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Sunday, September 2, 2007

ND Hunters will have 1 Milllion acres to hunt

Bismarck,ND - North Dakota hunters will have hunting access on more than 1 million acres this fall.

Gov. John Hoeven and Terry Steinwand, the director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, made the announcement Tuesday at a ceremony in a Private Land Open to Sportsmen field north of Sterling.

The million acres of PLOTS fields come two years ahead of schedule.

“Four years ago, we set an ambitious goal to make 1 million acres of public hunting land available to sportsmen and women by the year 2009,” Hoeven said in a statement released after the dedication. “Reaching our goal two years early is a real credit to the great partnership between our Game and Fish Department, landowners, farmers, sportsmen and all who worked to expand public access to North Dakota’s rich outdoor heritage.”

The PLOTS program, which pays landowners to provide walk-in hunting access, is a NDGFD initiative to secure public hunting access to private lands. Begun in 1998 and started with 42,000 acres, it was originally designed to add more public access on Conservation Reserve Program land in the state’s primary pheasant range, according to Hoeven's officials. The program has expanded statewide and provides opportunities not only to hunt pheasants but to hunt deer, waterfowl and other game species. PLOTS fields are identified by their inverted triangular yellow signs.

The next step for NDGFD biologists is maintaining that acreage, Kevin Kading, the private lands program section leader, said by telephone Tuesday afternoon.

“Now that we have hit our goal, we are not going to sit and wait for something to happen. Now with CRP and the farm bill, the landscape changes. That’s our next big challenge, to make sure we adjust as these things change,” Kading said.

The PLOTS program surpassed 200,000 acres in 2002, and climbed past 800,000 acres in 2005.

Its most dramatic jump came in 2004, when the Working Lands program was added to the PLOTS package. A short-term program that allowed producers to continue working their land, Working Lands pulled in nearly a quarter-million acres that year.

“We came up with that for two reasons. Previously no program filled the niche for landowners who were actively farming or grazing their land,” Kading said.

Although some hunters have questioned the quality of some fields open to sportsmen, Kading said maintaining quality habitat is an important aspect to the PLOTS program.

“We like to phrase our program as a habitat-based access program. The quality of the habitat has to meet certain criteria,” Kading said.

But he’s the first to say that not all of the acres in the program are top-quality.

“Say there are two quarters of land, one’s good, and the guy wants to throw the other one in or no deal. Usually acreage of less or poorer quality is paid less or not at all,” Kading said. “Hunters have told us through surveys that they would be happier with a million quality acres than a million and a half with poorer quality.”

The annual PLOTS guide, a four-color booklet with maps detailing locations of various fields open to hunting, is being printed and should be available the first week of September, Kading said.

But PLOTS fields shouldn’t be the only answer to finding hunting access.

“Hunters should still work hard to establish relationships with private landowners and treat PLOTS and other private land with respect,” Steinwand said. “We know from Game and Fish surveys that a lot of hunters use these areas,” Steinwand said. “One North Dakotan even remarked that he started hunting again because of the PLOTS program. That’s a measure of success that our state can be proud of.”

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