A Look Back at ND in 2006

February 18, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea water issues continue require millions of dollars and time spent essentially chasing water to provide access for water recreation activities

Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea water issues continue require millions of dollars and time spent essentially chasing water to provide access for water recreation activities

 This week we’ll take a look back at the outdoor issues and topics that shaped North Dakota in 2006, through interviews with fisheries and wildlife division leaders for the State Game and Fish Department.

It’s been an interesting year, with many positive stories to report. At the same time there are concerns heading into 2007. In a future column we’ll hedge our bets on what’s to come in the next 12 months.

Fishing Issues

Greg Power took over as fisheries division chief early in 2006, after former fisheries leader Terry Steinwand became Game and Fish director. Here’s his thoughts on the three biggest issues the fisheries division faced with in 2006.

The drought – Low moisture levels impacted a number of lakes statewide, including summerkill at about eight different lakes or reservoirs. In the past few years, the number of fishable water bodies in North Dakota has decreased from around 330 to slightly less than 300. This reduction is all due to drought. Most of these water bodies are in the southwest and southcentral portions of the state.

Water levels at Lake Sakakawea and Oahe – The combination of drought coupled with mismanagement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has resulted in the total loss of Lake Oahe from North Dakota, and the loss of well over 100,000 acres from Lake Sakakawea. The Department continues to address access issues when possible.

Game and Fish and other agencies have spent more than $5 million in the past few years on Sakakawea “chasing” water – essentially trying to maintain access by extending boat ramps or constructing new ramps.

Biologically, the loss of coldwater habitat is an ongoing concern. We’ve estimated a loss of at least 80 percent of the smelt biomass in the past five years, and as a result the growth and condition of predator species such as walleye has decreased. It is hoped another forage species like cisco will fill in some of the void left by smelt.

Aquatic Nuisance Species – In 2006, the Department stepped up its surveillance and monitoring of ANS in fishing lakes. Fortunately, these surveys did not find any new ANS. Currently, a handful of water bodies have curly leaf pondweed and/or Eurasian water milfoil, two major ANS species that are relatively recent arrivals in North Dakota. New regulations will soon be drafted to provide additional protection from possible future infestation.

Deer hunting continues to be the most popular hunting activity in the state

Deer hunting continues to be the most popular hunting activity in the state

Wildlife Issues

Randy Kreil has been the Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division chief for more than 12 years. In addition to normal processes – everything that goes into developing 11 different wildlife hunting proclamations, setting seasons lengths and bag limits – a number of other issues took up extensive amounts of time, and energy.

Avian influenza surveillance – The Game and Fish Department was a significant partner in a nationwide effort to monitor for bird flu. The agency was active in looking for the first signs of avian influenza within North Dakota. It took considerable time to collect field samples from birds taken by hunters, including sandhill cranes, tundra swans, geese and ducks – birds that which may have higher potential to transmit avian influenza due to their migration patterns. With existing staff we squeezed this in amongst the other responsibilities we need to complete, and collected more than 1,000 samples. We’re still assessing if and how we would handle future surveillance requirements.

Mountain lions – The Department’s second experimental season brought us extensive new information on where lions were harvested. The public and media are very interested in these issues, and our efforts were complicated by rumors, such as Game and Fish hauling around mountain lions in a trailer to release, which of course was not true. It literally took hundreds of hours of time to respond to all the inquiries and requests for information.

During the deer season we have more than 70,000 people hunting, and we took more calls about the closed mountain lion season than the ongoing deer season.

We anticipate in a few years people won’t look at the mountain lions as such a big issue and interest will begin to level off.

Deer – Deer hunting is the most popular hunting activity in the state. Deer populations have turned the corner to meeting our goal in the southeast and northwest regions of the state. And we are hearing from hunters that they are concerned about too few deer. We expect this to happen. We told hunters a few years ago that our goal is to reduce the number of deer. It’s a good thing people care enough about the resource. We want people to care about deer and deer hunting. I’m happy people are willing to speak up.

A couple other significant issues – CRP re-enrollment and the drought – will will be explored in future columns.


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