Making an outdoor list and checking it twice
I love to write about the outdoors, almost as much as being outdoors. In fact, a short trip on the other side of the window, regardless of whether I bring home any game or fish, often generates a bag limit of stories and discussion topics.
From fishing in the spring and summer to fall hunts and winter excursions, there's no real downtime. Each year my spring columns tend to focus on lakes, rivers, fish management and biology, plus we'll sprinkle in some discussions on habitat issues like the Conservation Reserve Program or updates on threats like aquatic nuisance species.
Fall hunting prospects and population assessments are as predictable as Vikings fans thinking Super Bowl in September, but similar to the Vikings, the true test of accurate predictions plays out in the weeks ahead.
This holiday season, it's time for a shopping list for North Dakota's outdoors in 2011. Some of the items might be a little on the optimistic side, but in a virtual hypothetical world, it can't hurt to ask, right?
I'll begin with the weather. Most deer and pheasant hunters would welcome less snow, shorter cold snaps and a winter which gives up the fight with spring even earlier than last year.
While the 2009-10 winter wasn't as harsh or long as the year before, it was still on the difficult side, and it stressed wildlife populations, likely reduced winter survival and in some cases led to lower reproductive success on big game animals like mule deer and pronghorn.
Keep in mind that even if the rest of this winter turns toward the mild side, these stretched populations aren't going to heal immediately, but they would begin the recovery process, a development welcomed by everyone.
Most people agree that snow in November lasts longer than snow in April. Essentially, the earlier it starts the more it stresses wildlife and humans alike. Because of where we live we know that winter will come, but if snow and extreme cold don't arrive until January, that's usually preferred by all but the skiing and snowmobile crowd.
This year, while we don't have to dream of a white Christmas, an extended January thaw would be nice.
My wish list also some more CRP.
North Dakota has lost nearly one-third of its CRP in the past few years, and combined with the winters we've had, that gap in habitat inhibits recovery. It also restricts population growth for species like ducks. While ducks benefit from the snow once it melts and accumulates in wetlands in spring, species that nest in the uplands like mallards and pintails may not find as much grassland cover for nesting.
Suffice it to say our past two winters of snow and cold need an equalizer if we expect to grow our pheasant population. North Dakota is at the northern fringe of pheasant territory and the loss of CRP is untimely. While there is no good time to wipe heavy cover off the map, when it happens in conjunction with tough winters, the result is evident across the prairie.
Even at its highest point of 3.4 million acres in North Dakota, CRP wouldn't prevent mortality during a difficult winter, but it sure would enhance recovery potential.
To end on a positive note, the moisture contained in the snow is good for our fishing waters as well as waterfowl. Because of that, much of the state has had good fish production the last two years and some of those fish will start reaching keeper size this year.
So I also wouldn't mind a new fishing rod under the tree.
Leier is a biologist with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email:firstname.lastname@example.org