Doug Leier: PLOTS is the ultimate user-pay, user-benefit program
The dollars necessary for the Game and Fish Department to fund more than 2,000 access agreements with private landowners, totaling more than 790,000 acres in 2019, come from hunters, through North Dakota license fees and federal excise taxes on equipment such as firearms and ammunition.
If you hunt in North Dakota, you are likely familiar with the state Game and Fish Department’s Private Land Open to Sportsmen program.
The inverted yellow, triangular signs that dot the state’s countryside are highly sought markers this time of year, when many hunting seasons are in full swing, and hunters are looking for additional places to chase roosters, waterfowl or deer.
The PLOTS program is a perfect example of a user pays, user benefits system. The dollars necessary for the Game and Fish Department to fund more than 2,000 access agreements with private landowners, totaling more than 790,000 acres in 2019, come from hunters, through North Dakota license fees and federal excise taxes on equipment such as firearms and ammunition.
In recent years, hunters have continued to step up to the plate, so to speak, and have outright donated a significant additional amount of funding for the PLOTS program. This funding option got started in 2015, when the state Legislature authorized a bill that would allow North Dakota deer gun hunters to donate their refunds – if they were unsuccessful in obtaining a license in the lottery drawing – to the PLOTS program.
In 2017, legislators approved another bill that allowed resident deer gun, muzzleloader, pronghorn and turkey hunters, who did not want to receive a hunting license issued by lottery, to purchase a bonus point, with proceeds from this option also allocated to PLOTS .
So far, hunters – unsuccessful lottery applicants and those buying bonus points – have voluntarily contributed almost $400,000 to the PLOTS program, according to Game and Fish Department records. In addition, in 2019 alone, license buyers of all types have donated another $75,000 directly to PLOTS.
“In the past decade, where we’ve lost more than 808 linear miles of trees – the equivalent of traveling from Fargo to Williston and back – and thousands of acres of grass across the state, these dollars can help replace some of the deer habitat that’s been taken off the landscape,” said Kevin Kading, department private land section leader, in a North Dakota Outdoors magazine article in September 2018.
While it takes time for the funds to grow and be allocated to the PLOTS program, Kading said some of the money has already been used to plant grass habitat, trees and wildlife food plots around the state.
The habitat improvement projects completed thus far, and those in the future, are on PLOTS lands. Game and Fish personnel are careful about picking sites to plant grass and trees, Kading said.
“We are trying to place the new plantings in areas that are near other wildlife habitat,” he said. “We want to tie into existing habitat bases that are already out there.”
When Game and Fish started these donation options, no one really knew how much hunters would participate, but results so far indicate many hunters are more than willing to go above and beyond when it comes to creating habitat and access.
Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.