With all the high-visibility world, state and local issues of the new year, I have waited a couple of weeks before providing a look back at some of the highlights and challenges the North Dakota Game and Fish Department dealt with in 2017.

More wet than dry

As drought arrived on the heels of five or six years of rising water levels and increasing fish populations, Game and Fish Department personnel entered 2017 managing more than 425 fisheries.

Not surprisingly, many North Dakota fisheries lost water last year, but not all lakes were affected the same.

In summer 2017, fisheries personnel stocked more than 12 million walleye fingerlings into 130-plus waters around the state, topping the previous high by more than 1 million fish.

North Dakota’s roadside pheasant survey indicated total birds and number of broods were down considerably statewide from 2016.

The majority of the state dealt with extreme drought conditions during critical times for pheasant chicks, resulting in poor nesting and brood habitat and more than likely a less-than-ideal insect hatch.

The survey showed total pheasants were down 61 percent from last year.

2017 deer season

The department made available 54,500 licenses to deer gun hunters in 2017.

The license total is much lower when compared to 2001 through 2011 when, thanks to plentiful wildlife habitat on the landscape and a string of mild winters, license totals stretched well beyond 100,000.

Yet, considering the number of deer gun licenses made allocated to hunters the three seasons prior — 48,000 in 2014, 43,275 in 2015 and 49,000 in 2016 — the increase in 2017 continued a trend in the right direction.

Sage grouse

Department personnel in spring moved 60 sage grouse — 40 females and 20 males — from southern Wyoming to Bowman County, with the hope that they would nest in southwestern North Dakota. Biologists believed that, if some of the females initiated a nest, that would likely anchor them to North Dakota and, in turn, do the same for hatched young.

Aquatic nuisance species

While high water and strong flows made searching for zebra mussels in the Red River difficult, Game and Fish Department fisheries personnel did find just a few of these invasive species attached to a dock pulled from the river in Wahpeton.

Zebra mussels were first discovered in the Red River in 2015. Though it’s uncertain how well established the population is in the river, fisheries biologists know the mussels pose a threat to other waters around the state.

Bighorn sheep licenses

The Game and Fish Department allocated five bighorn sheep licenses to hunters in 2017, after closing the season in 2015 to assess the severity of a bacterial pneumonia outbreak in the population in western North Dakota.

That’s just a short review of what made North Dakota outdoors news in 2017. More details are available on the Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Fish and Game Department.