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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.

Fisheries and Boating
Wildlife and Conservation
1875EThe first laws were enacted for the taking of game animals.
1877ERestrictions on the commercial sale of wildlife were enacted.
1881EA wanton waste law was enacted.
1897EGeorge E. Bowers became the first North Dakota game warden.
1903EThe state was divided into two game management districts with a chief game warden for each.
1909AA five-member Game and Fish Board of Control was created.
1924FAuthorized in 1923, the first North Dakota fishing license (274 sold) was required ($1.50 resident; $25 for non-resident) for select species. First hunting license sold in 1897.
1929AState legislators passed a law for a game and fish commissioner to take over the duties of the board. Voters approved the measure in 1930, marking the beginning of the Game and Fish Department as we know it today.
1930AJuly 26, 1930, Burnie W.Maurek was appointed by Governor George F. Schafer as head of the Game and Fish Commission.
1930EThe enforcement division was established with the creation of the Department and consisted of a chief game warden and 12 deputy game wardens.
1931CThe first North Dakota Outdoors magazine was published.
1933-39FMany new small dams were built, especially in the western portion of North Dakota, with federal funds originating from the New Deal - Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress/Projects Administration.
1939FThe 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.
1940FThe first salmon, 30,000 coho salmon, were stocked in the state at Strawberry Lake (McLean).
1941WThe deer harvest was estimated at 2,890 animals. Hunters at the time claimed 1941 was one of the best big game seasons ever.
1941WIt was estimated the state’s deer population was 7,000-8,000 animals.
1941WThis was the first year hunting was allowed on national grasslands in North Dakota. Hunters were required to have a free permit before hunting.
1942WThe state’s first elk transplant took place in late winter. The animals came from Wyoming and were released in the Killdeer Mountains.
1944FFederal Flood Control Act passed, giving the authority (Pick-Sloan Plan) for the construction of Missouri River dams (e.g. Garrison and Oahe).
1949-56FNorth Dakota's mid-size reservoirs, including Lake Ashtabula, Audubon, Dickinson Reservoir (Patterson), Heart Butte and Jamestown were constructed, and fisheries began to develop during this period. These reservoirs became the backbone of North Dakotas fisheries for the next few decades. Only three other mid-size reservoirs, Lake Darling (1936), Bowman-Haley (1967) and Pipestem Dam (1971), were constructed outside of this period.
1950sFAny 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.
1951WFollowing 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.
1953F22 fishing waters listed. Others existed, however, but were not listed or closed.
1953FGarrison Dam on the Missouri River completed forming Lake Sakakawea (originally called Lake Garrison).
1954FFirst boating regulations established.
1954WThe 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.
1956FA photo in North Dakota OUTDOORS of a 106-pound lake sturgeon from the Pembina River in 1898 is suggested to be the largest fish ever taken in North Dakota.
1961FLake Tschida in Grant County was the “Walleye Capital of North Dakota” in 1961, as 24 of 25 fish over 10 pounds reported to the Whopper Club came from Tschida.
1963FThis year was the first time that the state had 100 fishing water bodies.
1968FCreel 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.
1972FWith 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.
1975WThe Department implemented unitized deer management for deer gun season.
1975WThe first bighorn sheep season was held with 12 licenses issued.
1976FChinook salmon were introduced into Lake Sakakawea.
1976FThe Department held an experimental paddlefish snagging season for the first time.
1977WThe first moose season was held with 10 licenses issued.
1977W50 elk released on Fort Berthold.
1977AThe state legislature passed the hunter safety bill requiring all hunters born after December 31, 1961 to have taken a hunter safety course before purchasing a license. The law took effect in 1979.
1977-78WThe severe winter of 1977-78 resulted in a “Save the Deer” campaign. This ultimately resulted in the start of the legislature ear-marking funds for the Private Lands Initiative program.
1978WThe pronghorn season was closed and remained so until 1982
1980FDepartment fisheries crews made their first attempt to spawn chinook salmon during the fall run on Lake Sakakawea.
1982WThe first elk season was held (hunter’s choice of harvesting an elk or moose). The first elk was harvested in 1983 in the Pembina Hills.
1983WSome state school lands 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.
1984CThe first North Dakota Outdoors calendar was published. The price per calendar was $2.
1985WThe USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program was established in the new national Farm Bill, known as Food Security Act of 1985. At its peak in 2007, 3.4M acres of key grassland habitat acres had been planted and enrolled in the program in North Dakota, fostering a boon in deer, upland bird, and waterfowl populations during that period.
1986FThe Sport Fish Restoration Act amendments allow the Department to begin the modern development (boat ramp, etc.) program. Also in 1986, Department cost-shared with the first poured cement ramp. North Dakota’s legislature mandated that the Department regulate fishing tournaments.
1987WThe state legislature passed a law allowing a tax checkoff to fund a nongame wildlife program in North Dakota.
1987WThe first muzzleloader season was held.
1987W47 elk were released in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
1987FThe first fish cleaning station was built.
1991FThe "clam season" was closed and the first ever fish consumption advisory for North Dakota was included in the fishing guide.
1990FThe Department managed 186 fishing water bodies.
1993WThe weighted lottery was implemented for the deer gun season.
1993FA year-round fishing season statewide, beginning April 1 of each year, was implemented.
1994CThe first two-minute broadcast program of North Dakota Outdoors TV was November 11, “Young Deer Hunter”.
1994WThe first youth deer season was held.
1997WThe Private Land Open To Sportsmen program was developed and initiated. The first landowner access agreements signed and PLOTS tracts available to hunters – fall 1998.
1999CWhile the Department has provided some kind of map for the PLOTS program since it’s infancy, the Department didn’t publish its first PLOTS Guide until 1999.
2002-02FThe Department managed 208 fishing water bodies.
2005WThe first State Wildlife Action Plan for managing the state’s rare, declining, and “At-Risk” wildlife species was developed and approved.
2006-08FThe first aquatic nuisance species rules became effective in 2008.
2007CThe first North Dakota Outdoors Webcast was posted January 11 with director Terry Steinwand, “Legislative Outlook”.
2008WThe National Archery in the School program started in North Dakota.
2008WDeer gun license numbers peaked at 149,400.
2009WChronic wasting disease was first found in North Dakota in a mule deer buck in unit 3F2.
2010WThe pronghorn season was closed and remained so until 2014.
2011CThe first HD broadcasts of the NDO webcast and 2-minute news show were done in February.
2015FThe first adult zebra mussel was documented in North Dakota in the Red River.
2020WBighorn sheep were transplanted from Montana to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation
2021-22FThe winter saw record late ice formation and relatively poor winter ice thickness and, as a result, record early ice out. Most North Dakota waters were clear of ice in late-March/early April, likely making it the shortest icepack season on record.