MOHALL The top items of discussion at the District 2 Game & Fish Department Advisory Board Meeting held here was the 2012 deer season and scheduled expiration of 850,000 acres currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. The meeting was the final one in a statewide series of spring Advisory Board gatherings.
Game & Fish distributed a draft of the proposed cuts in the number of deer gun hunting permits for 2012. The unit-by-unit tally showed a decrease of 44,700 licenses from a year ago and a complete closure of the mule deer doe season. Mule deer buck licences would be cut from 2,500 to 1,250. The total number of deer gun tags issued in 2011, including white-tailed deer, was 109,950.
"This is rather aggressive," said Roger Rostvet, Game & Fish deputy director. "Do we build the population slowly or bite the bullet and move forward? Hopefully this will get results a little bit quicker."
Rostvet explained that those hunters who traditionally submitted a deer gun application listing a buck as their first choice and a doe for a second choice may be in for a disappointment. In recent years hunters were virtually guaranteed to draw at least a doe tag. That, says Rostvet, will no longer be the case.
"This is all kind of gloomy but it's all necessary," Rostvet told the gathering. "It's going to be painful for a year or two. That's just the reality of the numbers."
Some discussion was held regarding the a "one buck only" system. Currently a lucky hunter could buy a bow license and draw both deer gun buck and muzzleloader tags.
"It is something we've looked at, but we're not going to implement it this year," said Rostvet.
Jeb Williams, Game & Fish assistant wildlife division chief, spoke about the deer archery season. The number of bow licenses sold, said Williams, "skyrocketed five or six years ago when the deer population was just too high."
A total of 23,000 archery deer tags were sold in 2011.
"The numbers have gotten high enough now where we at least have to look at some limits," said Williams.
No changes in the deer archery season are proposed for 2012 other than eliminating the harvesting of mule deer does.
In response to a question about revenue created by the sale of deer tags, Rostvet said that no increase in license fees was imminent. The last increase in the price of a deer license occurred in 1984.
"Revenue went up because the deer herd had been exceeding projections, now we're in a crunch," explained Rostvet. "The department is deficit spending right now, spending into our reserve."
Given the state's reduced deer herd, an inquiry was made regarding the number of out-of-state deer permits being issued. Rostvet explained that the number was fixed by law at one percent of the previous year's license sales.
Williams gave a presentation updating the status of CRP. The state's CRP acreage peaked at approximately 3.5 million acres. Many of those familiar with the program expected that number to be reduced in half by 2013. A total of 850,000 CRP acres could be lost this year alone.
"We don't know yet where it will end up," said Williams. "We are in a trend now that's a little more spooky than what we've seen."
With an eye on the future, Williams noted that a "Life After CRP" brochure was available through Game & Fish. CRP is widely credited with increasing the state's pheasant population, providing preferred fawning areas for deer and for filtering runoff into the state's watersheds.
Another item of concern was the pressure put on the state's wildlife and habitat by energy activity, particularly oil development in western North Dakota. Game & Fish responded that they are doing what they can to save some spacing in mule deer country but that they cannot legally deny access rights.
"Our hands are tied on that," said Rostvet. "Everybody is playing catch up. I know we are. I think it caught everybody offguard, ourselves included."
What might become of the Garrison Dam and Valley City National Fish Hatcheries was briefly discussed. The hatcheries have narrowly avoided federal budget cuts that threaten closure. Much of the Garrison Hatchery was funded by Game & Fish, which works in close cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatcheries.
"It is one of the most unique relationships in the U.S.," stated Rostvet. "It is good business for us to work with those folks. The outdoor ponds are actually our ponds. If the feds pull back we would put money into the hatcheries. The future of those hatcheries so important to North Dakota. It would probably be the highest priority of anything we'd do."