June is a time of optimism and hope, not only for anglers who may have spent much of May recovering from floods, but also for farmers who hurried to recoup lost time and are now crossing their fingers hoping the late spring will catch up and those memories will be erased by a good crop.
It also gives us a chance to take a closer look at the natural resource bills passed out of the North Dakota legislature during the past session which wrapped up less than a couple of months ago.
One high-interest bill that failed dealt with prohibiting hunting big game over bait. This bill was supported by an array of farm and ranch groups, along with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, but was defeated by a narrow margin in the end.
On the other hand, the state's continued push toward trying to involve more youth in hunting and fishing in North Dakota moved forward during the 2009 session. In my first decade and half of working for the Game and Fish Department we've expanded youth opportunities, in addition to reduced fees, to include special youth deer, turkey, waterfowl and pheasant seasons.
Recent legislation follows that philosophy by reduced the minimum age for deer hunting, from 14 to 12, with some special provisions. Here is a summary of legislation passed during the 2009 session.
HB 1167 allows 13-year-olds to participate in the youth deer hunting season if they turn 14 on or before the opening day of the November deer gun season.
SB 2165 allows individuals who are 16 years of age and older who have not taken the hunter education course to be issued an apprentice hunter validation to hunt small game and deer for one license year; allows youth ages 12 and 13 to receive a whitetail doe license valid only during the youth deer season; provides an online hunter education course for ages 16 and older.
HB 1188 increases the penalty for some individuals with multiple Game and Fish offenses.
HB 1045 continues the prohibition of severance of hunting rights from the surface estate.
HB 1217 makes it illegal to hunt unharvested oilseed crops (sunflower, soybeans, safflower, rapeseed or canola, crambe and flax) without permission of the owner or tenant.
HB 1239 clarifies that only the owner or tenant, or an individual authorized by the owner, may post land.
Let me highlight the philosophy involved with balancing safety and recruiting new hunters. Keep in mind that not all new hunters will be pulled from the pool of youth. Due to strong populations of pheasants and deer, we see a fair share of hunters taking to the field who hadn't in the past. Currently, the number of resident North Dakota hunters is at or near an all-time high. While those numbers may vary up or down from year to year, as long as we have ample game populations and opportunity for access, we will have continued high interest in hunting.
Part of that is making sure young hunters get started on the right foot. There is no minimum age for hunting waterfowl or upland game in North Dakota, so kids can start carrying a gun afield whenever the parent feels they’re physically and mentally ready. While age 12 is now the minimum for hunting deer with a rifle, it's still up to the parent to determine if their child is ready.
And don't forget, the next legislative session is already less than two years away and the next opportunity to influence the future of hunting, fishing and trapping in North Dakota is on the horizon.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:firstname.lastname@example.org.