PARK RIVER, N.D. - There might not have been any controversial issues or proposals on the table Monday night, but that didn't keep sportsmen from packing the American Legion club here for the spring meeting of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's Advisory Board.
Game and Fish is mandated to hold the meetings twice a year in each of the state's eight Advisory Board districts.
Hosted by the Walsh County Gun Club, the Park River meeting was for District 4, which covers Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties.
I've been at spring advisory board meetings where Game and Fish staff outnumbered the audience. That definitely wasn't the case Monday night. More than 40 people attended, a big turnout for the spring meetings, which tend to be less eventful than the fall sessions held shortly after the deer gun season ends.
Scott Peterson, Game and Fish deputy director, and Casey Anderson, assistant wildlife chief, presided over the meeting. Deer hunting questions dominated the agenda, which was no surprise given the decline in deer gun tags in the past decade. Last year, Game and Fish offered 54,500 deer gun licenses, a slight increase from 2016, and 49,407 hunters shot about 30,100 deer for a success rate of 61 percent, based on results from a post-season survey the department conducts every year.
Game and Fish hasn't yet set deer tag numbers for this year, Anderson said.
A few highlights from the meeting:
• A total of 13,402 landowners applied for gratis deer tags last year, a number that's been relatively steady in recent years. Some hunters who don't own land may not like the gratis system, but all of the gratis laws are set by the Legislature. "We have to remember less than 5 percent of land in North Dakota is public," Peterson said. "Gratis was designed to mitigate some of the negative things landowners put up with on their land. We need their cooperation, pure and simple."
• Game and Fish in 2017 saw a spike in deer archery license sales after Dec. 5. Bow hunters in 2017 had 36 percent success, compared with 42 percent success in 2016.
• Peterson and Anderson handed out two maps showing changes in Conservation Reserve Program acreage from 2007 to 2017 and changes in deer license sales by unit during the same period. In Unit 2B, CRP acreage has declined 46.3 percent since 2007, while acreage in 2C has fallen by 58.3 percent. Deer license sales from 2007 to 2017 have declined 90.9 percent in 2C and 84.7 percent in 2B.
• Chronic wasting disease in North Dakota remains confined to a handful of positive cases in deer Unit 3F2 in the southwest, but the disease has been found in Saskatchewan within five miles north of the North Dakota border, which could affect adjacent deer units if CWD is found in the northwest part of the state. "Once CWD is on the landscape, there's nothing that gets rid of it," Anderson said. "We're trying to keep on top of it as much as we can without it affecting our hunting."
• As it does every spring, the issue of closing the spring fishing season on the coulees that run into Devils Lake to protect spawning walleyes came up Monday night. And as they do every time the issue comes up, department staff said there's no biological reason to close the season or implement a slot limit to protect spawning fish. Randy Hiltner, northeast district fisheries supervisor for Game and Fish in Devils Lake, said a creel survey in April 2017, when fishing in the coulees was very good, showed anglers logged 17,000 hours of fishing pressure and harvested 10,000 walleyes, of which two-thirds were male and one-third were larger than 20 inches. Most of those walleyes likely came from Lake Irvine, where summer boat access is limited, and Lake Alice, which only is open to ice fishing, Hiltner said. "We're not worried about a lack of eggs for production," he said.