Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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North Dakota PLOTS’ get attention of DNR officials

Associate Editor

St. Paul Changes in North Dakota’s nonresident hunting license
fees were included in discussions held recently by officials from
Minnesota and North Dakota. But it was North Dakota’s ability to
open private lands to public hunting that piqued the interest of
its guests.

“We’re very interested in the PLOTS (public lands open to
sportsmen) program and how they’ve made that successful,” said John
Guenther, Minnesota DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director.

North Dakota currently has about 430,000 acres in the PLOTS
program, according to John Schulz, private land section coordinator
for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. That includes eight
different programs associated with PLOTS. Recently, the department
began implementing the Working Lands Program.

“There’s some excellent habitat on lands that are cropped and
hayed,” Schulz said. This program opens those lands to public

Dean Hildebrand, director of the North Dakota Game and Fish
Department, said the state’s goal is to have 1 million acres
enrolled in the program by 2008 or 2009. In many cases, the PLOTS
program is built onto federal set-aside programs like the
Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to set aside
marginal crop land. The state program then pays the landowner to
open the land to public hunting.

Guenther said he would meet with Minnesota DNR officials to
discuss a possible “walk-in” program for the state.

“We’re trying to move ahead with walk-ins,” he said.

State DNR officials three years ago estimated the cost of a
pilot walk-in program, where hunters would have access to private
lands, would be about $676,000. The pilot plan was composed of
three phases during a five-year period and was to include 27,000
acres in four areas of the state.

However, conservation groups in the state made it clear then
that the walk-in plan could not come at the expense of the state’s
wildlife management area system. Just last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim
Pawlenty recommended $12 million in bonding for state WMAs.

But a funding source for the walk-in pilot never was identified,
and the plan fell by the wayside. Guenther said his interest, along
with that from DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam, could rejuvenate

“I talked to the commissioner, and he’s very interested in
this,” Guenther said this week. Guenther planned to meet with other
DNR officials to discuss the issue.

The cost for North Dakota’s PLOTS program currently is between
$3 million and $4 million annually. Most of the funding comes from
habitat fees paid by hunters and from hunting license fees.

“It has been a very popular program for us,” Hildebrand said. He
said the state leans toward “maintaining relationships with private
landowners,” rather than purchasing and maintaining public lands to
keep up with demand.

Nearby South Dakota boasts a walk-in program for public hunting
that is nearing 1 million acres. “Rental” costs of land in South
Dakota through that program are $1 to $4 per acre.

Nonresident fees

Guenther said he spoke with North Dakota officials about the
increase in license fees charged to nonresident pheasant and duck
hunters last fall in North Dakota.

Legislation last year required nonresident hunters to purchase
licenses for waterfowl and pheasant separately, effectively
doubling the price for hunters who pursued both. Also, the North
Dakota Legislature set aside resident-only hunting periods on
public lands, angering some hunters who pointed out some of those
lands were purchased with federal dollars, while other had been
purchased with nonresident license fees.

Guenther said it appeared the new rules were a combination of
the state’s Legislature reacting to constituent demands, as well as
the recommendation of the fish and game department to ease pressure
on hunting lands.

Hildebrand said since the state’s Legislature meets just once
every two years, it wouldn’t be until next year that any
modification could be made. Until then, he said, “we’ll visit and
discuss the issues.”

Some Minnesota residents called for perhaps increasing the
state’s own nonresident sportsmen’s fees particularly the
nonresident fishing license in response to North Dakota’s actions.
Guenther said he wasn’t aware of any such legislative proposals,
and added that such a proposal would not be part of a DNR bill.

“Our goal is not to go in that direction at all,” he said. “My
belief is that it would be detrimental to our own hunting and
fishing communities. But I’m not saying I don’t understand why
people are frustrated when this legislation seems directed at

Other topics

Guenther said other topics were discussed during the meeting
with Hildebrand.

North Dakota, Guenther said, is interested in Minnesota’s
Re-invest in Minnesota program.

They also discussed species management specifically waterfowl
and more specifically geese and an archery program made popular in
Kentucky schools. Both state leaders said they’ll further explore
the archery program.

Hildebrand also would like to see the Red River become a
“destination location” for recreational water users, including

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