I don't remember the year, but I do remember the scenario when I bought my first fishing license online. It was one of those spring days that wasn't supposed to be spring. Early April and the sun was shining, the snow was all but gone and my buddy said the river was running and the walleyes were ready. But I wasn't. I needed a new license before I could make my first cast of the season, and the first convenience store I stopped at on my way out of town was not a vendor. Neither was the second.
After writing recently about the whooping crane, an endangered bird species that migrates through North Dakota in spring and fall, I got a text message from a friend who was reporting the spring sighting of dozens of bald eagles in one spot. While the area of interest was from northeastern South Dakota, a news story in the Aberdeen (S.D.) American News indicated the estimated number of bald eagles congregated on a place called Amherst Slough was close to 300.
I've lived in North Dakota my entire life and worked for the state Game and Fish Department all of my full-time natural resources career. I've lived and worked near Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Moffit and Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge north of Stanley. Those facts alone would make it seem like the odds of seeing a live whooping crane in the state would be in my favor—either professionally or as a matter of chance. But I haven't. At least not yet.
Over the past six weeks or so, North Dakota has had a lot going on that relates to hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation that isn't always tied in directly with fishing on frozen water or hunting the first flocks spring snow geese in frozen fields. Since it's a legislative year, many North Dakota Game and Fish Department administrators are busy keeping track of all the outdoors-related bills and providing committee testimony and other information to legislators before votes take place.
Over the past six weeks or so, North Dakota has had a lot going on that relates to hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation that isn't always tied in directly with fishing on frozen water or hunting the first flocks spring snow geese in frozen fields. Since it's a legislative year, many North Dakota Game and Fish Department administrators are busy keeping track of all the outdoors-related bills, and providing committee testimony and other information to legislators before votes take place.
I grew up in an era in North Dakota when special seasons for young hunters did not yet exist. Looking back, I surely would have enjoyed the extra days afield the special youth deer, waterfowl and pheasant seasons now offer. But I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time hunting with my dad by the time I reached my middle teens, so it was pretty much a given that I would continue on as an avid hunter into my adult years.
My dad is proof of a couple of different truths when it comes to big game hunting in North Dakota. You don't get drawn for a license if you don't apply, and if you do apply, make sure you are prepared for the hunt in all aspects. Pretty fundamental. In 2016, after more than 30 years of applying, Dad drew a moose tag. At the age of 72, he had enough time to prepare, scout and hunt and successfully harvested a nice bull moose.
On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 9, Bismarck recorded a low temperature of 15 below zero, the third day in a row of subzero readings. At that time, I don't think anyone could have predicted North Dakota would have snow geese within its borders just over a week later when the spring light goose conservation season opened Feb. 18. At that point, it looked like another year in which the first light goose sighting would not occur until several weeks after the technical opening date on the calendar.
For a biologist, getting out in the field and collecting data is an important and usually enjoyable part of the job. While I don't spend as much time in the field as a specific wildlife or fisheries biologist, I do have a variety of assignments that come up unexpectedly, such as checking for zebra mussels and fish kills, as well as standard population surveys.
Many hunters and anglers might assume when it comes to game warden's work — a good share of which involves checking hunters, anglers and boaters for license and regulation compliance — that the most common violations would involve hunting in general, and deer hunting more specifically. So it might come as a surprise to many that fishing and boating-related violations are typically at or near the top of the list when the North Dakota Game and Fish Department publishes its annual summary of citations issued by state game wardens.