I know a lot of outdoorsmen are hoping the year ahead is an improvement over 2011. If wildlife could speak, I'm guessing they'd agree. Harsh winters and lack of habitat is a lethal combination for all wildlife with fur or feathers. Hellacious floods don't do wildlife any instant favors either.
Once hunting seasons got under way in 2011, sportsmen discovered it was evident our big game and bird populations were much less than what we've grown accustomed to in recent years. Flooding on the the Missouri River system expelled an unknown number of fish, large and small, through Garrison Dam. The extent of the loss, particularly on smelt, isn't yet known but, hopefully, it will not have a noticeable impact on Lake Sakakawea fishing.
Conservation Reserve Program acres have been correctly credited with giving our wildlife populations a big boost and helping filter runoff into our lakes and rivers. However, CRP acreage has been declining recently and even more CRP is scheduled to leave the system in the months ahead. That means less habitat for wildlife.
Kim Fundingsland is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News.
A terrific positive is the fact that this winter has been much more agreeable than forecasters ever imagined. Wildlife benefits. Each blizzard-free day pushes us a little closer to spring. Mother Nature certainly knows how to get even, but maybe this time she'll run out of time. We'll take favorable weather during the spring nesting season too. It would be a great help to increasing our upland game populations.
While I'm concerned about our wildlife, I'm also concerned about the number of hunters we'll be putting into the field in the near future. Many of today's hunters have grown up with bulging pheasant and deer populations and haven't experienced "tougher" times in the field. I hope they don't lose interest if our wildlife populations don't rebound as quickly as we'd like. North Dakota needs to maintain its strong hunting heritage.
Although we'd all like to see some changes for the better in the months ahead, it should be pointed out that 2011 wasn't all bad either. There were still opportunities for sportsmen to get out and do their thing. The experience was there even if the physical results weren't always evident.
Once the floodwaters got out of the way the fishing proved to be pretty good. The Garrison Dam Tailrace in fact the entire Missouri River yielded some spectacular catches of fish. Alecia Berg of Minot boated a 15 pounds, 4 ounce walleye from the tailrace. The monster fish is the largest hook-and-line walleye officially documented in North Dakota. It also rejuvenated fishermen to spend more time on the water in the hopes of producing a similar catch.
What will 2012 bring? We don't know, of course, but you'll never know if you don't get out there and enjoy the experiences our state has to offer. Make it a point to set aside ample time for fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, birdwatching, canoeing or whatever outdoor activity you enjoy.
Things change. Times change. Don't let it change without your participation.