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Out-of-state duck hunters
Officials contemplating hunting restrictions
By: Dale Wetzel
Posted at 12:00 pm
BISMARCK - Delays in selling duck hunting licenses have prompted speculation that the Game and Fish Department is planning new restrictions on out-of-state hunters. Agency officials and Gov. John Hoeven say nothing has been decided.
"I honestly don't know what we're going to do yet," said Dean Hildebrand, the department's director. "We have a lot of suggestions, and a lot of options out there."
The issue is being handled gingerly in the wake of the uproar that greeted Hoeven's suggestion to begin this year's pheasant hunting season a week earlier than normal.
The proposal spurred a backlash against out-of-state bird hunters, who have been coming to North Dakota in increasing numbers. After initially defending the idea, Hoeven abandoned it last month.
A similar situation could arise if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows an earlier start to the duck season, which is tentatively scheduled to begin Sept. 28.
North Dakota businesses that cater to duck hunters, including landowners who charge a fee for access to their land, have long advocated an earlier duck opener.
It would give hunters a better chance to bag blue-winged teal ducks, which are generally the first to begin the fall migration from North Dakota's prairie pothole region in mid- to late September.
"We have a wonderful teal population, that we have not been able to hunt effectively," Hildebrand said.
Since the Game and Fish Department began selling duck licenses on its World Wide Web site over the last few years, fall licenses have been available by April.
That is not true this year. Hildebrand and Roger Rostvet, the agency's deputy director, said the licenses are not being sold yet because of uncertainty about the season's opening date, and discussions about how licenses should be allocated.
Rostvet said a license lottery for out-of-state duck hunters is not being contemplated.
"That may be something that could happen later on, through legislation, but at this time, to set up a lottery would not be feasible," Rostvet said. "That's what is driving people nuts, is the thought there might be a lottery this fall ... It just isn't physically possible."
Should an earlier duck season opener materialize, one possibility is to reserve the opening week for North Dakota resident hunters, Hildebrand said.
Others include limits on the number of licenses issued to nonresidents, or staggering the time periods in which nonresident hunters may go afield.
Rostvet said an agency working group is considering suggestions that will be discussed in May, during a planned round of public meetings of the agency's advisory board.
Hoeven said no decisions would be made until the round of public consultations were completed.
"We need to make sure that any changes that we consider go through the advisory board, that we have the opportunity to get out there and have hearings," Hoeven said. "Clearly there is sentiment out there to (limit out-of-state hunters). The question is, how do you approach it?"
The number of duck hunters visiting North Dakota has climbed rapidly in recent years, from 5,928 in 1991 to just over 30,000 during last fall's hunting season.
[ BISMARCK ]