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Published September 09, 2010, 01:22 PM

Private land open to hunters stabilizes in ND

BISMARCK, N.D. — The amount of private land open to hunting in North Dakota has stabilized after slipping for two years as farmers lured by high commodity prices closed some of their fields to hunters in favor of crops.

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. — The amount of private land open to hunting in North Dakota has stabilized after slipping for two years as farmers lured by high commodity prices closed some of their fields to hunters in favor of crops.

About 970,000 acres are enrolled in a state program called PLOTS, or Private Lands Open to Sportsmen, that offers payments to landowners who agree to keep their property open to public hunting, said Kevin Kading, the Game and Fish Department’s private lands coordinator.

Kading said the number of PLOTS acres is equal to last year, but down from the record 1 million acres set in 2007. About 2,500 landowners are enrolled in the program this year, equal to 2009, he said.

License fees paid by hunters funds the program’s $4 million annual budget.

North Dakota also has about 2 million acres of public land open to hunting.

The state publishes a free guide each year to land in the PLOTS program and this year’s distribution of the booklets is under way. PLOTS land is marked by yellow inverted triangular signs.

Kading said landowners are still signing up for the program and those parcels will be posted with signs.

“You might find PLOTS signs out there on the landscape but not in the printed guide,” he said.

The Game and Fish Department established the program in 1997 with fewer than 50,000 acres. PLOTS peaked at about 1,050,000 acres 10 years later and a time of record commodity prices, prompting some landowners to opt out of the program.

The drop in PLOTS acres mirrored the slide of land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program that pays landowners to idle land for conservation. About half the land enrolled in the PLOTS program also is designated as CRP, which proponents say improves water and air quality, controls soil erosion and boosts wildlife numbers.

North Dakota has about 2.7 million acres enrolled in CRP, equal to last year but down from 3.4 million in 2007, said Jim Jost, a CRP specialist with the Farm Service Agency in Fargo.

About 260,000 acres designated as CRP is slated to expire this fall but much of it is expected to be re-enrolled, he said.

“We expect it to only slightly decrease for next year,” Jost said.

Most CRP is enrolled for 10 or 15 years.

Scott McLeod, a Bismarck-based biologist for the conservation group Ducks Unlimited, said more than half of the North Dakota’s CRP acres are up for renewal over the next three years.

“There are still a lot of acres expiring,” McLeod said. “As the CRP goes, there is less opportunity to enroll it in PLOTS because it won’t be there.”

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