By Doug Leier
For the last decade or so, North Dakota has had around 100,000 active deer hunters, plus or minus a few thousand in any given year.
All of us should be interested in the upcoming series of deer management meetings the North Dakota Game and Fish Department has scheduled around the state during the last two weeks of February.
Anyone who hunts deer has probably noticed a declining deer population over the last half-dozen years, and some of that was by design. Most people who had any sort of interest in deer felt the statewide whitetail population was too high in the mid-2000s. Game and Fish aggressively issued whitetail doe licenses in an effort to bring deer numbers down a bit
Given a string of relatively mild winters and a stable habitat base, the outcome was basically neutral. The whitetail population didn’t come down much, but at least it didn’t go up much, either.
That all started to change in 2008, when Game and Fish allocated a record number of deer gun licenses at nearly 150,000. A major snowstorm hit the western half of the state just prior to opening day of deer season in early November, and that was just the start of a long and difficult winter for wildlife across the state.
Two years later, the winter of 2010-11 was even worse. And last year winter weather extended well into April.
Those winters, plus significant habitat loss and fragmentation during this same five-year time span, plus a significant die-off of whitetails in due to epizootic hemorrhagic disease in the southwestern part of the state all contributed to significant whitetail and mule deer populations declines.
North Dakota went from 149,500 deer licenses in 2008, to 59,500 in 2013. That’s 90,000 fewer deer licenses over a period of just five years.
Even during the deer population peak, Game and Fish couldn’t provide enough buck licenses for everyone who wanted one. But whitetail doe licenses were readily available, and pretty much any one of the 100,000 or so potential deer hunters in North Dakota could have received one or more doe licenses in a unit fairly close to home.
In 2013, though, more than 25,000 people who applied for the deer gun license lottery did not receive a gun license of any kind.
That level of reduction in opportunity is generating a lot of concern throughout the state. The deer management meetings are designed to address where we’ve been, where we are, and what the future might hold.
Part of the discussion at these meetings will involve long-term deer population prospects, and Game and Fish representatives will also look at possible options for changes to the way licenses are distributed to provide more hunting opportunity even if the deer population remains at about its current level.
“We need public participation to help us develop good policy,” Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand wrote in the February 2014 issue of North Dakota OUTDOORS magazine. “ … I encourage everyone who has an interest in North Dakota deer hunting to attend one of our meetings, or let us know what you’re thinking.”
The schedule of meeting locations is listed below. Each meeting begins at 7 p.m. local time.
Anyone who is not able to attend a meeting can find more information, and provide comments, at the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.
- · Feb. 17 – Devils Lake, Lake Region Community College Auditorium
- · Feb. 17 – Casselton, City Fire Hall
- · Feb. 18 – Dickinson, Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge
- · Feb. 18 – Anamoose, VFW Club
- · Feb. 24 – Tioga, Farm Festival Building
- · Feb. 24 – Fordville, Community Center
- · Feb. 25 – Bismarck, North Dakota Game and Fish Department
- · Feb. 25 – Jamestown, The Bunker