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NDG&F Focus on Building Habitat, Strengthening Fisheries in 2023

The recent early-winter accumulation of snow on the North Dakota landscape has many hunters and anglers worried about what’s to come in the next twelve months for their favorite pursuits in the field and on the water, but efforts are already underway by agents of the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) to improve wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities in the state, and continue to build on the great fisheries the agency has established, according to Director Jeb Williams.


A Helping Hand for Habitat

Its been 20 years since the peak of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), when more than 3.5 million acres of marginal lands in North Dakota were enrolled in the set-aside option by operators. Planted with grasses and other habitat, these spaces along with mild winters resulted in some of the highest populations of pheasants, grouse, ducks, geese, and deer the state had ever seen. Now, down to around 1 million acres, CRP is limited on the landscape and partnerships with private landowners and

producers’ organizations on other conservation methods and programs will be required to rebuild habitat for the state’s wildlife and game species populations. Building on that relationship and providing landowners with habitat options that both include an access component and otherwise, are key in rebuilding what once was.


“We have such good engagement with a majority of private landowners across the state in a wide variety of ways. I think there are a lot of producers out there that are willing and already have some good wildlife habitat on their properties. It’s just a matter of in some situations, addressing things we can do as an agency to make that a little bit better,” Williams relates, adding, “Still having that public access option, that is always going to be something that is important to us, but also taking a look and thinking a little bit differently, and just focusing on the habitat aspect too.”



Keeping Fishing at its Best

One area in North Dakota’s outdoors that is at its peak is the state’s fishing opportunities. In terms of both numbers of lakes and flows to fish and the quality of the walleyes, perch, and pike along with other species in their waters, it has never been better. More than 450 waters statewide sport fishable populations of those species, thanks to stocking, management and access programs put in place by the NDG&F over the past two decades. They require efforts with an eye to continuous improvement to

make the most of what nature has provided and what fisheries science can supplement, and that work - along with increasing angler participation - will be at the forefront of the agency’s efforts in 2023, according to Williams.


“We have never seen a better time in North Dakota as far as our fisheries program goes; but yet we’re seeing some decline in fishing licenses. It really is head-scratching,” Williams states, adding, “one of the things we’re doing is we’re taking a bit of a deeper dive into that. We’re working with UND on a bit of a research project that’s going to take a look at more of that social aspect as to what’s going on.”


Overlooked Opportunities

While much of the habitat focus for the upcoming year is headlined by sportsmen with images of flushing pheasants or bounding deer, Williams suggests there are other species that are often overlooked by hunters that have done well in the last year, and will continue to provide opportunities for uplanders in 2023. A rebound in both sharptailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in 2022 will hopefully endure into the coming year, and these underutilized species are ones that all hunters should

pursue to extend their season, enjoy late summer and early fall in the field, and create more memories.


“Sharptailed grouse are still just a steady mainstay in North Dakota, and it’s a great time to be out and about,” Williams advises, “one of the things we really noted this year both from personal hunting perspectives but then also hearing from other folks as well, is the return of gray partridge to North Dakota. There were lots of Huns being shot this year across the state, so that was really a bonus for a lot of people in North Dakota. So hopefully that trend continues,” he concludes.


By: Nick Simonson

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