Officials at the State Game and Fish Department are concerned that a potential transfer of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land around Lake Sakakawea would include thousands of acres of public land managed for fish, wildlife and recreation, and would jeopardize free access to numerous boat ramps within the middle third of the reservoir.
Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand says the Corps is apparently reconsidering a 2004 request to transfer all Corps land above 1,854 feet mean sea level within the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, to be held in trust for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
The Game and Fish Department leases from the Corps and manages for wildlife approximately 7,000 acres within the proposed area, including Van Hook and Deepwater Creek wildlife management areas. In addition, more than 29,000 acres of Corps land that is currently open to public hunting and fishing could also be transferred.
“Our major concern about this development,” Steinwand said, “is the loss of public land for hunters and anglers, which is currently managed by the Game and Fish Department and the Corps of Engineers.”
Over several decades since Game and Fish began leasing Corps land around Lake Sakakawea for wildlife management purposes, Steinwand said the agency has invested more than a million dollars in sportsmen’s money in portions of those areas that would be included in a land transfer. While Game and Fish would retain leases and public access on land below 1,854 msl, Steinwand added that access to those remaining areas could become more difficult.
“This is a critical issue for hunters and anglers in the state,” Steinwand said. “It’s important that the Corps considers further public input before making a decision on any potential land transfer.”