North Dakota takes hunting seriously

North_Dakota_Pheasant_HuntingAwaiting our first afternoon of pheasant hunting in Regent, North Dakota, I am reading the state’s Conservation Guide 2014, fascinated by the strong support for hunting displayed statewide, and most especially by the state and federal government. This is especially impressive given that the state has only about half the population of Maine.

Before I get to that, let me report that it’s Sunday afternoon, and we’ll be out hunting from 4 pm to 6 pm. Yes, they can hunt on Sundays here!

Second, today’s Farm Forum newspaper reported on ballot measures of interest to farmers and others, and included news about Maine’s bear referendum and the $8 million bond issue to create an animal and plant disease and insect control facility at the University of Maine. Yes, the world is watching us on November 4.

In the Conservation Guide, I learned that the state has 63 wildlife refuges, more than any other state, offering amazing upland bird and waterfowl hunting. The state sponsors a Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program that pays private landowners to allow access for hunting – and only for hunting. There are 750,000 acres of land in the PLOTS program. There is an equal amount of land in a federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) managed for pheasant habitat and open for hunting.

The state’s Private Land Initiative, sponsors seven other programs in addition to PLOTS. The Habitat PLOT program, a multi-year rental program of three to six year or 10 to 12 year agreements that create, enhance, or protect wildlife habitat while providing access.

The Food Plot program is a short-term program that provides wildlife food sources and public access. The Private Forest Conservation Program is a multi-year rental program that works to provide protection and enhancement in unique forested programs and also provides public access.

The CRP Cost-Sharing Program provides assistance with establishment and management costs associated with the CRP in exchange for public access. The objective of this program is to improve public access in areas where it has traditionally been limited.

The Wetlands Reserve Program Incentive is a partnership program between NRCS and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, which provides additional incentives to producers enrolling their land in WRP. The primary purpose of WRP Incentive is to restore, protect or enhance wetlands and associated uplands, as well as provide for public access.

The Tree Planting Cost-Sharing Program provides assistance with the establishment costs of tree plantings. The goal of this program is to enhance wildlife habitat and conservation on private land and provide public access.

The Working Lands Program is a short-term program based on the wildlife value of lands actively farmed or ranched while providing public access. The current farming or ranching management practices of the lands are evaluated by biologists, who place values on components such as conservation practices, good stewardship and quality of hunting habitat and public access.

Impressive! Don’t you agree?

The Department also works with other state and federal agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Natural Resources Trust, Mule Deer Foundation, Pheasants for the Future, and local wildlife clubs to carry out wildlife habitat projects on some PLOTS.

All of the land open to hunters is well signed and loaded with wild pheasants. And I should not that the state agency is still called the Game and Fish Department, which tells you a lot about the focus of their work.

Like Maine, more than 90 percent of North Dakota’s land is privately owned. But unlike Maine, where we have been unable to even get the state government to sponsor an effective landowner relations program, North Dakota’s state government and Fish and Game Department works hard to market hunting, create and manage good game habitat, and make sure hunters have plenty of access to that game. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.