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Tough winter for North Dakota wildlife, landowners highlights need for more and better habitat

By early April, Game and Fish had fielded nearly 250 depredation reports statewide for just white-tailed deer. More than 100 of those calls landed in the Jamestown office for deer alone.

PLOTS sign
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department's popular Private Land Open to Sportsmen program, better known as PLOTS, provides both wildlife habitat and access opportunities for hunters.
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department

BISMARCK – A winter that started in early November and hung around until April like an unwanted guest tested the endurance of wildlife and landowners, both fixtures on the landscape familiar with unpredictable North Dakota weather, the Game and Fish Department says.

“North Dakota has one of the toughest climates in the lower 48, and this winter was certainly one of the most difficult we’ve seen,” said Bill Haase, assistant wildlife chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. “Winter was difficult on wildlife and people, and we appreciate all those landowners out there, especially livestock producers who had the tolerance and compassion to deal with the impacts from deer and other animals.”

By early April, the Game and Fish Department had fielded nearly 250 depredation reports statewide for just white-tailed deer. More than 100 of those calls landed in the Jamestown office for deer alone.

Deer depredation was more notable in areas where wildlife habitat was lacking on the landscape. This was especially true in the eastern third of the state, where food and cover is generally lacking, thus forcing deer herds to concentrate in isolated livestock operations.

“There are some landowners, livestock producers in particular with livestock feed supplies, who tend to have the most issues with deer and other wildlife being attracted to their locations,” Haase said. “We certainly heard from some, and we have a lot of tools that we can help minimize these issues.”


There are short-term solutions the department can provide producers with depredation issues, such as wrapping bales and motion sirens. And long-term solutions, such as permanent hay yards, portable panels designed specifically to keep deer out of livestock feed supplies and food plots. The department provides hay yard materials at no cost and provides cost-share for construction. Currently, there are about 750 of these structures dotting North Dakota’s rural landscape, the department says.

“Hopefully, winter is finally behind us, so we ask any landowners who had depredation issues and are interested in long-term solutions to give us a call to see if there is something we can do to help with hay yard fencing, portable panels and depredation food plots,” Haase said.

To inquire about these options, call Game and Fish at (701) 328-6300. Also, for a deeper dive into winter’s depredation issues and options to provide relief to livestock producers during the next tough winter, listen to episode 16 of the North Dakota Outdoors Podcast.

Habitat concerns

While there is a need to help producers safeguard livestock feed supplies, there is also a demand for more wildlife habitat on the landscape.

“Going into winter, we probably had the poorest habitat conditions we’ve had in a long time in the state,” said Kevin Kading, department private land section leader. “There just isn’t much habitat in a lot of places, but we need to rebound somehow. We need habitat on the landscape.”

Kevin Kading.jpg
Kevin Kading
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Going forward, Kading said, if a landowner is interested in developing habitat, there is a host of programs set up to do just that.

“There are more programs, money and funding available right now for habitat than ever before, really,” Kading said. “And it’s not just through the Game and Fish Department. It’s through (the U.S. Department of Agriculture), partners and other conservation groups. The Game and Fish Department can be a good source to start with. We can certainly walk landowners through all of these different options and point them in the right direction.”

While wildlife habitat is one of the aspects that can help alleviate depredation issues, so is hunting access. Kading said the Department’s Private Land Open To Sportsmen program is a remedy for both of those by providing habitat for wildlife to rebound and providing access opportunities for hunters. To further encourage hunter access, Kading also suggests landowners enrolling in the hunter-landowner contact program and posting Ask Before You Enter signs on their property.


“Our private land staff is well versed in a lot of different programs and partner programs that are out there. The simplest and quickest thing we can do is put grass on the ground. It’s quick to establish, and it creates quality fawning and nesting cover,” Kading said. “There are a lot of different opportunities for landowners right now that our staff can help with to put grass on the ground.”

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