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Doug Leier, Published April 08 2014

Leier: April a busy time for big-game biologists

West Fargo - Most of us would already assume that April is a busy month for fisheries biologists, as ice-out brings pike spawning, then walleye spawning and initiation of all the other management work that corresponds to open water.

Perhaps not so well known is that April is also a busy month for big-game biologists, as they complete the annual spring mule deer survey and finish crunching numbers to produce a draft deer hunting proclamation that goes to the governor’s office for final approval later in the month.

This year, on top of the routine deer-season-setting process, State Game and Fish Department managers are also starting to consider a wealth of comments and questions relating to future deer management in North Dakota.

Game and Fish encouraged public participation in a series of “deer management” meetings in late February. The premise of the meetings was to provide an assessment of the state’s current deer population, and look at whether changes in license allocation might be warranted, given a rather significant reduction in deer gun license availability – from nearly 150,000 in 2008, to 59,500 in 2013.

The primary factors in the deer population decline were several severe winters starting in 2008-09, coinciding with an aggressive whitetail doe harvest strategy designed to reduce the statewide deer population somewhat. Also at the same time, North Dakota started losing Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, and saw increased conversion of native prairie to cropland and removal of shelterbelt/tree habitat, all of which will reduce the potential for deer population recovery.

Just a few years ago, deer hunters could receive multiple whitetail doe licenses that allowed for hunting with a bow, rifle or muzzleloader. The past two years, Game and Fish only allowed one license per hunter in the deer gun season, but at the same time, one individual could still receive a deer gun license, purchase a deer bow license, and potentially draw a third license in the lottery for muzzleloader licenses.

Not many people actually received three licenses, but more than 10,000 hunters had two licenses last year, while more than 20,000 others who applied in the deer gun license lottery did not receive any license.

When I wrote about the deer management meetings back in early February, Game and Fish was hoping for a good dialogue with hunters. The response was actually well above that, as more than 800 people attended the eight meetings held around the state. Several hundred additional hunters either watched the final meeting broadcast online, or viewed a recorded version. Game and Fish received about 400 written online comments and many other direct emails and phone calls.

Outside of possible modest adjustments up or down in the number of deer gun season licenses available, no changes will take place for 2014. Hunters will still be able to apply for a rifle or muzzleloader license and get a bow license as well.

Over the next several months, Game and Fish wildlife managers will analyze the hundreds of written and verbal comments received, before deciding whether to pursue license allocation changes for 2015.

License allocation in this case means how many licenses any one deer hunter can have in a given year. Even at 150,000 gun licenses, not every hunter could get a preferred license in a preferred unit. We had enough licenses, though, so anyone who wanted to hunt during the gun season could get one.

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 dougleier.areavoices.com