Published September 02, 2007, 12:00 AM

N.D. PLOTS program surpasses 1 million acres

BISMARCK, N.D. – Those yellow inverted triangular signs that designate private land open to hunting are not near as plentiful as “No Hunting” postings in North Dakota, but Gov. John Hoeven says they’re gaining ground.

By: By James MacPherson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. – Those yellow inverted triangular signs that designate private land open to hunting are not near as plentiful as “No Hunting” postings in North Dakota, but Gov. John Hoeven says they’re gaining ground.

Hoeven announced last week that more than 1 million acres are enrolled in a state program called PLOTS, or Private Lands Open to Sportsmen, that offers payments to landowners who agree to keep their property open to public hunting.

Hoeven and state Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand made the announcement on PLOTS land in Sterling, east of Bismarck in central North Dakota.

About $4 million will be dolled out this year to the 2,139 landowners in the program, which is funded by license fees paid by hunters, Hoeven said.

Landowners are paid a range of $1 to $34 per acre, depending on the use of the land and its quality for habitat, said Kevin Kading, the Game and Fish Department’s private lands coordinator. Land that has been farmed typically fetches lower payments, he said.

“The PLOTS program opens up an awful lot of opportunities for hunters,” Steinwand said.

Dean Hildebrand, the Game and Fish Department’s former top administrator, established the PLOTS program in 1997, and it has grown since.

A decade ago, the program only had 42,000 acres, said Don Canton, a spokesman for Hoeven. Last year, more than 900,000 acres were enrolled in the program.

Hoeven said the state set a goal in 2003 to make more than 1 million acres enrolled in the PLOTS program by 2009. This year’s total is 1,006,378 acres.

“We’ll want to maintain a million acres and add to it if we can to increase habitat,” Hoeven said.

Besides PLOTS land, North Dakota has about 2 million acres of public land open to hunting, Hoeven said.

“People have a place in North Dakota to go hunt, but in many states that’s not true,” said Hoeven, an avid pheasant hunter.

Hunting is a multimillion dollar industry in North Dakota, Hoeven said.

“It’s a huge economic impact of millions of dollars,” Hoeven said. “Much of that goes to rural areas.”

PLOTS land also is popular with bird watchers, he said.

PLOTS tracts range from about 80 acres to about 6,000, Kading said. Not all land qualifies for the program.

“Black dirt or a stubble field all by itself probably wouldn’t qualify,” Kading said.

Several farm states have similar programs but Kading said North Dakota is alone in requiring that the land be suitable for habitat.

“Basically, a lot of states just write checks for access,” he said.

Richard Aberle of Edgeley said his land has been enrolled in the program since it began. He and his family have about 1,200 PLOTS acres now.

“The big thing for sportsmen is that it allows them to plan a hunting trip and they don’t have to locate a landowner to get permission, because that right is already granted,” Aberle said.

“It’s good for the sportsmen, good for the environment, good for the landowner — and the hunters pay for it,” Aberle said. “I can’t imagine that there’s a negative.”

Aberle also said the program has been a boon to rural areas.

“It brings hunters to our area and stimulates the economy,” he said. “They buy gas, groceries, motel rooms – they even come to church on Sunday and contribute to the collection plate.”

It’s not just hunters who use his land, he said.

“Once there was two elderly ladies out there just listening to the birds, “Aberle said. “They lived over 80 miles from there.”

PLOTS land is off limits to nonresident hunters for the first week of pheasant season, Kading said. Hunters from out of state can use the land at the beginning of other seasons, he said.

The program has done much for hunters and habitat, said Leon Streifel, a gun manager at Scheels All Sports in Fargo.

“Opening up more land to hunting is great,” Streifel said. “PLOTS land does help get the average person back out who was discouraged by ‘No Hunting’ signs.”

Streifel said it’s not difficult to spot a PLOTS sign in North Dakota but that wasn’t always the case.

“Ten years ago, you didn’t see many of those little yellow signs,” Streifel said. “Now there is more and more of them and people aren’t afraid to drive out somewhere because they know they can get on some land.”

Maps of the PLOTS land should be ready for distribution this week, Canton said.

Streifel said the maps, which are free, help draw people to his store and direct hunters to land where they might not otherwise go.

“People are going to go there and spend money,” he said.