Published March 28, 2022

Game and Fish Briefs

Written by
The Dakotan
| The Dakotan

Second Consecutive Record Count of Bighorn Sheep

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s 2021 bighorn sheep survey, completed by recounting lambs in March, revealed a record 335 bighorn sheep in western North Dakota, up 4% from 2020 and 15% above the five-year average. The count surpassed the previous record of 322 bighorns in 2020.

Altogether, biologists counted 99 rams, 175 ewes and 61 lambs. Not included are approximately 40 bighorn sheep in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and bighorns introduced to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in 2020.

Big game biologist Brett Wiedmann was pleased to see an increase in the survey for the fourth consecutive year.

The northern badlands population increased 6% from 2020 and was the highest count on record. The southern badlands population declined again to the lowest level since bighorns were reintroduced there in 1966.

“We were encouraged to see the count of adult rams increase to near record levels, and adult ewes were at record numbers,” Wiedmann said. “Most encouraging was a record lamb count corresponding with a record recruitment rate.”

Department biologists count and classify all bighorn sheep in late summer, and then recount lambs the following March as they approach one year of age to determine recruitment.

Department staff, in conjunction with biologists from the Three Affiliated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Division, also reported the bighorn sheep translocated in January 2020 from Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana to the Fort Berthold Reservation performed exceptionally well their second year in the state. The population has nearly doubled in just two years, which is exceptional population performance for bighorn sheep.

There are currently almost 450 bighorn sheep among populations managed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the National Park Service and the Three Affiliated Tribes Fish and Wildlife Division. Wiedmann said the next benchmark is 500 bighorns in the state, which seemed improbable just a few years ago.

Dr. Charlie Bahnson, Game and Fish veterinarian, added that although the Department was pleased to see a low prevalence rate of Mycoplasma during last winter’s disease monitoring of bighorn sheep, biologists did observe several bighorns coughing during the 2021 survey, which indicates the population has not completely cleared the deadly pathogen first documented in 2014.

A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open in 2022.The status of the season will be determined Sept. 1, following the summer population survey.

Game and Fish issued five licenses in 2021 and four hunters were successful in harvesting a ram.

Game Warden Exam Scheduled

Individuals interested in taking the exam to select candidates for the position of a full-time temporary district game warden must register no later than May 24. The test is at 10 a.m., May 27, at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's main office in Bismarck.

Applicants must register by submitting an online application through the North Dakota State Job Openings website.

Applicants must be at least 21, have a bachelor’s degree at time of hire or an associate degree with either 2 years of law enforcement or wildlife experience, have a valid driver’s license and a current North Dakota peace officer license, or be eligible to be licensed. Candidates must successfully complete a comprehensive background check and must not have a record of any felony convictions.

Salary through training is $4,400 per month. For more information, see the district game warden job announcement on the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov.

Report Bald Eagle Nest Sightings

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is asking for help locating active bald eagle nests.

Conservation biologist Sandra Johnson said the department is looking for locations of nests with eagles present, not individual eagle sightings.

Eagles lay eggs in early to mid-March, which hatch about a month later. Johnson said it’s easy to distinguish an eagle nest because of its enormous size.

Nearly 350 active bald eagle nests can be found in 47 of the 53 counties in the state. Historically, Johnson said nests were found along river corridors, but that’s not the case today, as bald eagles will nest in trees in the middle of pastures, fields or anywhere a food source is nearby.

Nest observations should be reported online at the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov. Observers are asked not to disturb the nest, and to stay a safe distance away. Johnson said foot traffic may disturb the bird, likely causing the eagle to leave her eggs or young unattended.

Spring Mule Deer Survey Begins

The state Game and Fish Department’s annual spring aerial mule deer survey is set to begin around April 1 in western North Dakota. Weather permitting, the survey takes about two weeks to complete.

During the survey period, people could notice low-flying small airplanes over some parts of the badlands.

Game and Fish biologists have completed aerial surveys of the same 24 badlands study areas since the 1950s. The purpose of the survey is to determine a population index to assess mule deer abundance in the badlands. 

Open Fires Banned on Oahe WMA, Surrounding Areas

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is prohibiting open burning this spring on public property it manages south of Bismarck and Mandan, as a means to reduce the potential for wildfires in a heavily wooded recreation area along the Missouri River.

All open burning, including campfires, is banned until further notice on the Oahe Wildlife Management Area along both sides of the Missouri River. While the use of portable grills is allowed, extreme caution is advised due to the heavily vegetated area.

These woodlands are prone to wildfires prior to spring green-up. Mild temperatures and a high fuel load in the river bottoms are a cause for concern, in addition to being a high-use area for anglers, campers and other outdoor recreationists.

In addition to Oahe WMA, surrounding areas included in the open burn ban include Kimball Bottoms and Maclean Bottoms managed by Bismarck Parks and Recreation District, Desert Off Road Vehicle Area managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Graner Park managed by Morton County Parks.

Oahe WMA covers more than 16,000 acres along Lake Oahe south of Bismarck-Mandan, in portions of Burleigh, Emmons and Morton counties. Burning restriction signs are posted at all entrances to the WMA.

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