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ND outdoors: Outlook good for local wildlife in 2012

April 27, 2012

As far as I can tell, few people are complaining out loud about the early arrival of spring in 2012.
Since 2009 it’s almost felt like we’d skipped a season, or replaced spring with “flood” season.
This year, it started to feel like spring in February and March and it’s almost as if fall never left.
Regardless, the early spring has been welcomed by humans, fish and wildlife alike.
As a biologist, I understand it’s often multiple factors that influence wildlife behavior. The snow geese arrived earlier this year with many hunters able to find high numbers in early March, almost a month earlier than last year than these birds arrived last year. That’s a solid indicator that the birds don’t look at the calendar to decide when their northern migration should begin.
In 2011 many hunters reported the best numbers of birds spread across North Dakota in April. Heavy snowpack held birds farther south until the snow line receded and geese could continue north.
This year, whatever snow line existed was essentially gone by early March and the bird migration advanced north with little hindrance. It was a good reminder for hunters and even those of us with a wildlife management degree how a combination of factors can influence when and where snow goose will migrate.
The lack of sheet water in eastern North Dakota, as opposed to past years, shifted at least some of the migration more into central North Dakota. Many snow goose hunters jotting down a day of leave from work, tend to target April more than March, but all the planning in the world can wind up a bust as the birds have their own agenda. It’s a reality check, and a good reminder to always have a “plan B.”
Fortunately, this year that plan B could have been a day of open water fishing. 
In terms of fish, I’ve always kept one eye on our fisheries crews and another on the calendar, as their pressing spring work is a moving target for getting the pike and walleye eggs needed to supplement stocking needs for North Dakota fisheries. While taxes are due April 15, give or take a day depending on where it lands on the calendar, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries crews simply can’t designate a date to begin setting nets.
Pike spawning typically takes place in early to mid-April. Last year, extensive snow and lake ice kept fish and our crews at bay until almost May, putting pressure to get the job done even more rapidly.
This year, crews for the first time took pike eggs in March.
In the end, fisheries and wildlife biologists are left to react to varying sets of circumstances. Habitat, atmospheric temperature and field conditions all have an influence.
Some wildlife or fish may even benefit from early nesting or spawning. While deer fawns will be born in May or June just like always, regardless of the spring weather, young fish may have their first growing season extended by a few weeks, and resident birds hatched from early nests may be a bit more mature when winter comes, which would be a good thing if winter 2012 looks more like 2010 than 2011.
 Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: dleier@nd.gov

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