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From license sales to excise taxes, membership in clubs and volunteering, hunters have always stepped up to try to improve in the outdoor world.

“How can we help?” and “What can we do?” are frequent questions posed to wildlife managers and administrators. One recent example comes from the thousands of hunters who were unsuccessful in the deer gun lottery in the past couple of years, who donated their license fee back to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s Private Land Open to Sportsmen program.

I briefly mentioned this in a recent column, but thought it would be of interest to cover it in a little more detail. My colleague Ron Wilson, editor of the Game and Fish Department’s magazine, North Dakota Outdoors, addressed the topic in the recent October 2018 issue. Following are excerpts from that story. Following the 2015 legislative season, unsuccessful applicants in the North Dakota deer gun lottery could for the first time in 2016 donate their refunds to the PLOTS program.

In 2017, legislators approved another bill that allowed resident deer gun, muzzleloader, pronghorn and turkey hunters to purchase a bonus point beginning in 2018 for a fee that is the same as the respective license. So far, hunters, through these two options, have contributed an additional $282,000 to the PLOTS program.

“We’re focusing primarily on developing good winter cover, like trees, and grasslands that provide cover during warmer months for adult does having fawns,” said Kevin Kading, the department's private land section leader.

Relative to the amount of deer habitat lost during the past decade, Kading said the program isn’t an immediate panacea.

“It’s a start … and we have to start somewhere,” he said. “If the dollar amount grows, we can leverage these dollars with other funds, such as the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund and federal Pittman-Robertson funds to do bigger projects.”

Kading said Game and Fish personnel are careful about picking sites to plant grass and trees.

“We are trying to place the new plantings in areas that are near other wildlife habitat,” he said. “We want to tie into existing habitat bases that are already out there, instead of, say, creating a small piece of habitat in the middle of nothing.

“This habitat being planted on PLOTS lands benefits deer and other animals, and deer just don’t stay on PLOTS,” he said. “If you can help them get through winter and provide places for deer to have fawns in spring, hunters will benefit from this somewhere else in coming years.”

It should be noted that this program isn’t the Game and Fish Department’s first venture into creating wildlife habitat on PLOTS lands.

“PLOTS has developed thousands of acres of habitat with private landowners over the years,” he said. “What we are talking about here is an additional bump in funding that is directly earmarked for creating deer habitat and access.”

All hunters deserve a thank you for their contributions of time and resources to improve habitat and access.

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Doug Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department. His blog is at dougleier.areavoices.com.

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