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Doug Leier: Mule deer, salmon and social media

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Mattea Biermann, a North Dakota Game and Fish Department employee in Riverdale, holds a salmon from Lake Sakakawea.

The holiday season is crazy, especially during a pandemic, so I’m guessing a few worthy news and notes from the outdoors may have slipped by. Here’s a few I think even nonhunters and anglers may find interesting.  

Salmon in North Dakota?  

Yes, we do have a viable salmon population in North Dakota, and fisheries crews have completed their annual salmon spawning operation on the Missouri River System, after collecting more than 2.1 million eggs. 

Russ Kinzler, North Dakota Game and Fish Department Missouri River System fisheries biologist, said crews easily collected enough eggs to stock the 400,000 smolts planned for Lake Sakakawea in 2021, as well as to provide approximately 400,000 surplus eggs to South Dakota.  

The majority of the eggs were collected from Lake Sakakawea, with help from the Missouri River below Garrison Dam. Average size of female salmon was 8.3 pounds, which is almost 2 pounds heavier than last year. 

“We’ve had good numbers of rainbow smelt, which is the primary forage for salmon in Lake Sakakawea,” Kinzler said. “This year we are seeing that the average size of those smelt has increased, and we are seeing that resulting in larger salmon.” 

Chinook salmon begin their spawning run in October. Since salmon cannot naturally reproduce in North Dakota, Game and Fish personnel capture the fish and transport them to the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery where they are relieved of their eggs. 

Once the eggs hatch, young salmon spend 6 months in the hatchery before being stocked in Lake Sakakawea. 

Mule deer status 

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s fall mule deer survey indicated another year of good fawn production. 

Biologists counted 2,116 mule deer in the aerial survey in October. The ratio of 82 fawns per 100 does was similar to last year, while 36 bucks per 100 does was lower than in 2019. 

“Overall, fawn production was good, which could lead to population growth depending on the severity of this winter,” said Bruce Stillings, department big game management supervisor in Dickinson. 

Snowfall and poor ground conditions during most of the survey limited biologists to 18 of the 24 study areas, Stillings said.   

The fall aerial survey, conducted specifically to study demographics, covered 24 study areas and 306.3 square miles in western North Dakota. Biologists also survey the same study areas in the spring of each year to determine deer abundance. 

Social media 

In this day and age, you can stay up to date with all the latest news and updates from the Game and Fish Department by subscribing to news alerts via email. We provide text alerts for important information for which you may also subscribe at this link,

The department has social media sites on InstagramFacebook and YouTube

If you have a question, I’d suggest a quick search on the department’s website,, as I often do. And if you can’t find the answer or need to speak with a biologist or game warden, we still are accessible by the good old fashioned phone at 701-328-6300 Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  

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


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