PLOTS program to continue regardless of the future of CRP in the regionDICKINSON - After reaching a milestone of over 1 million acres enrolled in the Private Land Open to Sportsman (PLOTS) program, North Dakota Game and Fish officials are being forced review which land is best for the program.
By: John Odermann, The Dickinson Press
DICKINSON - After reaching a milestone of over 1 million acres enrolled in the Private Land Open to Sportsman (PLOTS) program, North Dakota Game and Fish officials are being forced review which land is best for the program.
The loss of Conservation Reserve Program land throughout the state is going to have a huge impact on the PLOTS program.
“Close to half our acreage is in the CRP program,” Game and Fish private lands biologist Kevin Kading said. “We’re worried about what is going to happen in the next three years.
Since 1997, the PLOTS program has been in its current form, providing hunters with hunting opportunities. Developed to solve the problem of overcrowding on the CRP acres that were available, the PLOTS program provides additional incentive for landowners to enroll their land in the CRP.
Responding to the need for less crowded hunting areas, the state Legislature voted to expand the program, but it is still a shadow of the larger, federal CRP program.
“We basically piggy-back onto the CRP program,” Kading said.
This allows the Game and Fish Department to make an impact with its much smaller budget.
“We can’t even come close to matching what CRP’s budget is,” Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said. “Our yearly operating budget for the Game and Fish as a whole isn’t even that much.”
Annually, the budget for the CRP program in North Dakota is around $120 million. The PLOTS program budget is between $3 million to $4 million a year.
Kading feels the 1 million acres currently enrolled in the program is a good figure.
“Now the challenge is going to be maintaining that balance.” Kading said. “We could have a million acres, but if it isn’t good habitat it’s not going to be worth it.”
Maintaining that quality habitat is important to Game and Fish.
While there most assuredly is going to be a loss of habitat due to the loss of CRP acres, Game and Fish hopes to curtail the negative effects by using the PLOTS program to preserve good prospects for hunters.
“We’re going to do the best we can to work in special, focused areas to try to mitigate these losses,” Kading said. “Not only will the number of birds drop, but then the hunting will get crowded and those people that have been coming to North Dakota to hunt will leave.”
Hunting has become an increasingly good source of cash flow, especially for landowners in the southwestern part of the state, but that all could become sparse.
Landowners throughout the state have taken land out of production and enrolled it in the CRP program. This allows them to provide greater hunting opportunities and more birds, which out-of-state hunters are willing to pay big money to access.
Kading believes even without the CRP acres, the PLOTS program may help entice individuals to keep their land out of production.
“Some guys are going to continue to do this because it’s their livelihood and that’ll be good for those businesses,” Kading said. “Some guys are going to continue to do this because it’s their livelihood and that’ll be good for those businesses,” Kading said. “But not for those hunters that don’t have the money to pay.”
This is why Game and Fish sees the PLOTS program as such a valuable resource for the hunters who look to North Dakota for affordable hunting. PLOTS land is essentially leased from the landowner and is open to the public for hunting.
As a result, Game and Fish intends to continue to review which land is the best fit for the PLOTS program, with the mindset that providing good habitat for animals and good hunting opportunities is paramount.
“This is one of those where we don’t have much control,” Steinwand said. “I have confidence in everyone working on this that they will do the best that they possibly can. I think we’ll fair all right, but you’ll definitely see some landscape changes.”