Leier: North Dakotans should take time to enjoy outdoors
For most of us, the road traveled matters little once we've arrived at our destination.
Seldom do we realize -- or appreciate -- while beginning a pheasant hunt across the prairie, the time and energy it took to provide access to a public hunting spot.
When you get to spend a few hours hunting a tract of public land, little evidence exists of the work hours needed to correct a boundary fence, or place new signs near a tucked-in-the-woods wildlife management area, save for a few tire tracks or matted down grass.
A visit to a WMA, Private Land Open To Sportsmen tract or other North Dakota Game and Fish Department managed lands depends on proper signs, and an accompanying map, to assure that where you're at, matches where you intended to be.
Without a map, new areas are discovered only by random chance. Without proper signs, you could inadvertently wind up on private land where you don't have permission. Realize this: During the summer, Game and Fish crews build or repair many miles of fence, pound in and post hundreds of signs, and translate all that into maps that will help us get there when hunting seasons open.
Maintaining fences, signs and parking areas is an essential but often overlooked part of land management. Fences define boundaries, with more than 175 WMAs in North Dakota, keeping them in good shape is no easy task. While Game and Fish doesn't have to fence the privately owner PLOTS acres, with about 760,000 acres in the program, maintaining old signs and erecting new ones is an even bigger chore than fixing fence.
Parking areas are another overlooked feature, but without them, hunters would have to park on the side of the roadway, which could present a traffic hazard, even on seldom traveled country roads.
Just getting to all the WMA and PLOTS locations -- found in all corners of the state and places in between -- is a challenge. Travel, even from the Game and Fish Department's six field offices, can be a couple of hours or more one way.
"It's a unique and enjoyable challenge," says Scott Peterson, Game and Fish lands and development section supervisor at the Department's district office at Lonetree WMA near Harvey in Wells Count. "We maintain several hundred miles of fence each year. We'll replace old fence and construct about 15 miles of new fence each year. The landscape we're working on can be just about anything, from rugged hills and outcroppings in the Killdeer Mountains to aspen forests in the Turtle Mountains to lowland timber along the Missouri River."
And it's not just fencing and posting boundary signs. "As with any landowner in North Dakota, weed control is a big part of land management," Peterson added. "We treat almost 12,000 acres for weeds each year. Factor in biological control of leafy spurge with beetles, and some mowing, and it's a big part of the equation."
For many hunters, preparation begins the night before, or even on the morning of a hunt. For those tasked with providing public hunting opportunities, the preparation is year round.
This fall, when you're having a sandwich in the parking lot of a WMA, or admiring a rooster bagged on a PLOTS tract, take a minute to appreciate these parcels of land and the work that goes into them. And please leave them in better shape than when you arrived.
If you notice something out of order, take a minute to jot down the problem and location. When you return home, take a minute and let someone at Game and Fish know.
Above all, enjoy the fruits of all that summer labor this autumn.
Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org . His blog is at dougleier.areavoices.com