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Land for use: 22,000 acres enrolled in PLOTS

BEACH--Sportsmen and outdoorsmen will have more land to use in western North Dakota for the next 10 years thanks to the help of multiple agencies and one local man.

Submitted Photo by Steven Carlsen Dan Kalil, Mule Deer Foundation Muddy Buck Chapter in Williston is shown unloading Bobcats on Byron Richard's land.
Submitted Photo by Steven Carlsen Dan Kalil, Mule Deer Foundation Muddy Buck Chapter in Williston is shown unloading Bobcats on Byron Richard's land.

BEACH-Sportsmen and outdoorsmen will have more land to use in western North Dakota for the next 10 years thanks to the help of multiple agencies and one local man.

Byron Richard has enrolled 22,000 acres of his land in the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's Private Land Open to Sportsmen-the largest of its kind in the history of the program.

"What we are doing here, for North Dakota, is probably a first," said Mule Deer Foundation Regional Director Marshall Johnson.

The Mule Deer Foundation was awarded a $480,000 Outdoor Heritage Fund grant to be used to open the large tract of land this fall and will stay open for 10 years.

Johnson said he specifically wanted the grant to go toward private landowner partnerships.

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"I wrote the grant specifically to work with private landowners in western North Dakota, specifically the impacted areas with oil and where mule deer are," he said. "Then we would use these funds to work with the landowner to improve their habitat."

Richard said that was a number that was collectively decided on between himself, the MUle Deer Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever and the National Wild Turkey Foundation.

"... We are going to make some improvements on this property," he said. "These different wildlife stakeholders are bringing some resources to this and to get a decent return on their investment, we need to have some time to make this work. We are looking at it and the same kind of direction. We concluded agreed 10 years isn't that long. It'll be well worth it."

Johnson said this is a unique contract not only because of the size but because of the collaboration between all of the organizations.

"It's very neat when you can get all four of these (organizations) together to work on a specific habitat project," Johnson said.

The amount of animals and habitat that will be impacted by the project was an exciting prospect, Marshall said.

"I knew right away that this has so much potential," he said. "I mean there is just so much. This land has six to eight miles of Beaver Creek. It's got all of the terrain and the wildlife that would you expect. It has deer. It has elk. It has antelope ... turkey. It has all of the upland game. It was just like a mecca."

Before 2016, the Mule Deer Foundation sponsored 27,000 acres, so the addition of the Richard land all but doubled the land the foundation has.

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The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation each donated $10,000 to help with costs associated with the program while the Mule Deer Foundation and the Outdoor Heritage Fund be using $80,000 to improve fencing and put in a new water pipeline for the existing cattle on the Richard land.

Richard is funding up to 50 percent of the work, Johnson said, which was a decision to ensure buy in from him as well.

The improvements to his land as well as the improvement of wildlife habitat means that land will increase in value as well, and will also have an increase in wildlife.

"If you have a good sustainable wildlife population on your property it actually makes your property more valuable, believe it or not, but most importantly, I have children," Richard said. "I have grandchildren and we enjoy wildlife. We like to see them. We feel like they can thrive along with our business, which is livestock production."

Johnson said he hopes other residents that see how advantageous the program is for Richard will be interested in enrolling in the program too.

Richard said the program will also enhance the quality of the property by not allowing overgrazing by spreading the cattle out and, with the help of volunteers, the land has been cleaned up to make it more accessible to future sportsmen or nature enthusiasts.

"They've got the property looking a lot more attractive now with their collaboration," he said.

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