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Every day about this time, at least in those years when North Dakota’s landscape is covered with snow, the State Game and Fish Department and other agencies work to remind outdoor recreationists to keep an eye out for wildlife.

We could almost get by without even mentioning it.

Most people who cross-country ski or ride snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles in winter for recreation do everything possible to steer clear of sloughs, shelterbelts and other areas that provide winter refuge for wildlife. Unfortunately, these law-abiding folks are sometimes cast under the same dark shadow as illegal operators who choose to purposely flush stressed critters trying to stay out of the elements, or even worse, give chase to fox, coyotes or deer.

People who harass animals with motorized vehicles are about the worst possible violator.Legitimate hunters can use snowmobiles or other off-highway vehicles as transportation to and from hunting spots, assuming you are not on public land where motorized vehicle use is prohibited. For hunting predators, snowmobiles or OHVs are not restricted to established roads and trails on private land, so you can drive yourself out to a spot from which to call, or simply observe the surrounding countryside. In winters like this one, snowmobiles or OHVs are often the only means for traveling on rural roads or section lines that are not maintained.

In the process of traveling from one location to another, it’s certainly possible to coincidentally disturb a fox or coyote. Accidentally flushing a furbearer is not illegal, but continuing to pursue it crosses the line.

People who harass animals with motorized vehicles are about the worst possible violator. Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often.

The worst case scenario is when an illegal operator actually tries to run over an animal with a snow machine. That’s not the type of person you'd want as a hunting partner, nor is it the type of image that legitimate hunters or snowmobilers want to be associated with.

My challenge to all venturing outdoors the next few months is to give the wild critters some space, even as winter wears on. A late March snowstorm can be just as stressful to animals as an early storm, as they've already expounded energy and fat reserves to survive that far.

If possible, avoid slough edges, shelterbelts and other wooded areas. In places where trails are maintained, be sure to stay on the trails. If you do flush a deer or furbearer, give them the right of way and carry on. The overwhelming majority of our citizens enjoy seeing wildlife during all seasons and at this time of year, a little space can help them out.

And finally, if you do see someone intentionally chasing wildlife with a snow machine, OHV or other motor vehicle, don't turn the other way. Chances are they've done it before and will do it again. Report it to local law enforcement officer or a game warden immediately.

Doug Leier is a biologist with the Game & Fish Department. He can be reached by email:


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