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OUTDOORS NOTEBOOK: N.D. pheasant survey ... Bighorn sheep thriving ... CRP meetings set etc.

Pheasant results pending: The North Dakota Game and Fish Department will release results from its summer pheasant brood-count surveys sometime in the next week or so.

Bighorn sheep
North Dakota's bighorn sheep population is doing very well, despite severe weather last winter. Results from the recent summer survey showed a population of 309 bighorn sheep, down only seven from last year's record. Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist for the Game and Fish Department in Dickinson, N.D., said he was "very pleased" with the results and feared the counts would be much lower after last winter. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Pheasant results pending: The North Dakota Game and Fish Department will release results from its summer pheasant brood-count surveys sometime in the next week or so.

The statewide survey tallies pheasant production across the state and offers the best indicator of fall hunting prospects. Tuesday was the last day Game and Fish staff could run the routes.

Stan Kohn, upland game bird management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said his phone has been ringing with inquiries about the survey.

"I'm pretty sure things are going to be down," Kohn said. "I'm just not sure how far down for each of the districts until we get the survey results."

The spring crowing count survey in North Dakota was down 25 percent statewide from 2008, the result of a severe winter that increased pheasant mortality. Despite the decline, spring crowing counts still were higher than 2005, 2006 and 2007.

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Spring crowing counts were down 25 percent in the northwest, 51 percent in the northeast, 33 percent in the southeast and 10 percent in the southwest. Most of the declines came from areas considered to be secondary pheasant range, Kohn said.

North Dakota's pheasant season opens Oct. 10.

-- Brad Dokken

Bighorn sheep thriving: North Dakota's bighorn sheep population is in excellent shape, the Game and Fish Department says.

According to Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist for Game and Fish in Dickinson, N.D., a July-August survey in western North Dakota showed 309 bighorn sheep, down only seven from last year's record summer survey.

"Last year, I remarked that our bighorn sheep population was thriving, so needless to say, I am very pleased with our current numbers," Wiedmann said. "In fact, I feared our counts would be much lower due to the severity of last winter. However, despite the extreme conditions, the adult segment of our population is in great shape, along with a surprisingly high number of lambs."

Survey results revealed 98 rams, 161 ewes and 50 lambs -- 242 in the northern Badlands (an increase of 10 from last year) and 67 in the southern Badlands (down 17). "To help bolster the southern herds, this winter we plan on translocating sheep from the northern population," Wiedmann said. "We will relocate some of the Montana sheep -- transplanted to North Dakota in January 2006 -- that continue to do very well."

Annual bighorn sheep survey statistics are not recorded using a calendar year, but instead are done over a 12 month period beginning each April and ending the following March. Each summer, typically in August, Game and Fish Department biologists count and classify all bighorns, a process that takes nearly six weeks to complete as biologists radio-collar three to five sheep in each herd, locate them from an airplane and then hike into each band in order to record population demographics using a spotting scope and binoculars. Biologists then recount lambs in March to determine lamb production.

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North Dakota's bighorn sheep hunting season opens Oct. 9 and continues through Oct. 25. Five licenses were issued.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

CRP comment period: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency is seeking comments on the federal Conservation Reserve Program and has scheduled nine public meetings from Sept. 15 through Oct. 8.

The closest meeting is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at the AmericInn Lodge and Suites in Moorhead.

According to conservation group Pheasants Forever, more than 4.2 million acres of CRP have expired since 2005 and another 21 million acres are slated to expire during the next five years.

USDA has no plans for a new CRP signup to re-enroll or replace expiring acres. As a result, Pheasants Forever is urging people to get involved in the upcoming comment process.

"The stated intent of this public comment period is to find ways to make the Conservation Reserve Program more effective for producers and increase the environmental and wildlife benefits of the program," said Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. "Those goals are unachievable without a new CRP general signup."

To comment on CRP, send an e-mail to CRPcomments@tecinc.com , access the federal eRulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov or mail to CRP SEIS, c/o TEC Inc., 8 San Jose Drive Suite 3-B, Newport News, VA 23606.

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-- Herald staff report

Did you know?

- The DNR will release its annual roadside wildlife survey Tuesday. The report summarizes roadside counts of pheasants, Hungarian partridge, cottontail rabbits, white-tailed jackrabbits and other wildlife observed in the early morning hours during the first two weeks of August throughout the farmland region of Minnesota. As part of the survey, observers surveyed 171 25-mile routes, 152 of which were located in the ring-necked pheasant range.

- North Dakota's youth deer season for hunters ages 12-15 opens at noon Friday. The 9½-day season closes Sept. 27. Info: gf.nd.gov.

- North Dakota's two-day youth waterfowl season is Saturday and Sept. 20. Legally licensed resident and nonresident youth waterfowl hunters age 15 and younger may hunt ducks, geese, coots and mergansers statewide. The daily bag limit and species restrictions for the youth season are the same as for regular duck and goose seasons. Info: gf.nd.gov.

- North Dakota's sandhill crane season opens Saturday. The Game and Fish Department urges hunters to use caution and identify birds to prevent shooting at whooping cranes as they begin their fall migration. The sandhill crane season is open through Nov. 15 in Unit 1 (west of U.S. Highway 281), and through Oct. 25 in Unit 2 (east of U.S. Highway 281). Limits are three daily and six in possession in Unit 1, and two daily and four in possession in Unit 2. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Oct. 31. Beginning Nov. 1, shooting hours are extended until 2 p.m. each day. Hunters need a $5 crane permit in addition to their other licenses. Info: gf.nd.gov.

- North Dakota's swan lottery has been held, and more than 500 licenses remain. Only hunters who do not have a swan license for the 2009 season can apply, as regulations limit hunters to one license per year. Purchase licenses online at gf.nd.gov or by calling the Game and Fish office in Bismarck at (701) 328-6300. The statewide tundra swan hunting season is Oct. 3-Jan. 3, 2010. North Dakota residents and nonresidents are eligible to apply. The fee is $5 for residents and $25 for nonresidents.

- The DNR has added virtual tours to its Web site featuring Itasca, Jay Cooke, Minneopa and Soudan Underground Mine state parks as a pilot project. View the parks online by clicking the virtual tours link at www.mnstateparks.info . Dozens of Minnesota state parks, state recreation areas and state trails are expected to be featured in virtual tours by the end of June 2010.

Related Topics: HUNTING
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 bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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