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Doug Leier, Published February 23 2011

Leier: Nongame species just as important as their big game counterparts

Biologists categorize more than 80 percent of North Dakota’s wildlife species as nongame, or those that don’t answer to the name of rooster, buck or sprig. And yet, the few species for which hunting or fishing is allowed attract the lion’s share of concerns from people who enjoy the outdoors.

This winter provides a perfect example. While many of us wonder how the pheasants and deer are doing, how often do we give the same consideration to river otters or porcupines?

Many people do spend money on songbirds like chickadees and nuthatches – and other species that are not hunted, fished or trapped – but it’s not license money that goes back into helping maintain chickadee populations. It’s money to buy feeders and seeds to attract these birds to their yards.

Nongame wildlife do not generate any dedicated money that directly benefits their future, and yet they are an important part of our outdoor world. All these nongame species, as well as game animals, are part or a biological term called symbiosis; that is, living things depend on each other to function in natural harmony.

Which is why we all should be concerned with the status of all critters. When was the last time you went pheasant hunting and didn’t see any song birds, or other animals using the same habitat? Voles, pocket gophers, songbirds, frogs, snakes, pheasants, deer – they all might use the same habitat at one time or another. If the habitat is destroyed, it’s not just the marquee species that suffer.

Game animals and game fish get most of the attention because almost all of the revenue to run the Game and Fish Department comes from hunter and angler license dollars and manufacturers excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle and other related equipment.

Hunting and fishing are maintained by the people who participate, and a lot of the good things agencies do for game animals, such as habitat creation or conservation, and protection against poachers, help many other species as well. But little money is available at the state level for funding management activities specifically designed to benefit nongame species.

That’s where the state Watchable Wildlife Program, and corresponding Watchable Wildlife income tax checkoff come in

Through donations that come primarily from the tax checkoff, the Watchable Wildlife Program provides small grants to organizations and produces educational materials that help citizens better understand the role that all animals have in our great outdoors.

Tax checkoff dollars are also directly responsible for perhaps a few thousand bluebird nesting boxes built and placed by interested individuals over the past couple of decades.

The Watchable Wildlife Fund does not generate a great deal of revenue, but it helps pay for projects that might not otherwise get funded through regular Game and Fish income that comes from hunters and anglers.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at dleier@nd.gov

Leier’s blog can be found online

at www.areavoices.com