posted on January 19, 2011 09:22 :: 2633 Views
Looking ahead to 2011 in the outdoors world is kind of like assessing the preseason prospects of your favorite sports team. We kind of have an idea of what to expect, but unpredictable variables like major storms, timely rains or extended dry periods – or injuries in the case of sports – can make a big difference in the final outcome.
While I can’t yet guarantee that 2011 will be better or worse than last year, I can predict that North Dakota will again produce a limit of mostly good hunting and fishing memories, given rather favorable expectations for most of our popular game species.
For starters, even in a cautious assessment we can look for good things from waterfowl, considering wetland conditions from last fall and prospects for good snow runoff this spring.
Snow geese, Canada geese and ducks are at or near historic population highs. Especially with resident Canada geese and snow geese, wildlife managers are trying new options to reduce or just slow expansion of these populations.
While deer numbers are down some from a couple of years ago, compared to 20 or 30 years ago today’s population stacks up pretty well and still offers opportunity for just about everyone who wants to hunt deer.
Actually, the State Game and Fish Department intended to reduce deer numbers over the last few years. While that occurred, today’s statewide population is about where Game and Fish would like to maintain it, though some areas have fewer deer than desirable and some have more than enough.
Looking ahead, here’s hoping for winter to ease up and exit sooner rather than later so the deer population is not overly stressed.
The state’s fisheries also have a positive outlook, as they have benefitted greatly from plentiful moisture the last two years. According to Greg Power, Game and Fish fisheries chief, the Department currently manages 340 lakes for fishing, which is a record number. As a comparison, the number was 208 in 2000, 180 in 1990, 139 in 1980, and 137 in 1970.
Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River system have seen an influx of water and should continue to recover, though it takes several years for fish to grow to “eater” size but the water certainly helps. Meanwhile, to the chagrin of many Devils Lake has not shrunk, but the water and fishery continue to expand with strong walleye, pike and white bass providing excellent prospects for the coming year.
While the early snow means additional water for our lakes this spring, it also generates concern because snow can block out sunlight and trigger oxygen depletion in lakes, increasing the potential for winter kill. Once again, an early spring is welcome.
Moderation for the rest of winter would also help pronghorn and prairie chickens, both of which had closed seasons in 2010 and could use a break from snow and spring moisture. Deer and pheasants would also welcome a break from the snow and even average winter temperatures.
Realistically, we’re months away from determining how the winter affected the state’s wildlife. Weather is always an important variable in determining whether fall populations from one year will go up or down the next year.
Doug Leier is a bioloigst with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org