OUTDOORS NOTEBOOK: Bighorn sheep, National parks bill etc.

Bighorn sheep hold steady in western N.D. Bighorn sheep populations in western North Dakota are unchanged from last year and only 3 percent below the five-year average, results from a recent survey show. According to the North Dakota Game and Fis...

Bighorn sheep hold steady in western N.D.

Bighorn sheep populations in western North Dakota are unchanged from last year and only 3 percent below the five-year average, results from a recent survey show.

According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the annual survey tallied a minimum of 283 sheep. In total, biologists counted 86 rams, 158 ewes and 39 lambs. Not included are approximately 30 bighorn sheep in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist for Game and Fish, said the northern Badlands population remained stable, and southern Badlands herds stabilized after several years of declines.

"Despite ewes enduring a brutal winter in 2010-11, lamb recruitment increased to 28 percent, which is about average in North Dakota," Wiedmann said. "Also, 83 percent of the lambs counted last summer survived the winter."


Game and Fish Department biologists count and classify all bighorns in late summer and then recount lambs in March to determine recruitment. Wiedmann said this year's mild winter was welcome after three consecutive severe winters.

Game and Fish monitored 71 radio-collared sheep this past winter, and there wasn't a single mortality, Wiedmann said. Lamb production last year was low after a severe winter, but survival through this past winter was exceptional.

"Adult ewes couldn't be in better condition right now, so we expect a bumper crop of healthy lambs to begin hitting the ground within a couple of weeks," he said.

On the downside, Wiedmann said he's concerned about a 10 percent decline in ram numbers from 2010 and continued low population levels and poor production in the southern Badlands, where observers counted only two lambs.

The ram-to-ewe ratio declined to 54 rams per 100 ewes.

"Overall, we're quite pleased with the results of this year's survey," Wiedmann said. "Comparatively speaking, it appears our bighorns handled the recent harsh winters much better than our mule deer and pronghorn populations."

Four bighorn sheep licenses were issued in 2012, two fewer than 2011.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department


Parks group condemns House security bill

WASHINGTON -- National parks in Minnesota and North Dakota are among federal lands that would be hurt by a bill moving through Congress to create a 100-mile security "buffer" along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, a parks advocacy group says.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees on Wednesday said it opposes the pending "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act" now moving through Congress.

Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, HR 1505 would suspend the enforcement of almost all federal environmental laws on lands under the jurisdiction of the departments of Interior and Agriculture within 100 miles of the northern and southern borders.

Among its provisions, the bill would provide "immediate access" to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for road, equipment and infrastructure construction and motorized vehicle use on national parks and all the other federal lands, the coalition said.

The proposed buffer would impact 54 national parks, the coalition said, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Voyageurs National Park and Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior.

The three national parks are among 15 that would be most heavily impacted, the coalition said. The 15 parks encompass more than 21.6 million acres, nearly 25 percent of the U.S. National Park System.

"The outrage here is that national parks and other U.S. crown jewels could end up being trashed in the name of achieving national security gains that are fictitious," said Maureen Finnerty, coalition chair. The proposal, she added, is "perhaps the most direct assault on national parks ever to be advanced at any level in any Congress in U.S. history."


The coalition in a news release said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and officials from the U.S. Border Patrol have testified against the bill. "Unnecessary and bad policy," is how Napolitano described the bill during testimony in March, the release said.

-- Herald staff report

Sportsmen's Heritage Act garners praise

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of conservation, hunting and fishing groups is applauding legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that will sustain hunting and angling opportunities and help secure access to valuable public lands.

The House on Tuesday night passed the Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012 with bipartisan support and a vote of 274-146. The bill would require federal land managers to consider impacts to hunting and angling when developing land management plans, among other measures.

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the measure preserves "the sporting heritage that is central to our national identity."

"We look forward to working with Senate decision makers to further strengthen it in the critical months to come," he added.

The bill is HR 4089.


-- Herald staff report

Did you know?

- North Dakota's paddlefish snagging season opens May 1 near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and is scheduled to continue through the end of the month. Depending on the harvest, the Game and Fish Department could close the season early with a 36-hour notice. New this year, Sundays will be designated as snag-and-release-only days, in addition to Mondays and Tuesdays. Rules/info:

- Unseasonably warm weather has brought loons back to Minnesota almost three weeks earlier than usual, the Department of Natural Resources said. At least six of the 29 loons fitted with radio and satellite telemetry devices as part of a research project had returned as of April 11. One of the loons, known as "M2," returned to Big Mantrap Lake in northern Minnesota on March 29. Most of the loons in the project left Minnesota in October and spent about a month on Lake Michigan before departing for the Gulf of Mexico in early December.

- National Park Week began Saturday and continues through April 29. "Picture Yourself in a National Park" is this year's theme.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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