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Patrick Springer, Published November 12 2012

Conference will tackle issues facing hunters in North Dakota

BISMARCK – North Dakota hunters and conservationists face a daunting set of challenges ranging from an oil boom to high crop prices that encourage farmers to plow conservation acres.

As they prepare to gather for a second “Future of Hunting” conference, they confront a slate of trends that are shrinking wildlife habitat.

Since their first conference eight months ago:

• 650,000 acres of Conservation Reserve Program land have been lost to farmers who put the land back into crop production. North Dakota now has about 1.7 million CRP acres, down from 2.4 million last year and 3.4 million at the peak half a dozen years ago.

• 1,400 new oil wells, each accompanied by a network of roads, tank farms, pipelines and other infrastructure, and serviced by hundreds or thousands of trucks. With about 200 drilling rigs in the field, 2,400 new wells are punched each year, toward a projected 35,000 or more wells.

• A proposed outdoor heritage measure to set aside oil revenues for conservation never went to a vote, derailed by petition signature fraud.

When hunters and conservationists gather here Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, they hope their dialogue will result in proposals to take before the North Dakota Legislature when it convenes in January.

The loss of habitat will mean declines in wildlife populations. A Wyoming study found mule deer declined by 47 percent in areas of oil production, said Mike McEnroe, president of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.

“A lot of people have the perception that those deer all go over the next hill,” not realizing that the habitat over the next hill also has been eliminated or compromised, he said.

“The habitat will only support so many, so over the hill isn’t really a viable place for any of these animals to move, so the population goes down,” McEnroe said.

To increase habitat, sportsmen and conservationists are talking about ways to expand a state program similar to the federal conservation reserve, called PLOTS, for Private Lands Open To Sportsmen.

Although popular with both landowners and hunters, the program has declined along with CRP participation, falling from 1.1 million acres to 830,000 acres over the past three years, McEnroe said.

Proponents of the outdoor heritage measure were criticized for taking their idea to set aside oil revenues for conservation directly to voters, without first trying to win legislative support.

In light of that, since the measure was declared invalid for the Nov. 6 ballot, hunters and conservationists have been talking to business, agriculture and energy representatives to try to reach a consensus to take to lawmakers, McEnroe said.

If you go

What: Future of Hunting in North Dakota Conference

When: Nov. 30 and Dec. 1

Where: Doublewood Inn, Bismarck

Info: Sponsored by the North Dakota Wildlife Federation and North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society. Conference has $10 registration fee. Coffee and refreshments provided. To register, call 888-827-2557 or email NDWF@NDWF.org or Mike McEnroe at memcenroe@midco.net

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