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NORTH DAKOTA OUTDOORS/ DOUG LEIER: Fall hunting preview highlights habitat partnerships

Pheasants do better with warmer, drier conditions versus cooler, wetter conditions during the hatch, which peaks around the third week of June. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)1 / 2
Doug Leier, North Dakota Game and Fish Department2 / 2

One of the unofficial duties of the state Game and Fish Department's wildlife division chief is to set the stage for the fall seasons ahead in the annual hunting preview in North Dakota Outdoors magazine.

That task currently falls to Jeb Williams, a Beach, N.D., native and a graduate of Dickinson State University. He's spent more than 20 years working in different roles with the department and took over as wildlife chief during the summer of 2014.

Here's some excerpts from Williams' message this year as we head into the heart of the fall. It's important to note it's not so much about how many pheasants or ducks you'll find, but it highlights the types of partnerships in which Game and Fish is involved that will help provide for more wildlife in the future.

"A year ago, and for good reason, talk centered mostly on the return of drought conditions to North Dakota . ...

"Typically, pheasants do better with warmer, drier conditions versus cooler, wetter conditions during the hatch, which peaks around the third week of June. But the warm and dry in 2017 was a bit extreme. ...

"When last fall's pheasant season was all said and done, hunters harvested roughly 300,000 roosters, the lowest tally since 1998. While drought conditions undoubtedly impacted the pheasant population, a reduction in this nonnative's numbers has long been influenced by the state's changing landscape. ...

"During North Dakota's peak Conservation Reserve Program years, approximately 3.5 million acres of idle grasses carpeted the state. Today, that once robust figure is closer to 1 million acres. ...

"Enter Precision Agriculture. An original partnership between Pheasants Forever and AgSolver, the goal of the program is to work with agriculture producers to maximize profitable acres, while identifying less profitable acres that may be better suited to conservation programs.

"North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife managers recognized the need to partner with Pheasants Forever to utilize the strategic nature of the Precision Agriculture program, which helps much more than just pheasants.

"The Department and others, including four soil conservation districts in Ransom, Sargent, Dickey and LaMoure counties, North Dakota Natural Resources Trust and the state Department of Health's 319 watershed program, started working with Pheasants Forever in 2017.

"Working directly with private landowners, more than 34,000 acres have been evaluated under the program. Game and Fish has also provided $131,000 in cost-share with landowners, the soil conservation districts have contributed $43,000 in matching funds, and approximately 1,200 Private Land Open To Sportsmen acres have been impacted in this four-county area.

"The program has been successful enough that it will be expanding into southwestern North Dakota this fall. We anticipate the program will generate a lot of interest and continue to play a role in a more strategic effort in putting habitat on the landscape to continue our great hunting traditions in North Dakota."

More detailed information, and the complete fall preview North Dakota Outdoors, is available on the Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov.