DOUG LEIER: Interest in PLOTS program remains as strong as ever
The much anticipated annual North Dakota Private Land Open to Sportsmen, or PLOTS, Guide is now available.
Just in the first day after the online version was posted, more than 1,000 people logged on to the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov specifically to check whether their favorite PLOTS tract was still there or if any new tracts were signed up in their usual hunting grounds.
The PLOTS program has about 735,000 acres for 2014, which is down slightly from 760,000 acres last fall. While those numbers are down about 25 percent from peak acreages of about 1 million acres from 2008-10, the program remains extremely popular with hunters.
Kevin Kading, North Dakota Game and Fish Department private lands section leader, says PLOTS also still generates a lot of interest from landowners, as it has numerous effective and attractive options for producers to consider when making management decisions.
While the loss of about 2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasslands in North Dakota over the past seven years has reduced the amount of quality habitat available to the PLOTS program, there are some recent developments that could mean more acres in years to come.
In January, Game and Fish was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is designed to enhance habitat, public access, hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation in the state.
However, Game and Fish didn’t receive those funds until June, so the grant didn’t really add to the number of acres this year, but Kading expects to have those funds obligated rather quickly, which will mean an additional 3,000 to 4,000 high-quality PLOTS acres over six to 10 years.
“Producers need programs that fit their operation,” Kading said. “The PLOTS program has continually adjusted and adapted over the years to do this.”
While interest in general CRP has decreased in recent signups; in contrast there is increased demand for locally developed continuous CRP practices and projects such as SAFE — State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement. With less general CRP funding and acreage available, Kading said it is critically important that acres offered for the program provide the most benefit for soil, air, water and wildlife. SAFE and other CCRP practices address local resource concerns and are receiving more attention from producers as well as Congress, Kading added.
That’s obvious in North Dakota as landowners have signed up all available acres for SAFE and other CCRP practices, and many more would have signed up if there had been more funding available.
Changes to signs
In the coming months, hunters might notice a change in the wording on some PLOTS signs. In the past, most of the yellow triangular signs have indicated the land is open only from Sept. 1 through April 1.
However, with some new administrative rules that went into effect, PLOTS areas are specifically open for walk-in hunting access during any open hunting season. The new rules clarify that hunters can go on PLOTS during seasons such as spring snow light goose and spring turkey that are still open after April 1, or early goose, which opens before Sept. 1
As Game and Fish works toward eventually replacing all the old signs with new ones that state, simply, “Open to Hunting,” hunters may still encounter some that have the “September 1-April 1” language on them. Those date restrictions are no longer in effect.