Gift to sportsmen: Longtime teacher donates 1,120 acres of family land to Game and Fish to establish Wildlife Management Area


LEFOR — Tucked away a few miles west of the Enchanted Highway south of Gladstone is a large and secluded tract of land where pheasants pop out of thick grassland and deer hide in tree rows that stretch for nearly a half-mile.

It’s an area soon to become Stark County’s first North Dakota Game & Fish Department Wildlife Management Area.

The 1,120 acres of land–which consists of an adjoining section, half-section and quarter-section–was gifted to the Game and Fish Department by Regina Roth, a longtime teacher and lover of wildlife who died in January.

“I wish I would have known her because I don’t know why she did it,” said Casey Anderson, the Game & Fish Department’s assistant wildlife division chief.

Anderson said one of Roth’s wishes is certain, however. It’s that she wanted to ensure the WMA was named after her parents, Adam and Theresa Raab, who homesteaded the area. Anderson said Game & Fish will be honoring that wish.

Game & Fish has yet to complete the land acquisition process and Anderson said it may take a couple years before the WMA is complete.

The department must fence the entire area, place proper signage and rework agreements with a local farmer who leases the roughly 450 acres of cropland within the future WMA.

“We’ll get boundary fences and stuff up as soon as we can. That’s kind of the first order of business,” Anderson said. “When we were talking about doing habitat work and stuff like that, the fact that there’s an ag lease that we’re going to uphold is OK. Because there’s some things that have to be done on it before we start worrying about habitat work.”

Anderson said the boundary fencing will be up by this fall’s pheasant hunting season.

“There’s going to be all kinds of opportunities down there, as far as hunting opportunities,” he said.

The original Raab farmstead–an idyllic western North Dakota farm setting–is also part of the land donation. It’s surrounded on the north, south and east sides by hundreds of Ponderosa pine trees and Evergreens, and there are some other outbuildings.

“She had some wishes that we try to maintain that farmstead,” Anderson said, adding that Game & Fish is still checking into what it’s legally allowed to do with the farm and house on it. “We’re not necessarily in the business of having living quarters, but we’d sure like to maintain her wishes.”

Norma Hirning, whose husband Roger farms the land inside what will become the WMA, said the entire Raab family–including Regina and her brother Irving–were animal lovers who cared deeply for their land.

“The entire time I’ve known those people, they’ve had a real love for animals. Whether it’s wildlife or cattle, whatever,” Hirning said.

Though Hirning said Roth was a very private person, she touched countless lives as a teacher.

After graduating from Lefor High School, Roth began teaching at a country school nearby before even obtaining her degree from what was then Dickinson State Teacher’s College. She ended up teaching first and second grades in Mott, where she also became the elementary principal, until her retirement.

There are 215 Wildlife Management Areas throughout North Dakota either managed or partially managed by Game & Fish. The WMAs are open to hunting, fishing and trapping, and are also used for hiking, primitive camping and nature study, according to the department’s website.

Of those WMAs, only around 30 are larger than the Raab Wildlife Management Area, and many of those in western North Dakota are near Lake Sakakawea and Lake Oahe.

“This is a huge gift to the sportsmen and women of North Dakota,” Anderson said. “It’s going to open a lot of opportunities for locals that need a place to hunt.”

When Anderson presented information about the WMA to the Stark County Commission last Tuesday, Commissioner Ken Zander figured the land could have brought more than $1 million on the open market.

“When you look around, there’s not too many of us–myself included–who would have thought of doing something like this before we or I would have cashed in, and taken the money and run,” he said. “It’s a beautiful gesture.”

Bighorn sheep count up 8 percent in western N.D. Badlands

The bighorn sheep population in the western North Dakota Badlands grew by 8 percent, according to a survey recently completed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Big game biologist Brett Wiedmann, who works out of the department’s Dickinson office, said the results are positive after the bighorn’s all-age die-off from bacterial pneumonia in 2014.

“To see an increase the year after the die-off began is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Wiedmann wrapped up the department’s count earlier this month. Game and Fish 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, according to a news release.

The survey revealed 292 bighorn sheep, a count that included 88 rams, 160 ewes and 44 lambs. Wiedmann said 76 percent of lambs survived the winter, an encouraging number.

The count is also a 3 percent increase from the state’s five-year average.

Thirty bighorns believed to be in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park weren’t included in the count, and is a number that Wiedmann called an estimate.

A bighorn sheep hunting season is tentatively scheduled to open later this year, but only if there isn’t a recurrence of bacterial pneumonia. The season’s status will be determined Sept. 1, after summer population surveys are completed.

“As it stands right now, we’re pretty confident we’re not losing many adults at this point, so we expect to have a season,” Wiedmann said.

Wiedmann said the pneumonia virus can persist in a bighorn sheep herd for decades.

“We’re by no means out of the woods,” he said.

The northern Badlands population, which was hit the hardest by the die-off, increased 13 percent from last year, according to survey figures. However, the southern Badlands population was down 19 percent.

Adult mortality rates among the bighorns “slowed significantly” last year, and the lamb survival rate compensated for the adult losses of 2014.

“The bad news is that many bighorns are still showing signs of pneumonia, so next year’s survey will be important in determining if the state’s population is continuing to recover from the disease outbreak, or if the pathogens are likely to persist and cause a long-term population decline,” Wiedmann said in a statement.

Dr. Dan Grove, a Game and Fish veterinarian, said disease testing last winter revealed that pneumonia pathogens were present in 16 of 22 bighorns tested.

Game and Fish brings back bighorn sheep season

BISMARCK — The western North Dakota Badlands will likely have a bighorn sheep hunting season again this fall, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department announced Monday.

A bacterial pneumonia virus affected the state’s bighorn herd so badly in 2014 that Game and Fish closed the 2015 season.

But the animals have recovered well enough that Game and Fish Wildlife Division Chief Jeb Williams said a season will happen this fall, barring unforeseen pneumonia issues this spring and summer.

“What we found is we still have some harvestable adult sheep out there that we’d just as soon see the public utilize,” Williams said.

Historically, two to eight licenses for male bighorn sheep are drawn yearly in North Dakota, Williams said.

The 2016 season status will be determined Sept. 1 after the completion of summer population surveys, he said.

“There’s still potential for animals to die of pneumonia,” Williams said. “That’s why we have the provision in there that we’ll do our summer surveys first.”

Bighorn sheep hunting can only take place in select Badlands hunting units. The units include all of Slope and Golden Valley counties, and parts of Billings, McKenzie and Dunn counties. This year, no hunting will be allowed south of either the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North or South Units.

“It’s such a tremendous resource that we have, and it’s only found in the Badlands,” said Bruce Stillings, big game management supervisor in Dickinson’s Game and Fish office. “It’s quite a unique opportunity for our hunters to be able to hunt. The reopening is excellent news for us as a department and to the hunters alike.”

Brett Wiedmann, a big game biologist in Dickinson, said as many as 11,000 people typically send in the $5 nonrefundable application to draw one of the few bighorn sheep hunting licenses the state allots. He said that’s more applicants than Wyoming and Idaho typically receive, even though they have larger bighorn sheep populations.

“It’s one of the toughest draws of any license in North America each year we have a season,” he said. “It’s truly the hunt of a lifetime.”

The North Dakota bighorn sheep bow-hunting season is scheduled to run from Oct. 21 to Dec. 31, with a regular gun season from Oct. 28 to Dec. 31.


Watching the herd

Wiedmann is in the process of completing the 2015 bighorn sheep lambing survey and will conduct the comprehensive survey this summer.

He said lamb numbers through the herd look good, and said Game and Fish is paying close attention to the herd’s susceptibility to the pneumonia pathogens.

“It could flare up at any time,” Wiedmann said. “If we have a recurrence of pneumonia, we could lose a significant number of animals.”

However, he said the department wouldn’t have started the process of reopening the bighorn sheep hunting season if it was concerned another population disruption would happen soon. He said the pneumonia cases have slowed since late 2014.

Williams said the pneumonia issue in bighorn sheep is complex and controversial, and called it the “No. 1 concern among sheep biologists.”

He said national research has shown bighorn sheep that have contact with domestic sheep are at risk of getting the virus.

“There’s a lot of research associated with that issue,” Williams said. “At this point in time. We don’t have a definitive answer of how that happens.”


Additional elk licenses

Thirty-five additional elk hunting licenses have been added for the two western North Dakota hunting units that encompass much of the same area as the bighorn sheep hunting unit.

Game and Fish added 37 elk licenses, making 338 available in the state. The E3 unit, which is Billings, Golden Valley and Slope counties–not including Theodore Roosevelt National Park–added 10 any-elk licenses and 15 antlerless elk licenses. The E2 unit, which is Dunn and McKenzie counties, added 10 any-elk licenses.

Williams said the state has closed Sioux County to elk hunting.

He said a herd is growing in that area, so Game and Fish is working with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and private landowners to allow them to increase in numbers. He said an attempt could be made at reopening elk hunting in Sioux County next year.


Moose licenses added

An increasing moose population allowed Game and Fish to allow 70 more hunting licenses for the animal. The majority of the new licenses can be found in the north central units, where there has been an increase in antlerless moose.

“Moose have been doing very well in the prairie areas of North Dakota,” Williams said. “Their numbers have really been expanding … we’d just as soon have the public utilize that opportunity rather than trucks and vehicles hitting them.”

There will be 202 moose licenses drawn in the state.

The moose bow hunting season runs from Sept. 2-25, the regular season in Units M8, M9 and M10 run from Oct. 7-10 and the regular gun season for Units M5 and M6 is from Nov. 18 to Dec. 11.

Fulfilling a favor: Paralyzed Keene man takes last mountain lion of season in N.D. with help of his friends

From left to right, Beau Wisness, Dusty Hausauer, Chase Wisness, Rusty Christophersen, Chaston Lee and Hailey Schaper pose with the mountain lion that Chase Wisness, who is paralyzed from the waist down, killed on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted in western North Dakota this year. Special to the Forum
From left to right, Beau Wisness, Dusty Hausauer, Chase Wisness, Rusty Christophersen, Chaston Lee and Hailey Schaper pose with the mountain lion that Chase Wisness, who is paralyzed from the waist down, killed on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted in western North Dakota this year. Special to the Forum

It was late July 2008 when Levi Wisness asked his friend, Rusty Christophersen, to do him a favor.

Levi wanted Christophersen to help his younger brother, Chase, hunt a mountain lion in the North Dakota Badlands.

“He goes, ‘Do you ever think we could get Chase in on one?’” Christophersen recalled on Wednesday. “I said yeah, I’ll do everything I could do to get him one.”

Levi Wisness died a week later in his sleep from complications related to a brain tumor he’d been battling for nearly a year.

At the time,17-year-old Chase’s future was uncertain.

He had been paralyzed from the waist down, the result of an auto accident in June 2007 — just months before his brother was diagnosed with the tumor.

“It was pretty cool he thought of me then and it was cool that Rusty was serious when he said we could do it,” Chase said on Saturday.

Over the past month, Christophersen did everything he could to fulfill the favor.

Last Monday, he and about a dozen friends capped off more than three weeks of tracking, scouting and hunting to help Chase, 24, of Keene, hunt and kill a 100-pound female mountain lion near Grassy Butte.

It was the last mountain lion allowed to be hunted this year in the state Game and Fish Department’s western North Dakota zone.

“It finally worked out,” Christophersen said.

Continue reading “Fulfilling a favor: Paralyzed Keene man takes last mountain lion of season in N.D. with help of his friends”

Pheasant outlook optimistic: Hunters flock to Regent as season begins

Lee Donner, right, a Regent native who now lives near Waco, Texas, chats Friday with his friends Jim Stipcich, middle, of Helena, Mont., and John Gerbino, left, of Short Hills, N.J., at a campground off Main Street, Regent.

REGENT — This small southwest North Dakota town typically has two busy seasons: harvest and hunting.

The latter kicks off this morning with the opening of the state’s pheasant hunting season — and Regent is one of the places to be.

Like many rural North Dakota towns this weekend, Regent’s population of about 170 more than doubles, and bars and the little lodging it has fi ll up as hunters from around the state and nation flock to the outdoorsman’s paradise.

“It gets crazy,” said Karen Kouba, co-owner of the Cannonball Saloon and the city’s auditor. “It’s hard to find help just for this period of time. But I think we’re staffed OK this year.”

Continue reading “Pheasant outlook optimistic: Hunters flock to Regent as season begins”

Hunting Dogs Put to the Test

GLYNDON, Minn. – Quiver, a 2-year-old yellow labrador retriever, seemed to know what would impress the judges at the North Dakota Retriever Club hunt test Saturday.

The dog emerged from thick grass at the test grounds north of Glyndon, proudly displaying a recovered duck in his mouth and shrewdly slowing down to show judge Fran Smith.

Was it an attempt to impress the woman scoring him? Only Quiver knows. But it worked.

“I am impressed,” Smith enthusiastically said to the dog and his handler Lyle Steinman.

Just for bonus points, Quiver delicately dropped the duck and correctly heeled at Steinman’s side.

Steinman handled 19 of nearly 100 master-level dogs at the American Kennel Club certified tests. He said it’s difficult for even the best hunting dogs to make it to the master level.

“You have to have a good dog,” Steinman said. “But you have to have an animal who has a natural ability. The IQ, the brains, it all goes back to genetics.”

Dogs in the AKC tests begin as juniors, and then move on to the senior level.

After passing several tests, they can advance to the masters.

Once there, the dogs are put through far more challenging tests, including blind retrieval.

It means the dogs can’t see the birds go down and must rely on their senses to retrieve them.

Because of the level of difficulty, only 20 percent pass.

“The master dogs competing are better than 99 percent of the hunting dogs out there,” NDRC president Henry Van Offelen said. “It gives you a measure on which to gauge and see what dogs can do.”

The final tests continue today at the NDRC main grounds, two miles west of Glyndon.

Steinman, the owner of Castile Creek Kennels in Stewartsville, Mo., handles and trains master and senior hunting dogs.

“(Castile Creek trainer) Greg (Nelson) and I only train dogs we love,” Steinman said. “We don’t train ones we don’t like. It’s got to be a mutual respect.”

Trainers and handlers must teach a dog how, when and where to heel, react and retrieve.

“A big thing with all these dogs (is) the obedience,” Steinman said. “You need a lot of obedience.”

Every dog must heel at the handler’s side before beginning the test and after retrieving each bird.

“We’re not looking for the best athletes, we’re looking for the type of dog who wants to work with us,” Steinman said.

Max, a six-year-old labrador retriever Steinman handles, is believed to be the most accomplished master dog in the nation with 68 master test passes.

He’ll be going for No. 69 this weekend.

“The level of expectations of what we’re wanting is so tough, a very small percentage make it anymore,” Steinman said.

Tim Slattery, a former professional football player from Celina, Texas, has handled dogs professionally for 16 years. He has eight master dogs and two seniors competing at the tests.

“I’ve got a competitive edge in me,” Slattery said. “I like to get out there with the dogs and tear it up.”

Slattery and Steinman said they often trade tips and tricks about courses when testing.

“We’re constantly tuning each other in,” Slattery said.

Like Slattery and Steinman, several professional trainers from across the country used the tests to qualify dogs for nationals.

For Bob and Lynn Louiseau of Perham, Minn., the tests were the first step in training Delta, their 1-year-old yellow labrador retriever.

It was the first hunt test for Bob Louiseau, 53, who joined the NDRC in order to learn how to properly train Delta, who competes at the junior level.

“It’s kind of fun to be taught,” said the former peewee hockey coach. “I’m learning things from 20-year-olds who’ve been doing this longer than I have.”