North Dakota’s deer dilemma

Nearly half of the state’s deer hunters went without a deer gun licenses this past season. In the simplest of terms, demand is up and supply is down. The state’s deer population has been declining while the number of potential hunters in on the increase. Not surprisingly, the two factors appear to be closely related.

Deer numbers are down due to a period of tough winters, but that’s not the only reason. There’s less Conservation Reserve Program acreage on the landscape. CRP has been a boost for the state’s deer. Now many of those cover acres are being converted into cropland.

Additionally, more and more deer habitat is being impacted by oil development, which is showing no signs of slowing down. As more people arrive to support the bustling Bakken oil fields, the pool of potential deer hunters continues to grow.

White-tailed deer have proven to be very resilient animals. Given a normal winter they have a chance to produce fawns and grow the herd. However, given changes on the landscape, North Dakota’s carrying capacity for white-tailed deer is lower than it was a few years ago. Licenses for both white-tailed and mule deer have been dramatically reduced and further reductions are possible.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has scheduled a series of meetings throughout the state in February for the sole purpose of gathering information from the public about their ideas on deer management. Clearly, with the number of deer gun licenses at their lowest level since 1983, there is a growing concern about the future of deer and deer hunting in North Dakota.

Sportsmen need to provide Game and Fish with input. Eyes from the field are an important part of future planning. According to Game and Fish, sportsmen will receive all the facts and figures available to biologists and all options for future management of the state’s deer herd will be considered.

The meetings are an opportunity for sportsmen to have their voices heard and to make a difference. I hope they respond.