North Dakota 20,000 acres of prime hunting land will be open to hunter access, thanks to the altruism of a local rancher and agencies working to make it happen.
Last year, Byron and Kathy Richard purchased the Beaver Creek Ranch property north of Beach in western North Dakota. They, along with several state and nonprofit organizations, have now turned the property into the largest public hunter access in the state.
They bought the land with the idea of turning it into a hunter friendly environment. “This is a lot more than we need for a couple of family members,” Byron Richard said.
The land property is diverse and varied with, according the the Grand Forks Herald, “miles of free-flowing Beaver Creek winding through, high bluffs, buttes and open range supporting everything from chirr-upping prairie dogs to bugling elk.” It will also be a most welcome sight to hunters who, more and more in recent years, are having land access issues.
At a time when pretty much all private land is fenced or posted, requiring either fee or permission to hunt, the Beaver Creek property is a godsend.
After buying the property, Richard contacted Nate Harling of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Harling manages access programs for the agency. Harling enlisted the help of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever, the Wild Turkey Federation and the Mule Deer Foundation. These forces joined together to create the biggest PLOTS (Private Lands Open To Sportsmen) project ever.
All of these organizations pulled together to “support the cost of access and infrastructure, including wildlife-friendly fence, water tanks, signs and vehicle access points”. Hunter access is limited to walk-in access only. No vehicles.
Volunteers helped restore habitat and did a lot of the wildlife friendly infrastructure that was necessary.
The cost of the project totaled $664,000. In return Richard signed a 10-year deal to keep the land open and free. “To get their return, they needed a long-term commitment,” Richard said. “This is a resource to share with the people.”
RMEF ponied up $125,000 to the project. Regional Director Shawn Kelley said it was a good investment. “A lot of younger people are leaving hunting because they can’t afford to pay to hunt,” said Kelley. “We jumped on board because it’s so long term. Our headquarters got excited because we were doing a landscape-style project outside of the mountains.”
The Mule Deer Foundation, contributed $81,000 as part of an Outdoor Heritage grant for habitat improvement projects. These improvements included six miles of water pipeline to move cattle stock tanks away from Beaver Creek.
Mule Deer Foundation spokesman Marshall Johnson indicated that, “There’s much more work to do. Riparian work, food plots, fencing, parking and establishing a primitive camp. Anything we can do to help mule deer in North Dakota is important.”
A recent cursory wildlife survey of the property counted 112 mule deer, 24 white tail deer, 28 elk, 100 or more turkeys, pheasants, grouse, prairie dogs and coyotes. But this is only a drop in the bucket, as the 20,000 acres is sure to support more wildlife than that. And with the improvements made to the environment it seems likely that animal numbers will increase even more.
When asked if he had any concerns about slob hunters, Richard replied, “If they show respect and if I don’t see garbage out here, I don’t think it will be a big problem. It will be enforced, and I do want to see the game warden out here.”
Harling reinforced Richard’s opinion: “This is walk-in access only, so it’s not going to be overrun with vehicles or foot traffic. This area is so big, it would take extra effort to pressure the game off the land, they’ll just move around.”
That’s a lot of land to cover. Hunters can be thankful that they have another excellent place to consider now, and that hunter access is available and free.
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