September 21, 2011 by  

Doug Leier

Over the past two decades the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has emphasized wildlife habitat enhancement and hunting access on private land through its Private Land Initiative.

Most North Dakota hunters are familiar with the Private Land Open to Sportsmen program, which provides walking hunting access to more than a million acres of private land, all visibly marked by prominent triangular yellow signs.


All ND public hunting land is located in the PLOTS guide.

The Private Land Initiative, however, is more than just the PLOTS program. It has three main priorities:

  • Conserve habitat for fish and wildlife populations.
  • Provide landowners interested in wildlife conservation with cost-sharing assistance for developing and protecting wildlife habitat.
  • Provide public opportunities to access fish and wildlife resources on private land.

Conservation PLOTS guide agreements are one of the ways Game and Fish biologists work toward these priorities. Within the PLOTS program, producers can choose from several types of agreements to find one or more that works for their operation:

The Habitat Plot Program is designed as a multi-year rental program of 3-6 years or 10-20 year agreements that help to create, enhance or protect wildlife habitat while providing public access.

The Food Plot Program is a short-term program that provides a wildlife food source and public access.

The Private Forest Conservation Program is a multi-year rental program that works to provide protection and enhancement in unique forested systems and also provides for public access.

The CRP Cost-Sharing Program provides assistance with establishment and management costs associated with Conservation Reserve Program contracts, in exchange for public access. The objective of this program is to improve hunting access in areas where it has traditionally been limited.

The Wetlands Reserve Program incentive is a partnership program between the Game and Fish Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. This option provides additional incentives to producers with land enrolled in WRP. The primary purpose of WRP incentive is to restore, protect or enhance wetlands and associated uplands, as well as provide for public access.

The Waterfowl Rest Area Access Program is designed to provide waterfowl hunting opportunities in grain fields and small sloughs around waterfowl staging areas.

The Tree Planting Cost-Sharing Program provides assistance with tree planting establishment costs. The goal is to enhance wildlife habitat and conservation on private land and provide public access.

The Working Lands Program is a short-term program based on wildlife value of lands actively farmed or ranched, while providing public access. Biologists evaluate current farming or ranching management practices, and place values on components such as conservation practices, good stewardship and quality of hunting habitat and public access.

The Game and Fish Department has many partners that help carry out wildlife habitat projects on some PLOTS, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, Mule Deer Foundation, Pheasants for the Future and local wildlife clubs.

The PLI program is completely voluntary for landowners and interest remains high, solidifying its future as an important component of North Dakota’s outdoors.

The printed version of the 2011 PLOTS Guide, where hunters can find detailed maps showing locations of PLOTS and other lands open to public hunting, is now available at license vendors throughout the state. The Game and Fish website at also has an online version that includes any updates since the printed version rolled off the press in late August.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: [email protected]


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