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CWD, posting are top concerns

G&F Advisory Board meets in Velva

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Charley Bahnson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife veterinarian, attended the District 2 Game and Fish Advisory Board Meeting in Velva. Here Bahnson responds to an audience member’s question about chronic wasting disease, or CWD, that has killed deer in the state.

VELVA – Chronic wasting disease and current legislative action, including the “no trespass” bill, were main topics of conversation here Tuesday evening.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department District 2 Advisory Board meeting was held at Verendrye Electric. A large crowd of sportsmen and landowners filled the room. Terry Steinwand, NDG&F director, chaired the event.

District 2 encompasses seven counties – Ward, Bottineau, Burke, McHenry, Mountrail, Pierce and Renville. Also representing Game and Fish presenters was Wildlife Veterinarian Charley Bahnson, Fisheries Biologist Jason Lee and Wildlife Division Assistant Chief Casey Anderson.

Much of the meeting concerned chronic wasting disease, or CWD. The disease, which is fatal to deer, moose and elk, was recently discovered in a deer found on the southwest edge of Williston. Although CWD was initially discovered along the southern border of the state in 2009, it had never before been confirmed in northwest North Dakota.

Infected deer had earlier been discovered in southern Saskatchewan, approximately six miles north of Portal, so the presence of CWD in the northwest part of the state was not entirely unexpected. In other states where outbreaks of CWD has occurred it has claimed thousands of deer.

Bahnson told the large gathering, “CWD only gets worse.” In response to the positive test for CWD on the deer found in Williston, Game and Fish harvested 52 deer from northwest North Dakota for the purpose of CWD testing. None of the deer tested positive for the disease.

“You can’t get rid of CWD,” explained Anderson. “We hope to keep the prevalence low and maintain a decent hunting season. That’s kind of our goal.”

Anderson stressed that hunters help manage CWD outbreaks by helping keep deer populations in check and submitting deer heads for CWD testing. In addition, said Anderson, Game and Fish restricts transportation of deer and eliminates baiting in areas known to have CWD.

In response to a sportsman’s question about whether or not the practice of hunters and others using bait to attract deer should be stopped, Anderson replied, “For deer health it would be best, statewide. We’ve got the science to back it.”

CWD is known to be transmitted from one deer to another in what is termed “nose to nose” contact, such as can occur when multiple deer are feeding on a bait pile.

“We can’t eliminate CWD yet,” noted Anderson. “Can science catch up and tell us there’s a better way? I hope so.”

Steinwand gave an update on Game and Fish-related legislation from the current session of the state Legislature. One very obvious issue of interest to the gathering was the status of Senate Bill 2315, or the “no trespass” bill. In its original form the bill would have made all private land in the state closed to hunting. Currently landowners are required to post their land if they wish to keep anyone from entering.

Following lengthy testimony in committee the bill passed the Senate and was forwarded to the House. Again, it faced extensive discussion from proponents and opponents in committee. Currently the bill calls for the creation of an electronic data base that would color code private land as red, yellow or green to indicate landowner preference as to whether or not the land would be open or closed to hunting.

“I thought it very confusing. I prefer open or closed. One of the two,” Steinwand told the gathering. “I’m not even sure it’s constitutional. I don’t know how enforcement could ever enforce it.”

The House has amended the bill to include the formation of a committee to decide a course of action for the legislation by Aug. 1, 2020. It includes language that allows the bill to revert to its original form, meaning all private land in the state would be automatically considered posted, if the committee cannot agree on a position.

The bill is expected to reach the House floor sometime next week. If it should pass, it would be returned to the Senate for final action.

A second bill detailed by Steinwand was SB 2293, which would establish an Aquatic Nuisance Species fund. ANS have been found in some waters in the state. An ANS invasion, such as by zebra mussels, can greatly alter aquatic habitat and clog water supplies and the like, resulting is costly repairs.

“The bill would fund two portable boat wash stations that would travel throughout the state,” said Steinwand. “Our biggest threat is actually from the east where Minnesota spends millions each year on ANS.”

Boat wash stations would be used to clean boats entering or leaving bodies of water, thereby reducing the threat of transferring ANS from one location to another. The bill would add two full-time employees to Game and Fish and fund the hiring of temporary employees to maintain necessary activities in the field.

When asked by a member of the audience if Game and Fish was considering mandatory boat checks for ANS and mandatory wash stations, Steinwand replied, “We do not want to go there. As long as I am director we will not.”

Lee told the gathering that low levels of dissolved oxygen in area lakes are likely to result in winter kills of fish. Lakes cited by Lee included Coal Lake near Underwood, Lake Scooby south of Benedict, Crooked Lake in the Strawberry Lakes chain and Makoti Lake south of Makoti.

“We tested low DO in those lakes,” said Lee. “We are expecting to see kills in all of those and maybe more. It’s been a tough winter. We’ll know more after the ice goes out.”

Lee asked sportsmen to report winter kills to Game and Fish.

One member of the audience heatedly expressed concern about fishing guides bringing clients to small lakes and taking so many fish that the resource was harmed. He suggested Game and Fish eliminate commercial fishing on lakes of less than 2,000 acres in size.

“What you just mentioned is a damn good rule,” responded Steinwand. “The guides and outfitters might feel a little differently. To make changes I know I must first form a committee to discuss it. Really, all you have to do to be a licensed fishing guide in North Dakota is buy at $100 license.”

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