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Game and Fish History

The creation in 1930 of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department was a continuation of efforts to preserve fish and game species in the state. At its inception the enforcement of game and fish laws was the department’s primary conservation tool. Over the years the legislature has increased enforcement authority and assigned regulatory powers to the agency aiding its efforts to preserve fish and wildlife and their habitats.

Advancements in fish and wildlife conservation science have added many other tools essential to the ongoing conservation efforts of the agency and have helped make possible the successful reintroduction of several game and fish species and the preservation of many others in the state.

Timeline of Significant Events in the History of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

  • In 1909 a five-member Game and Fish Board of Control was created.
  • State legislators passed a law for a game and fish commissioner to take over the duties of the board in 1929. Voters approved the measure in 1930, marking the beginning of the Game and Fish Department as we know it today.
  • July 26, 1930 Burnie W.Maurek was appointed by Governor George F. Schafer as head of the game and fish commission.
  • The first Pittman-Robertson project was submitted in 1939. A 480-acre land acquisition purchased for $5 an acre,was added to the existing Dawson Refuge in Kidder County.
  • The deer harvest for 1941 was estimated at 2,890 animals.Hunters at the time claimed 1941 was one of the best big game seasons ever held.
  • It was estimated the state’s deer population was 7,000-8,000 animals in 1941.
  • The first year hunting was allowed on national grasslands in North Dakota was 1941.Hunters were required to have a free permit before hunting.
  • The state’s first elk transplant took place in late winter 1942. The animals came from Wyoming and were released in the Killdeer Mountains.
  • Following the near disappearance of pronghorn in the state – animals ranged over nearly all the open prairies in the mid-1800s, but only about 225 pronghorn remained by 1925 – the first hunting season since 1899 was held in 1951.
  • The first statewide bow season for deer was held in 1954. There were 1,119 licenses sold for that first season that ran from October 9-24.
  • Any discussion on the state’s top fishing waters today would have to include Devils Lake. But in the 1950s,North Dakota’s largest natural lake was hardly part of the picture. In the 1940s, the lake was nearly dry.
  • Chinook salmon were introduced into Lake Sakakawea in 1976.
  • Lake Tschida in Grant County was the “Walleye Capital of North Dakota” in 1961. Twenty-four of 25 fish over 10 pounds reported to the Whopper Club came from Tschida.
  • In 1968, creel limits for walleye and sauger were removed on Lake Sakakawea, Lake Oahe and the Missouri River. The next year limits were reinstated, but an angler could still take eight walleye and eight sauger daily.
  • With rising water levels, Devils Lake was stocked with fish in 1970-71. By 1972 people were catching fish for the first time in many years.
  • The Game and Fish Department held an experimental paddlefish snagging season in 1976 for the first time.
  • The state legislature in 1977 passed the hunter safety bill, requiring all hunters born after December 31, 1961 to have taken a hunter safety course before they could purchase a license. The law took effect in 1979.
  • The first North Dakota moose season was held in 1977. Twelve permits were issued.
  • Department fisheries crews in 1980 made their first attempt to take spawn from chinook salmon during the fall run on Lake Sakakawea.
  • Some state school lands in 1983 were opened to public access for the first time. Over the next four years almost all state school land was opened to walking public access.
  • The state legislature in 1987 passed a law allowing a tax checkoff to fund a nongame wildlife program in North Dakota.