Some Monday outdoors tidbits:
Bighorn sheep outlook improves
Nothing’s official yet, but prospects for a bighorn sheep season this fall in North Dakota are improving, based on results from the Game and Fish Department’s annual bighorn sheep survey.
Game and Fish this morning said the survey showed a minimum of 292 bighorn sheep in western North Dakota, up 8 percent from last year and 3 percent from the five year average.
The survey tallied 88 rams, 160 ewes and 44 lambs. The total doesn’t include about 30 sheep in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The results are good news after a die-off that began in 2014, the result of an outbreak of bacterial pneumonia, officials said.
“Adult mortality slowed significantly in 2015, and we had a good number of lambs survive in 2014 and 2015 to compensate for most of the adult losses,” Brett Wiedmann, big game biologist for Game and Fish, said in a news release. “The bad news is that many bighorns are still showing signs of pneumonia, so next year’s survey will be important in determining if the state’s population is continuing to recover from the disease outbreak, or if the pathogens are likely to persist and cause a long-term population decline.”
In the release, Dr. Dan Grove, department veterinarian, said disease testing last winter revealed deadly pathogens still were present in 16 of 22 bighorns tested. He said animals continue to succumb to pneumonia, albeit at a much slower rate.
Game and Fish didn’t offer a bighorn sheep season last year, but a season this year is tentatively scheduled unless another pneumonia outbreak occurs. Game and Fish will make a final determination Sept. 1 after results from summer population surveys are available.
Open water fishing reports from the Rainy River have taken a big turn for the slower in recent days after runoff from tributary streams and last week’s snowfall muddied up the water.
When the Rainy turns muddy, to say walleye fishing slows would be an understatement.
That didn’t keep diehards off the water over the weekend. Dennis Topp of the DNR’s area fisheries office in Baudette, Minn., texted Saturday morning to say anglers were launching boats even though the air temperature had dipped to 5 degrees, and a skim of ice covered the river in places. Topp was doing a boat and trailer count as part of a spring creel survey the DNR is conducting on the Rainy River.
The good news is the spring walleye season on the Rainy and other Minnesota-Ontario border waters is open through April 14, so there’s plenty of time for conditions to improve. Ice-out also is prime time for spring sturgeon fishing on the Rainy.
DU honors N.D. wildlife professional, landowners
North Dakota was well represented Friday when Ducks Unlimited handed out awards during the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Pittsburgh.
Tammy Fairbanks, North Dakota realty supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bismarck, was awarded Ducks Unlimited’s national Wetland Conservation Achievement Award in the Federal Agency Employee category, and Craig and Shelley Larson of Bismarck received DU’s 2016 Wetland Conservation Achievement Award in the Private Citizen category.
In a news release, DU cited Fairbanks for “leadership that has been integral to the innovative private/public partnership with Ducks Unlimited that helps meet the huge landowner demand for conservation programs in North Dakota.”
Since 1998, the Service and DU have worked with more than 7,200 landowners to conserve grasslands and wetlands across the Prairie Pothole Region of the Dakotas and Montana, DU said.
“Tammy’s partnership efforts have substantially increased landowners’ ability to conserve habitat on their properties and demonstrates her strong commitment to the protection of waterfowl habitat,” Paul Schmidt, DU chief of conservation, said in a news release.
Schmidt also praised the Larsons’ conservation efforts.
“The Larsons have not only advocated for wetland and prairie conservation but have also carried out that passion for the prairies in their own lives by protecting and restoring critical habitat on their land,” Schmidt said in a news release. “Craig and Shelley have helped to directly protect and restore several thousand acres of exceptional prairie habitat. They have also seeded land on their property back to native prairie and have nurtured the grass back to robust stands.”
The Larsons also have incorporated conservation into their business practices at Starion Financial, where Craig is president and chief executive officer.
“I want to do my part to do the right thing for the environment,” Craig said in the news release. “To me, it’s about maintaining the balance of working landscapes and nature — to allow us to farm the best and leave the rest. I’ve been fortunate to experience nature’s beauty across the country and am passionate about preserving it. Conservation isn’t something you see the effects of overnight, but it is critical we join together to create a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.”
Craig and Shelley have contributed financially to the efforts of others working in the prairies, including Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Dakota and The North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, DU said.