By Doug Leier
With so many state, national and local news stories wrapping up 2021 and previewing 2022, life in North Dakota’s outdoors can get lost in the shuffle. Without further delay, Jeb Williams, North Dakota Game and Fish director, provides a look back on some of the issues for the department, hunters, anglers and fish and wildlife faced last year.
Williams: A very big change in North Dakota that was implemented at the end of the 2021 legislative session was electronic posting. It was put on the ground to see how everything was going to work with the tools that were put in place. And overall, we’ve heard a lot of really positive comments from both landowners and the sporting public as far as how that went and how that worked and, so, we were pleased. So, that was very positive.
The Meadowlark Initiative
Williams: Any type of grassland initiative in North Dakota is critical to our state and what the future state of North Dakota looks like with fish and wildlife species. Grasslands are such a huge component of North Dakota, always have been, and we need grasslands to be more so in thefuture if we want to retain and keep our wildlife opportunities in place and also just doing best for the resources. An initiative like this goes a long way for game species, nongame species, all those things that the department is charged with managing. Any time we can collaborate with partners, landowners, with the department being a main contact for all that is something that we feel good about. We feel good about the options in front of private landowners to try to give them these options and voluntary programs to be able to look at their operations and how they can integrate agriculture and conservation practices together.
Williams: North Dakota was probably as dry, or close to it, as ever in the state throughout 2021. And really, it goes back even a year prior to that as well, where we started to really dry out in the summer and, then of course, in the fall of 2020. If we don’t see a change moving forward into 2022, it’s going to be something that we’re going to continue to be talking about with boat ramps that are going to be, or maybe already are, impacted by low lake levels, low river levels. It’s going to be a big lift for the department and our partners to try to keep those expectations in place for people out there that do have that expectation for all those resources and infrastructures to be usable.
Williams: In certain locations, you can see a very high EHD mortality rate, while other areas it seems like they’re not as impacted. So, as far east and as far north as it went this year, it not only impacted new deer, it impacted hunters as well that have not experienced and gone through that. What’s going to be important for us now is to address what we have left on the landscape and, of course, we do that by monitoring through hunter surveys how our deer season went in those particular units. And it’s going to be very important for us to do our best to get as much winter aerial survey done if we get the snowpack that allows us to do so. Like every year, we’ll be assessing that heading into setting those license numbers in 2022. I think it’s also important to talk about the positive increase we’ve seen with deer numbers across the state in general. This year we offered as many whitetail deer and mule deer licenses in the state as we’ve seen since 2013, and that’s a really positive thing. Now, again, we know that there’s some units that we’re probably going to have to adjust moving forward based on the EHD outbreak, but from a statewide perspective, there’s also many areas in the state that were not impacted by EHD and hunters had a very good deer hunting season, which has been a very nice trajectory over the last several years.
Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department .
Featured Photo: Changes to North Dakota’s posting laws providing an online option were a notable shift in 2021. Simonson Photo.