STANLEY - Discussion about oil development, Conservation Reserve Acres and paddlefish highlighted a North Dakota Game and Fish Advisory Board meeting here Tuesday evening. NDG&F Director Terry Steinwand chaired the gathering, which included several members of Game and Fish.
Greg Link, Conservation and Communications Division chief, spoke to sportsmen about impacts on wildlife and habitat due to oil and gas development. Link said energy development in western North Dakota, "turned into something big and did it fast, and it's not going away."
Saying Game and Fish has "really ramped up," Link explained the department's connection with an energy task force that is tasked with identifying wildlife impact areas and formulating strategies for offsetting those impacts.
Among the projects listed by Link was the mapping of critical habitat for key species - bighorn sheep, sage grouse, mule deer, pronghorn, golden eagles, piping plovers and least terns. Those maps are to be shared with oil and gas companies so that they will become more aware of potential impact when developing well sites, roads and storage facilities.
Game and Fish also announced that, beginning this coming January, it will initiate a five-year mule deer study to ascertain the effects of oil and gas development on the state's mule deer population. Mule deer populations have dropped considerably in recent years. While the decrease has been spurred by a series of harsh winters, there also has been a dramatic and significant increase in oil development in mule deer country.
Steinwand told the group that 2012 marked the single biggest year of loss of CRP acres. Steinwand added that Game and Fish was striving to increase the number of acres in the Private Lands Open To Sportsmen program.
Jeb Williams, assistant Wildlife Division chief, said there are always concerns about the quality of PLOTS acres. According to Williams, some of the PLOTS land "has not been as productive as in the past" and that the department "has to have some flexibility" or risk the possibility of alienating some land owners.
"If we get too strict the landowners are going to say no, sorry," said Williams.
An issue presented by Williams on behalf of the department's enforcement arm was the lack of identification on some trap sets. Specifically, said Williams, the change is being requested because of an increase in non-resident trappers who target muskrats. Muskrats have been plentiful in recent years. Successful trappers can take hundreds to market in a few weeks. Game and Fish is considering requiring that identification be displayed on traps set on public land and public road right-of-ways.
The proposal, if enacted, would not affect trapping on private land. Trappers on private land may do so only with written permission from the landowner, thereby providing wardens with a record of trap ownership.
Jason Lee, North Central Fisheries District supervisor, represented the fisheries division at the meeting. Lee said the department is growing increasingly concerned about paddlefish populations and increased snagging pressure. Under current regulations, Game and Fish reserves the right to close the paddlefish snagging season once a yearly quota is expected to be reached.
"We are predicting that resource will start declining down the road. At the same time, a number of new people are moving into northwest North Dakota that will put even more stress on that resource," said Lee.
According to Lee, Game and Fish is examining the possibility of implementing "some type of lottery system" for future paddlefish seasons, perhaps with a limit of 1,000 snag tags. The issue is expected to be discussed further at spring advisory board meetings. Any changes, said Lee, likely would not be implemented until 2014.