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Patrick Springer, Published March 27 2012

Threats to North Dakota hunting to be discussed at conference

BISMARCK – Hunting and outdoor recreation in North Dakota face unprecedented threats from a host of factors as diverse as oil drilling, field drainage and dwindling farm acres idled for conservation.

A conference to discuss those threats, and explore recommendations to mitigate adverse impacts, will be held here Saturday and Sunday.

The “Future of Hunting in North Dakota” conference is sponsored by the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and North Dakota chapter of The Wildlife Society and coordinated with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Mike McEnroe, president of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and a spokesman for the North Dakota chapter of The Wildlife Society, said the conference has been in the works for more than a year, as sportsmen and wildlife professionals recognized the mounting impacts on habitat.

“It’s been kind of a perfect storm of habitat issues,” said McEnroe. “There’s not a lot of good on the horizon for hunting.”

The concerns he cited include:

• The loss last year of 400,000 acres of farm land idled under the Conservation Reserve Program from 2.8 million acres. Given acres set to expire, the loss of habitat acreage under the program in the next year could drop to half of its peak of about 3.4 million acres in the early 2000s.

“White-tailed deer are going to be very much affected by CRP,” McEnroe said. “We’re kind of pulling the habitat carpet out from under a lot of these species.”

• The oil boom means the number of wells could mushroom five- or tenfold in the years ahead. North Dakota now has almost 6,500 producing wells, according to state figures, with more than 200 rigs drilling new wells.

• Field drain tiles and flood-control projects in eastern North Dakota could impact wetland habitat.

Sportsmen and others are increasingly realizing how North Dakota’s landscape is being altered and will continue to change in the years ahead, McEnroe said. The rapid change comes after decades of stability.

“We’ve had a run of about 20 to 25 good years,” he said, with climate favorable for wildlife and, before the oil boom accelerated, little disruption to the landscape.

Also, a report issued last year by state Game and Fish officials said “huge financial gains from energy production cannot be expected without having negative impacts to North Dakota’s two major industries, agriculture and tourism.

“As the footprint of oil development expands and the cumulative impacts to natural resources such as water supplies and wildlife habitats increase,” the report added, “maintaining the sustainability of our rich natural resources will become increasingly challenging.”

North Dakota hunters and anglers comprise a large group, McEnroe said. Conservatively, he estimated there are 100,000 hunters in the state, given that last year there were about 94,000 applications for deer licenses.

There are even more anglers, which he estimated at 170,000 to 180,000, although he acknowledged many of those who fish also hunt.

Still, when other outdoor recreation enthusiasts are added – nature photographers, hikers, birdwatchers – McEnroe estimates at least 250,000 North Dakota residents have a stake in habitat and conservation.

“It’s 40 percent of our population, easily,” he said, noting the state’s population is about 680,000.

Greg Link, director of conservation and communications for the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish, said the state invites input from hunters and anglers.

“Game and Fish wants to be there to learn and listen,” he said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has been invited to speak to the conference.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

If you go

What: Future of Hunting

in North Dakota conference

When: Friday and Saturday 

Where: Doublewood Inn in Bismarck

Info: $10 registration fee. Contact the North Dakota Wildlife Federation by phone at (888) 827-2557 or by email at NDWF@NDWF.org or memcenroe@midco.net.