By Randy Kreil
This is my 20th and final fall outlook article, as I plan to retire at the end of August. It has been my privilege as wildlife division chief the last 20 years to provide North Dakota hunters with an overview of what the upcoming fall seasons will bring. While I wrote the introduction to these outlooks, our game management biologists provide the important information on species status.
Over the years we have covered many subjects in this space. We’ve considered what makes a good tailgate lunch, how musical memories are tied to favorite hunting days, the sadness that comes with burying a loyal hunting dog, and routinely the critical importance of habitat to wildlife populations and hunting opportunities.
The Northern Great Plains is a highly variable and dynamic ecosystem, where weather patterns play a large role in wildlife population trends. Even with these unpredictable, yet expected highs and lows in weather patterns, we have learned that with a solid and secure habitat base, wildlife populations can quickly rebound. However, recent and continuing trends in habitat loss across North Dakota may soon reach a point where wildlife populations will not have that foundation from which they can rebuild.
The loss of nearly 2 million acres of CRP, an increasing amount of native prairie converted to cropland, an increase in energy development, removal of hundreds of miles of tree belts and plantings, and acceleration of wetland drainage, are all reasons for concern about the future of wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities in this state.
But there are ways to stem the tide of these losses.
A key consideration in this discussion is the reality that more than 90 percent of the land in North Dakota is privately owned. Therefore, if we are to make any progress in slowing or reversing the loss of habitat and wildlife populations, it has to involve private landowners.
To accomplish this, people who make their living from the land need to have viable and economically competitive conservation options available to them. After personally dealing with private landowners for the past 20 years, it is clear that many are interested in wildlife and hunting, and are willing to “farm the best and leave the rest” if they are assured a reasonable economic return on “the rest.”
It will take a strong and committed cooperative effort on all fronts – from our Congressional leaders, state political leaders, conservation agencies and organizations, local governmental entities, and most importantly, individual hunters who are willing to work with these groups to encourage the offer of options producers may chose to use.
We have no time to lose. The loss of habitat is happening rapidly, and we must collectively roll up our sleeves and get to work immediately if we want to maintain the wildlife populations and hunting opportunities we have experienced in the past several decades.
RANDY KREIL, the Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division chief since 1994, is retiring at the end of August, 2014.