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Outdoors Notebook: North Dakota bighorn sheep numbers decline, DNR begins public deer plan meetings etc.

Bighorn sheep in North Dakota continue to suffer from the effects of a 2014 pneumonia outbreak, the Game and Fish Department said in reporting results from its 2017 sheep survey. (Photo/ Craig Bihrle, North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

Bighorn sheep numbers decline

Bighorn sheep populations in North Dakota are down 11 percent from 2016 and 9 percent below the five-year average, the state Game and Fish Department said in reporting results from its 2017 bighorn sheep survey.

Game and Fish Department biologists count and classify all bighorn sheep in late summer and then recount lambs the following March, as they approach 1 year of age, to determine recruitment.

That's why the most recent numbers are attributed to 2017 and not 2018.

According to Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist for Game and Fish in Dickinson, N.D., the survey tallied a minimum of 265 bighorn sheep—91 rams, 149 ewes and 25 lambs—the lowest since 2006. The count doesn't include about 20 bighorns in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

"The decline in the 2017 count reflects the spread of bacterial pneumonia to three previously unaffected herds and consequently the adult and lamb mortalities that followed," Wiedmann said.

The northern Badlands population declined 10 percent from 2016, and the southern badlands population was down 21 percent.

"The total count of adult rams and ewes was much lower than the record high counts in 2016, but the lamb count and recruitment rate improved slightly in 2017, albeit still much below the long-term averages," Wiedmann said.

"Fortunately, adult mortality was low in previously affected herds, and lamb survival improved as well, which could indicate those herds initially exposed to the deadly pathogens in 2014 are beginning to recover," Wiedmann said. "The next few years will be important in determining if the state's population shows signs of recovering from the disease outbreak, or if the pathogens are likely to persist and cause a long-term population decline."

Dr. Dan Grove, department veterinarian, said 20 adult bighorn were tested for deadly pathogens last winter but results are still pending. He said sheep continue to succumb to pneumonia, but at a much slower rate.

Game and Fish still tentatively plans to offer a bighorn sheep hunting season this fall unless there is a recurrence of significant adult mortality from bacterial pneumonia. The status of the bighorn sheep season will be determined Sept. 1 after the summer population survey is completed.

Game and Fish issued five licenses in 2017, and all hunters shot rams.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

DNR begins public deer plan meetings

The Department of Natural Resources' first open house meetings in northwest Minnesota for the public to learn more about the draft of a new 10-year deer management plan are set for 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in the Crookston Public Library, 110 N. Ash. St., and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Hayes Lake State Park, 48990 County Road 4, Roseau, Minn.

The plan establishes an annual statewide harvest target of 200,000 deer, increases citizen participation in deer management and outlines ways to keep the population and habitat healthy.

In general, annual harvests less than 200,000 will indicate a need for more conservative regulations to rebuild deer populations. Harvests greater than 200,000 will suggest hunting regulations need to be liberalized so more deer are harvested to reduce populations.

"It's important for people to know we'll be measuring our performance in a variety of ways, from increased opportunities for public engagement to improving deer habitat and limiting disease," Leslie McInenly, DNR acting wildlife populations and programs manager, said. "That strategy will inform us if objectives are being met and what areas need more work."

For more than a year, a 19-member citizens advisory group helped the DNR draft the deer plan.

The Crookston and Hayes Lake meetings are among 35 the DNR is hosting across the state through the end of April. Other meetings in the DNR's Northwest Region, all from 6 to 8 p.m., are as follows:

• Tuesday, April 17: Lake Bronson State Park, Kittson County Road 28, Lake Bronson.

• Tuesday, April 17: Roseau County Courthouse, 606 Fifth Ave. SW, Roseau.

• Tuesday, April 17: Park Rapids Area Library, 210 First St. W., Park Rapids.

• Wednesday, April 18: Thief Lake Area Wildlife Office, 42280 240th Ave. NE, Middle River.

• Wednesday, April 18: Lake of the Woods School, 210 Third Ave. NE, Baudette, IT room.

• Wednesday, April 18: Fergus Falls Area Wildlife Office, 1509 First Ave. N., Fergus Falls.

• Thursday, April 19: Glenwood Area Wildlife Office, 23070 North Lakeshore Drive, Glenwood.

• Tuesday, April 24: Bemidji City Hall, 317 Fourth St. NW.

• Tuesday, April 24: Thief River Falls Area Wildlife Office, 246 125th Ave. NE.

• Thursday, April 26: Minnesota State Community College, 900 Minnesota Highway 34, Detroit Lakes, campus auditorium.

-- Minnesota DNR

Oakes, Hankinson land top archery honors

Students from Oakes, N.D., claimed top honors in the elementary (grades 4-6) and middle school (grades 7-8) divisions, and Hankinson, N.D., won the high school division for students in grades 9 through 12 during the North Dakota National Archery in the Schools Program state bull's-eye tournament March 23-24 in Minot.

The overall male winner was Hankinson archer Cheyne Meyer, while Medina, N.D., student Gracie Gunderson claimed the top spot in the female division.

Archers also had the option of competing in a NASP 3-D Challenge, run simultaneously with the bull's-eye tournament. Overall male and female winners were Brady Sand, Mayville-Portland-Clifford-Galesburg, and Gracie Gunderson, Medina.

Andrew Hill of Oakes was the winner of a pronghorn hunt in Wyoming.

Winning teams and the top 10 individuals qualify for the national tournament, scheduled for May in Louisville, Ky. The Game and Fish Department and North Dakota Youth Archery Advisory Council contribute a total of $3,000 in travel assistance to the first-place team in each division and $1,000 to the overall male and female individual winners. In addition, the state Archery Advisory Council awarded $20,000 in college scholarships to the top five overall scorers in both boys and girls divisions.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

Did you know?

• Nearly 23,000 volunteers donated services valued at $7.4 million last year to assist the Minnesota DNR in accomplishing its conservation mission through a variety of projects and programs, according to the 2017 Annual DNR Volunteer Report, released last week. That's the equivalent of an extra 135 full-time staff. For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov and click on the words "Volunteer with DNR" on the left side of the page.

• What species can I fish for in Minnesota? What kind of bait is legal? What kind of fish can I keep? Don't have a fishing regulations book handy? No problem. You can find the answer at Fish Minnesota, the fishing information webpage at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn.

• The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is once again celebrating Earth Day by sponsoring clean-up days on publicly owned or managed lands. While Earth Day is April 22, each member of a school, Girl Scout, Boy Scout, 4-H club or youth organization who participates in cleaning up public lands through May will receive a specifically designed conservation patch featuring the artwork of Deanna Rose, Grand Forks. Info: Pat Lothspeich, (701) 328-6332.

-- compiled by Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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