Next to sunflowers, Private Lands Open to Sportsmen signs are probably the most visible yellow objects found across the prairies of North Dakota this autumn.
Over the past years, PLOTS signs have become synonymous with quality habitat open for hunting access. The signs mark the boundaries of parcels of private land that landowners have opened to walking hunters through an agreement with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
But PLOTS is more than just acreage to hunt. The program was designed so land enrolled was not plowed fields or heavily grazed pasture that didn’t offer much in the way of hunting potential. Game and Fish accomplished that at first by working with landowners who had Conservation Reserve Program grasslands that were good pheasant habitat, and that in parts of the state contained wetlands as well.
Called the CRP Access Program, this program provides cost-share to landowners for their share of grass seed, seeding preparation and seeding costs to open the CRP field, and often some of the surrounding area, to walking hunting access for the duration of the CRP contract.
The CRP Access Program has been popular with landowners, accounting for about 250,000 of the more than 700,000 acres currently enrolled in the PLOTS program. That leaves something like 450,000 acres of PLOTS land in the state that may not look like a CRP field, but still could harbor enough pheasants, ducks or deer to make for an enjoyable walk.
Included under the Game and Fish Department’s private land umbrella are programs that provide a range of options for landowners including working lands, habitat establishment and rental, cost-share for trees or shrubs, native forest conservation, food plots, habitat, tree planting, wetland reserve, waterbank, beginning farmers and coverlocks for conservation.
The bottom line is, there’s a program to meet the needs of just about any landowner who wants to participate.
One program area that has expanded and has been well received by landowners and hunters is the working lands program. Landowners have enrolled nearly 350,000 acres in the WLP since its inception in 2004.
Under WLP, biologists evaluate the current farming or ranching management practices of lands that are actively farmed or ranched. These lands are ranked or scored based on components such as conservation practices, good stewardship and quality of hunting habitat and public access potential.
Another reason that WLP is popular is that contracts are generally for shorter terms than CRP access.
Hunters benefit from WLP tracts because many active farming or ranching operations contain existing habitat such as wetlands, tree rows, native prairie grasslands, unused grassy areas, wildlife food plots or native wooded areas. In addition to habitat that may already exist, the WLP offers an opportunity for landowners to enhance their lands by working with biologists to establish habitat or make changes that benefit their operation and wildlife.
Many WLP tracts also contain areas that may not appear to provide good hunting potential. However, somewhere in the parcel there should be a decent hunting option for waterfowl, pheasants, deer or other species. Give these areas a try by looking around the next corner or over the hill.
The 2015 PLOTS guide identifies working lands tracts with an orange border around the boundary, while other programs do not have a border. In the field, however, most PLOTS signs do not indicate under which program the parcel falls.
If you want to learn more about the Game and Fish Department private lands initiative, visit the agency website at gf.nd.gov, or call the Bismarck office at 701-328-6300.