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.”