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Plan would allow ice fishing on Lake Alice

It won't be this winter, but a plan to open Lake Alice to ice fishing within the boundaries of Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge is moving in the right direction.

Lake Alice

It won't be this winter, but a plan to open Lake Alice to ice fishing within the boundaries of Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge is moving in the right direction.

According to Matt Sprenger, project leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Devils Lake Wetland Management District, the Service is taking public comments on a draft environmental assessment and a draft fishing plan outlining a series of alternatives for opening the portion of Lake Alice within refuge boundaries to fishing.

Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 12,100 acres northwest of Devils Lake in northern Ramsey and southern Towner counties.

The Service's preferred alternative, Sprenger said, would open Lake Alice to ice fishing while keeping the refuge's portion of the lake closed other times of year. That option would fulfill the Service's mission to provide recreational opportunities, while meeting the agency's objective to protect migratory birds on refuge lands, he said.

Long-term flooding in the Devils Lake Basin means Devils Lake, Lake Irvine, Lake Alice, Chain Lake, Mike's Lake and Dry Lake now all are basically connected.

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"Things have changed over the last 15-20 years," Sprenger said of Lake Alice. "Where it used to be a 6,000-acre marsh, now it's an 11,000-plus-acre body of water just on the refuge."

Fishing currently is prohibited on the lake within refuge boundaries.

"(Lake Alice) has a sustainable fishery, and it's our job to look at some of the recreational opportunities we can provide to the public," Sprenger said. "We believe we can provide ice fishing and still meet all our migratory bird objectives."

Before that can happen, though, federal rules require the Service to go through an administrative rulemaking process, including the public comment period now underway. The Service will take comments until Dec. 20, Sprenger said, and later must publish the proposal in the Federal Register for additional feedback.

Once that process is complete, the Service would implement a final rule in its code of regulations, Sprenger said. Best-case scenario, he said, the Lake Alice proposal would be published in the Federal Register next September, and ice fishing within refuge boundaries would begin in the winter of 2014-2015.

"There isn't any reason not to allow folks to enjoy that opportunity," Sprenger said. "We think it's going to be a compatible use."

The proposal also comes as good news to the Lake Region Anglers Association. Bob Gibson of Devils Lake, a member of the Lake Region Anglers' board of directors, said the group has been pushing the Service to open Lake Alice to fishing for the past three years and worked with the agency to develop the documents now open for public comment.

The Service already allows fishing on other national wildlife refuge lands in North Dakota, including Lake Audubon in Audubon National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Darling in Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge.

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"Any time you're working with the federal government it's a long process," Gibson said. "We've been battling this forever. I think it's good for the area and it's good for anglers.

"All the wheels are in motion, and I believe we're going to get a lot of public support."

Opening Lake Alice to fishing also would alleviate the problem of venturing into an area that's now off-limits in what essentially is one large lake.

"A lot of times, from Lake Irvine, you don't know where the boundaries are," Gibson said. "If you shoot to Mike's Lake, you've got to cross Lake Alice."

Sprenger said Lake Irvine would be a primary access point for winter anglers to reach Lake Alice, but several flooded roadways also terminate at the lake.

"We're not planning any maintenance or snow plowing so it's going to be just fundamentally what's there and what ice conditions permit," Sprenger said. "I think it will just be more administratively feasible for the public and less confusing for the public."

• For more information:

The Lake Alice fishing plan draft documents are available online at fws.gov/lakealice and at the Devils Lake office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 221 Second St. N.W. in Devils Lake. Written comments will be accepted at the Devils Lake office or by email at devilslake@fws.gov . Include "Draft Fishing Plan" in the subject line.

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Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FISHINGWILDLIFE
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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