Voicing complaints about hunters abusing public lands, residents of Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope and Stark counties were visibly upset at an advisory board meeting with North Dakota Game and Fish on Monday night in Belfield.
The meeting, led by Game and Fish Chief of Wildlife Jeb Williams as well as Deputy Director Scott Peterson, simmered with emotion as soon as people were able to offer input on the fall hunting season.
“You’re losing your good hunters because the slob hunters are driving all over,” one property owner told the Game and Fish representatives in the basement of Choice Financial Bank in Belfield. “You guys do a lot of talking and not much doing.”
The department has tried to spread awareness through press releases and online avenues, but as North Dakota law stands, federal land is public property, leaving it in the hands of the masses.
Local landowners expressed their concerns of a few, not all, hunters that had lost their respect for the grasslands, moral deficiencies evidenced in the way they had torn up portions of the earth with their trucks instead of walking. What they wanted were restrictions on using vehicles off the gravel roads.
“You guys have to understand that not everyone has the physical ability to walk 15 miles a day,” Peterson replied to their appeals. “In defense of our hunters, you guys also have to remember that some of those guys are waiting five to six years to get a deer license or an elk license — it’s once in a lifetime.”
“I’m not trying to condone or excuse tearing up those trails, but you have to take a step back and look at it from somebody else’s point of view,” Director Peterson urged the crowd.
After coming to the consensus that not all hunters are ecological vandals, the crowd cooled and moved onto the subject of chronic wasting disease in North Dakota’s deer population.
“It’s a very serious disease,” Williams said of the contagious neurodegenerative ailment found in cervids. “CWD is always fatal and it’s transmittable in a couple different ways: through direct contact and indirect contact.”
“Prions are defective proteins in the body,” the chief of wildlife said of the disease. “The spinal column, the brain material, the head, that’s what contains the most prions.”
“It's not a bacteria — it's not a virus that you can control or kill,” he added.
According to Williams, CWD was first discovered in North Dakota in 2009 in the south-central part of the state. Since then, mule deer bucks harvested as close as McKenzie County have tested positive for the sickness.
Some studies out of places like Colorado and Wyoming, Williams said, often paint an abysmal picture — with the prevalence rate in some areas getting up to 30-40%, the impact on deer, elk and moose populations through the country is devastating.
“We’ve always said in North Dakota that we can live with CWD — we’re going to have to live with CWD: it’s here,” the chief said. “But if you manage it correctly, at a low prevalence rate, it’s something that we can live with on the landscape.”
When asked of possible methods for maintaining the malignant disease at a low rate of impact, the Game and Fish representative said the department would prefer to use hunters in some areas.
“We’re going to have to be careful on how we do that,” Williams said. “Our goal is not going to be to nuke our mule deer population out here because we found CWD. But it is something we want to be responsible for, obviously, for future generations.”
The congregation also discussed the replacement of diseased bighorn sheep in the Badlands with transplants from Colorado, zebra mussels that are infesting waters in North Dakota, as well as new fishing proclamations.