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The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s Private Land Open to Sportsmen, or PLOTS Guide, was first published in its current magazine format, instead of a fold-out map, in 2000.

The popular program at that time was just a few years old and included about 120,000 acres enrolled by private landowners to allow for public walking hunting access.

From that point, the number of acres in the program grew rapidly, peaking at more than a million acres about a decade ago.

In the recent August-September issue of North Dakota Outdoors magazine, Game and Fish private land section leader Kevin Kading provided a status update on the PLOTS program. Following are some of the questions and answers from the magazine.

Q: The acreage in the PLOTS program has remained somewhat stable for the past few years. Where does the program stand this year?

A: Game and Fish Department private land biologists increased acreage in the program by 25,000 acres. The program will have about 762,000 acres available for the 2018 fall hunting season. The reason for the increased acres was an effort to work with producers who had Conservation Reserve Program contracts set to expire. With very few options to get back into CRP, many producers were looking for other alternatives.

We also worked with landowners to plant more new habitat, including about 1,600 acres of new grass in 2018. An effort also was made to utilize funds generated from unsuccessful deer lottery applicants who chose to donate their fees to the PLOTS program. We were able to enroll some very nice tracts of land, and plant some new acres of habitat using these funds, putting those dollars to work developing deer habitat. These efforts still can’t replace the amount of habitat that was available when CRP was at its peak, but it’s a start.

In 2017, the PLOTS program turned 20. That’s a nice milestone for a program that is widely recognized by hunters across the state.

Q: What is the status of the program today as it marches in the direction of another milestone?

A: The program remains popular with hunters and landowners. As we found out from a recent survey, participants, overall, are satisfied with the program.

During the past 20 years, there was a very close association between the Conservation Reserve Program and PLOTS. Sometimes the association is so close that hunters and landowners think they are the same program. This association was made in the early years of CRP when PLOTS first came on the scene in the mid-1990s, offering cost-share assistance to landowners enrolling into CRP.

As the demand for PLOTS from hunters grew, and CRP acres in the state began to level off, PLOTS added other components to the program, in addition to cost-share for CRP. Programs designed for working lands have become a bigger component of PLOTS and will likely continue to be.

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