Published December 02, 2012, 05:35 AM

BRAD DOKKEN: Deer and coyotes overshadow oil issues at NDGF meetings

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department won’t have tallies on this year’s deer gun season for several months, but if comments at the department’s recent series of advisory board meetings are any indication, hunters generally were satisfied with the season.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department won’t have tallies on this year’s deer gun season for several months, but if comments at the department’s recent series of advisory board meetings are any indication, hunters generally were satisfied with the season.

A work conflict prevented me from attending Tuesday night’s advisory board meeting in Grand Forks, but I made the trek to Sheyenne, N.D., on Monday night for the next-closest meeting. Game and Fish holds the meetings twice a year in each of the state’s eight advisory board districts.

Most years, deer hunting dominates the discussion at the fall meetings. But when Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand asked the 40 or so people who attended the Sheyenne meeting about deer season, there was very little complaining.

Gary Rankin, district game warden for Game and Fish in Larimore, N.D., said that also seemed to be the case Tuesday night in Grand Forks.

“There weren’t any complaints,” Rankin said. “Off the top of my head, I can’t think of anybody having a complaint about deer hunting.”

At least part of the reason results from a sharp reduction in deer licenses. In response to fewer deer and poor hunting success last year, Game and Fish this year cut the number of licenses to 65,300, down from nearly 110,000 in 2011 and the lowest number since 1988.

In Sheyenne, at least, much of the discussion focused on coyotes, which were blamed for everything from fewer deer in localized areas to poor ruffed grouse hunting. One attendee who owns property in the Turtle Mountains suggested the state should legalize the use of snowmobiles for running down and shooting the animals.

That would take legislative action, Steinwand said, and isn’t likely to be well received. I’d be surprised if it gathers much momentum when the North Dakota Legislature convenes next month.

A more important issue, yet one that generated very little discussion Monday night, is the impact of the oil boom on habitat and wildlife populations in western North Dakota.

Greg Link, conservation and communications chief for Game and Fish, outlined a series of “best management practice” recommendations to reduce the impact of oil and gas development on fish and wildlife resources in that part of the state.

The recommendations, developed by a group that calls itself the Sporting and Oil Industry Forum, are voluntary, meaning oil companies don’t have to adhere to them. But the hope, Link said, is that peer pressure from within the industry will get more companies thinking about what’s best for fish and wildlife habitat.

“Some companies are very concerned,” Link said. “Their reputation is everything to them.”

Steinwand said it’s too early to gauge the impact of the oil boom on habitat-dependent species such as mule deer and bighorn sheep. Mule deer populations are floundering, but three consecutive severe winters before last year likely are a big reason, Steinwand said.

An upcoming study on mule deer in the Oil Patch will shed more light on how energy development is affecting the species, he said.

Critics have faulted the “best practice” recommendations as too little too late, but at the very least, players in the oil boom are beginning to realize that sportsmen, conservationists and others who care about what’s left of the state’s wild places are paying attention to what’s happening in the Oil Patch.

That trend needs to continue. Minimizing the oil boom’s environmental impact is far more important than being able to chase down coyotes with snowmobiles or quibbling over how many nonresident hunters visit the state every year.

As the old saying goes, every journey begins with the first step. The ultimate destination likely hinges on efforts such as the Sporting and Oil Industry Forum.

“The work is just starting,” Steinwand said. “This is really just the beginning. Every time we meet with these oil industry representatives, we’re learning something new. We’re trying to avoid and minimize those impacts as best as we can.”


Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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