As thousands of hunters fan out across North Dakota this fall to pursue waterfowl, pheasants and other game, I’d like to send a message along.

First, let’s respect the fact that most North Dakota land is held in private ownership. While the state has many public land options, including North Dakota Game and Fish wildlife management areas, federal waterfowl production areas and parts of some national wildlife refuges, state Trust (school) Land Department land, U.S. and state forest service land, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers lands plus others, private land still supports the majority of time North Dakota hunters spend in the field.

This is why the Game and Fish Department's Private Land Initiative is so important. While most hunters are familiar with the Private Land Open to Sportsmen or PLOTS program, that is just part of the overall effort to work with landowners interested in programs that are cost effective and can benefit wildlife.

The Game and Fish Private Land Initiative has three goals:

● Conserve habitat for fish and wildlife populations.

● Provide landowners interested in wildlife conservation with cost-sharing assistance for developing and protecting wildlife habitat.

● Provide public opportunities to access fish and wildlife resources on private land.

The Private Land Initiative gives landowners several options for working with Game and Fish.

• CRP Access Program: Provides assistance with establishment and management costs associated with Conservation Reserve Program grasslands and includes public access.

● Working Lands Program: Short-term program based on the wildlife value of actively farmed or ranched land, which also includes public access. Biologists evaluate current farming or ranching management based on conservation practices, good stewardship and quality of hunting habitat. This program also includes public access.

● Habitat Plot Program: Multi-year rental program with agreements that help create, enhance or protect wildlife habitat and include public access.

● Food Plot Program: Short-term program that provides a wildlife food source and public access.

● Private Forest Conservation Program – Multi-year rental program that provides protection and enhancement of unique forested systems, and includes public access.

● Wetlands Reserve Program – A partnership program between the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Game and Fish, providing incentives to producers who enroll land in WRP. The primary purpose is to restore, protect or enhance wetlands and associated uplands, as well as provide public access.

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

Overall, a couple of thousand or more landowners voluntarily participate in these cooperative efforts. However, it’s important to remember that the various private lands programs were never intended to meet the needs of all hunters all the time.

Many thousands of landowners also provide hunting opportunity to friends, family and often to others who are courteous enough to ask permission. That’s the foundation on which the state’s hunting heritage is based, and, if we are all respectful of that during our time afield, it will go a long way toward maintaining that private land access well into the future.

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