North Dakota’s Watchable Wildlife Program Supports Nongame Species
Looking out my urban backyard, even in the middle of a bone chilling North Dakota morning, it’s always a treat to see a few squirrels, red poles, chickadees and other backyard birds scrounging around for a little mid-winter food.
I’m fortunate my kids love watchable wildlife even more than I do. Over the years I’ve shown them the necessary components for winter wildlife habitat and food – like leaving the corn and sunflowers in the garden.
There’s shrub and bush habitat, along with the typical evergreen trees, which are a present for the animals using them to escape the cold prevailing northwest winds. I watch a few cottontails early each morning, and temporarily forgive their summer destruction of Mrs. Leier’s flowers as they endure winter with us.
While squirrels and rabbits are hunted species, in the city they are part of the big, broad spectrum of animals we call watchable wildlife. While game species typically attract the lion’s share of attention, more than 80 percent of North Dakota’s wildlife species are classified as nongame, or those that are not hunted, fished or trapped.
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, say, the chickadee?
White-tailed deer capture our attention because tens of thousands of us hunt them every fall. We spend money on licenses that goes toward maintaining game animal populations and providing places to hunt.
While some people do spend money on chickadees, nuthatches and other songbirds –species that are not hunted, fished or trapped – it’s not license money that directly goes back into helping maintain or improve chickadee habitat.
While songbirds – and add reptiles, amphibians, shorebirds, raptors, other small mammals and many kinds of fish – do not generate any dedicated money that directly benefits their future, 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.
In North Dakota, the State Game and Fish Department is the responsible caretaker for most animals. 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.
This is a good deal. Hunting and fishing are maintained by the people who participate, and a lot of the good things agencies do for game animals, like habitat conservation or creation, 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 Watchable Wildlife program comes in. It’s a program designed to help all people learn more about and enjoy all wildlife year-round. It’s funded through donations via a checkoff on the state income form which most of us are working on this time of year, as well as individual contributions throughout the year.
To learn more about this popular program, visit the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov.