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Doug Leier: A 'state of the state' for the 2019 North Dakota outdoors season

North Dakota Game and Fish Department director Terry Steinwand addresses a group of sportsmen about the 2019 outdoors season in North Dakota. N.D. Game and Fish Department photo

West Fargo

In the January edition of “North Dakota Outdoors” magazine, North Dakota State Game and Fish Department director Terry Steinwand took a look at the past year and addressed some continuing challenges that remain in the year ahead.

In a way, it’s sort of a “state of the state” when it comes to hunting, fishing, wildlife and conservation in North Dakota, so I thought I would provide a condensed version here, as his points are important for all North Dakotans who love the outdoors.

To start, I would say that the fishing in 2019 was probably one of those highlights as we had some of the best fishing we ever had, if not the greatest fishing we ever had, in North Dakota.

From the smaller community fishing waters to the bigger, well-known fisheries like Sakakawea, Devils Lake and the Missouri River, the fishing was outstanding, thanks in large part to the Game and Fish Department fisheries crews.


Also, the Department’s “Private Land Open to Sportsmen” walk-in access program increased by about 30,000 acres in 2019 compared to the year before.

With a dramatic decrease in Conservation Reserve Program acres on the landscape over the years, Department private land biologists are doing some good work around the countryside by making sure there’s good habitat on PLOTS acres so hunters have reasonable opportunities for success.

Another highlight in 2019 was the increase in deer license numbers, which depends greatly, no matter the year, on habitat and winter to a large extent. The number of pronghorn hunting units were increased last year, while elk license numbers were higher than 2018 and moose licenses hit an all-time high.

While there were plenty of birds available, waterfowl hunters struggled a bit as wet conditions drastically delayed, or stalled altogether, harvest of standing crops and limited access because of muddy conditions.

Pheasant numbers in 2019 were pretty much what Game and Fish biologists anticipated. In some areas we knew they were going to be pretty good and some places were going to be average in terms of bird numbers.

Of course, we always want to see the pheasant hunting be better, but without the right habitat on the ground for birds during the nesting season, and the right kind of cover to help them get through the leaner winter months, it’s a challenge.

Speaking of challenges, we will have our share, as we do most years, in 2020. Two of the main challenges we are addressing are chronic wasting disease and aquatic nuisance species.

Our goal with CWD is to keep the disease contained in the areas where it is now, and make sure we have tremendous deer, moose and elk hunting opportunities for many, many years down the road.


Our attitude and strategy are the same with aquatic nuisance species. We don’t want to see these invasive species spread anywhere else. That means the Game and Fish Department will continue its effort to educate the public, monitor and inspect for ANS effectively and efficiently as possible.

In 2020, I predict wonderful things for North Dakota’s great outdoors, and I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy.

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