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DOUG LEIER: PLOTS remains a popular program despite CRP decline

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outdoors Grand Forks, 58203

Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Most North Dakota hunters probably aren’t thinking much about the Private Land Open to Sportsmen program right now, but late winter is a busy time for the people who are responsible for the annual PLOTS guide printed in late August each year.

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As a little refresher, PLOTS is a North Dakota Game and Fish Department program that involves contracts with willing private landowners to allow walking public hunting access on their properties. It’s a popular program that involves more than 2,000 landowners, and at its peak from 2008 to 2010, PLOTS provided 1.1 million acres of public hunting access.

Last fall, the program had about 760,000 acres. Much of that 350,000-acre decline is directly related to reduced participation in the Conservation Reserve Program in North Dakota.

What has happened to CRP acres in the state during the past seven years is well known. In 2007, North Dakota had about 3.4 million acres of CRP, and by 2013, the number was 1.5 million acres.

Most PLOTS contracts tied to CRP acres were set up to expire when the CRP contract expired. If a landowner re-enrolled the land in CRP, most likely it would qualify for a PLOTS contract extension, as well.

During the past two years, many producers have tried to enroll or re-enroll CRP in two open signups but were not accepted. In addition, many landowners who possibly could have extended their CRP contracts opted to return the land to active crop production because in most cases, CRP rental payments, even with an added PLOTS payment on top of that, don’t compete with cash rents or crop income potential in today’s agricultural marketplace.

And so, today, the amount of high-quality CRP habitat in the PLOTS program is closer to 250,000 acres.

Kevin Kading, the Game and Fish Department’s private land section supervisor, says there is still a lot of interest in PLOTS from North Dakota producers. While contracts associated with CRP are still a priority, Game and Fish is working hard to develop options that could work with just about any operation.

In late February, Game and Fish sent a postcard promotion to several thousand landowners in the southern third of the state and also is looking to connect with landowners at agricultural and sports shows.

“It’s a good time of year for producers to consider if they’ve got some existing habitat like CRP or other idle areas that might fit nicely with PLOTS,” Kading said.

In addition, Kading said Game and Fish is also looking to work with landowners who may have unproductive or odd areas that are currently farmed. A PLOTS contract that includes establishing cover, annual rental and hunting access could benefit a landowner more than trying to grow crops on those areas annually.

 “We’ve worked with landowners who have areas in their field that are unusually wet, saline or just small enough to where they pose a problem when it comes to getting equipment in to work the area,” Kading said. “These odd areas typically require multiple passes and turns; and with today’s large equipment, this can add additional fuel, fertilizer and time. We can help the landowner minimize input costs, reduce time and improve efficiency of his operation by enrolling those areas into a conservation program such as PLOTS.”

Anyone interested in learning more about how a PLOTS agreement might benefit their operation can visit the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, or contact one of the following private land biologists in your area:

  • Todd Buckley, Williston, (701) 774-4320.
  • Ty Dressler, Dickinson, (701) 227-7431.
  • Todd Gallion, Lake Ilo NWR, (701) 548-8110.
  • Nate Harling, Devils Lake, (701) 662-3617.
  • Renae Heinle, Jamestown, (701) 253-6480.
  • Ryan Huber, Riverdale, (701) 654-7475.
  • Levi Jacobson, Bismarck, (701) 527-3764.
  • Terry Oswald Jr., Lonetree, (701) 324-2211.
  • Jon Roaldson, Bismarck, (701) 328-6308.
  • Game and Fish Bismarck main office, (701) 328-6300.

Leier is a biologist for N.D. Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com.

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