Doug Leier, Published December 20 2011
Leier: Down year for wildlife has many hoping for a better 2012 gaming yearFargo - For a lot of North Dakotans, the end of 2011 can’t come fast enough. While none of us can predict exactly how the coming year will unfold, for the state as a whole, and most wildlife in particular, 2012 just has to bring improvement, doesn’t it?
As a biologist, I’m always interested in how weather and habitat influence individual species. It’s also important to keep in mind a historical perspective. As we head out of 2011, here’s a rundown on some of the lows and highs of the year and where that leaves us heading into a new year.
Despite three years in a row of declines, the statewide white-tailed deer population is still actually above levels from the 1980s and most years before that. The State Game and Fish Department, however, is looking to expand the population to where it was a couple of years ago.
To do that will require a reduction in the number of antlerless whitetail licenses. How many years that will be necessary will depend in part on the severity of winters, and at least so far, 2011 is going out on a good note in that regard.
However long it takes for whitetails to rebound, recovery for mule deer will likely take longer. Observations during the department’s fall mule deer survey indicated production in 2011 was the lowest since the demographic survey began in 1954.
Bruce Stillings, Game and Fish big game supervisor in Dickinson, said observers counted 1,055 mule deer in the October survey, compared to 1,613 in 2010. While the buck-to-doe ratio of 0.47 was similar to the long-term average of 0.43 bucks per doe, the fawn-to-doe ratio of 0.59 was the lowest on record, well below the long-term average of 0.93 fawns per doe.
As such, a further reduction in the number of mule deer licenses is likely for 2012, with a possibility of no mule deer doe licenses.
Of course, pheasants also had a down year in 2011. Near-record snowfall that hurt pheasants, however, improved conditions for waterfowl that were already good the previous year.
The extra snow runoff also added depth to many lakes, adding to potential for good fish populations for years to come. While walleye and northern pike natural reproduction varied, the 2011 salmon spawning run on Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River was a success. This will allow Game and Fish to stock Sakakawea with 250,000 salmon, a much higher level than just a few years ago.
And finally, to help North Dakota hunters make vacation plans and lodging reservations for hunting seasons in 2012, the Game and Fish Department annually provides tentative opening dates for the coming year.
Some popular hunting seasons will have opening day arrive nearly a week later in 2012 due to the calendar change. For example, opening day of pheasant season is tentatively the second Saturday in October, which in 2012 is Oct. 13.
The anticipated opening day for deer, which falls on the Friday prior to Veterans Day, is Nov. 9, the second Friday of November. In 2011, opening day for deer was Nov. 4.
Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at email@example.com
Leier’s blog can be found online