing the wildlife habitat hunters are expecting.
Q: Of course, landowners are central in this program that provides walk-in access to many hunters. What are landowners saying about the program today and has their interest in PLOTS increased or decreased over the years?
A: The interest in the program is somewhat steady, but the type of land and quality of the land being offered has changed. We have shifted from having a lot of CRP and other grassland habitat being offered, to offers of land coming out of CRP, or smaller parcels of grassland. There is currently a lot of interest from landowners who have CRP that expired, or will soon expire. Because Congress reduced the amount of land that can be enrolled in CRP on a national level, many landowners do not have a choice to reenroll that land. More than 300,000 CRP acres are expiring in North Dakota alone in 2017.
Q: What kind of feedback do you get from hunters on the PLOTS program?
A: Positive. And we hear that they would like more land. We are trying to get more specific information from a new survey about what hunters want out of the program. We have done several surveys in the past, but nothing this extensive.
(Featured Photo: Over 737,000 acres of PLOTS land will be available to hunters this fall. Due to the recent drought, cover on these private acres may have been affected. NDG&F Photo)