Doug Leier: Landowner-hunter relations vital part of hunting legacy
When you consider North Dakota’s storied hunting heritage and the reality that about 93% of the land in the state is privately owned, it’s no wonder landowner-hunter relations have long been a vital component of our hunting legacy.
Nevertheless, the Game and Fish Department’s owned or managed wildlife management areas also play an important role in not only providing public access but quality habitat to foster and safeguard those animals hunters ardently pursue.
North Dakota has more than 220 wildlife management areas, totaling more than 200,000 acres.
While those numbers may not seem like a lot to some — down from the Department’s roughly 800,000 Private Land Open To Sportsmen acres and an untold number of federally managed waterfowl production acres, for instance — I’d argue for the importance of every single acre providing a place for many people to hunt.
Dan Halstead, Game and Fish Department wildlife resource management supervisor, explains the WMA program mission: “These are areas that we manage for wildlife habitat, that's the primary purpose. They also are there to enhance wildlife production in those local areas. And so, we're trying to provide habitat for wildlife, produce more wildlife in that area for people to hunt. And so, they're public areas that people can go out and hunt on. In some cases, there's also fishing involved. So, in cases where there's a river or a lake there, then there's some fishing opportunities at those areas.”
And as any private landowner, who manages everything from small hay fields to huge pastures, can attest, the size of the lands in the Department’s WMA program vary and so do the roles. The smallest WMA is about 40 acres and the largest, Lonetree WMA near Harvey, is about 30,000 acres.
Not only will hunters see size differences in the many WMAs, but also differing land management practices.
“We concentrate on prescribed burning, haying and grazing,” Halstead said. ”We've kind of found over the years that it's really important in these grassland ecosystems that you have some kind of disturbance”
There are other types of disturbances, such as littering, that Game and Fish staff have little time for.
“We spend a lot of our time trying to manage the habitat on these areas and, so, we don't have a lot of time to be picking up trash,” Halstead said. “And it seems like the areas where people like to camp, that's where the trash is associated. And so, we basically run our WMAs as pack in, pack out.”
This leave no trace mentality is one hunters should employ on all lands, PLOTS and others, when visiting during North Dakota’s hunting seasons.
Also, with increased hunting activity on WMAs around the state in coming weeks, hunters are reminded all equipment, such as tree stands, trail cameras and ground blinds must be identified with either your name, address and phone number, or an equipment identification number that you can get through the Game and Fish Department's website.
Stay safe, obey the rules and enjoy North Dakota’s great outdoors.