Habitat & Access Drive the Outdoor Economy

John Bradley

By John Bradley, NDWF Executive Director


Each year hunters and anglers wait with anticipation for North Dakota’s hunting seasons to open and the ice to clear the lakes for fishing. People from across the country dream of timing the waterfowl migration just right or hooking into a trophy walleye in one of the state’s many lakes. The small towns in North Dakota also wait with anticipation for the hunters and anglers to show up and spend their money at the grocery stores, gas stations, bars and coffee shops. Tourism is often called the third leg of North Dakota’s economic stool. Much of our tourism is based on North Dakota’s outdoor fame as a hunting and fishing destination.


North Dakota’s outdoor recreation is also a mainstay of our state’s rural economy. One only needs to drive through small town North Dakota and see the signs welcoming outdoor enthusiasts to know how much these activities are valued.  We often hear our elected officials extoll the virtues of hunting and fishing as one of the primary factors keeping our small towns from dying, but outdoor recreation also plays a significant role in quality of life for many North Dakotans and is why many people, myself included, choose to live here. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department reports that hunting and fishing in North Dakota contributed an estimated $2.1 Billion in annual input to our state’s economy. When those dollars are added to the many other related outdoor pursuits, that’s a lot of money spent on main streets in towns and cities across the state.




Unfortunately, outdoor opportunities in the state are diminishing for the regular hunter or angler. The critical factor that ensures sustainable populations and successful hunting seasons from year to year is adequate habitat for each species and public access for hunters and anglers. Insufficient habitat conditions mean reduced populations resulting in limited or poor hunting opportunities. The habitat for many of our favorite game species has been declining for several years. Ask any pheasant hunter and they will tell you that we have significantly fewer acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. Changes in cropping patterns have also reduced traditional, available habitats. Urban sprawl encroaches on areas formerly available as habitat. To make matters worse, there are fewer federal and state dollars available for use in maintaining and establishing habitat. Lost habitat and lack of access from industrialization, land use intensification, urbanization, and minimal support of programs that maintain and expand the economic values doesn’t just hurt the hunter’s bag limit, it results in diminished rural revenue.


Successful hunting and fishing trips depend on habitat and access. If the game is not there, there is no fish in the lake, or if the access is restricted, people won’t go. Hunters and anglers, and the leaders of our communities must step up to ensure that habitat and access are available. Otherwise hunters and anglers are going to stay home – or worse, trade in their hunting and fishing gear for golf clubs.


That’s why it’s critical to show support for the Game and Fish Department’s PLOTS (Private Lands Open to Sportsmen), optimum management of our public lands, and strong conservation provisions in the Farm Bill. These programs are critical to North Dakota. Our state leadership also needs to strongly advocate for programs that keep existing habitat on the land, and that promote establishment of new habitat in support of our hunting traditions. Quality habitat and public access drives our outdoor economy.  Supporting those conservation programs that provide habitat and access for our citizens, support our local businesses, our farmers, and our ranchers makes good economic sense for North Dakota.


John Bradley is the Executive Director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and a Dakota Edge Outdoors Contributing Writer.


Featured Photo: The ND PLOTS program provides a combination of both hunter access and habitat to help produce great hunting and support the economics of the outdoors in the Peace Garden State. Simonson Photo. 


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