- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Hunting- and fishing-related violations have increased sharply in the heart of the western North Dakota oil patch, with officials citing a lot more people and a lot fewer deer as reasons.

In 2009, there were 123 outdoors-related citations issued in McKenzie and Williams counties. Five years later, there were 589, contributing to a state record of 2,712 citations in 2014. Violations range from minor offenses such as failing to wear fluorescent orange to serious crimes, including the illegal killing of game.

“As far as number of violations in general, it’s one of our top, if not the top, area in the state,” Game and Fish Enforcement Division Chief Robert Timian said. “That area is very large, and there’s been a very large and rapid increase in the population.”

The population in the oil patch has soared as people from around the country have flocked there in search of jobs. Between the 2010 census and last year, the number of people in Williams County increased 44 percent and the number in McKenzie County went up 73 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Timian said it isn’t known how many of last year’s citations were issued to people from other states, since authorities don’t ask violators how long they have lived in North Dakota. He also cautioned that people should not assume wildlife violations are a problem only among the nonresident population.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in violations, which is related to, essentially, there’s just a lot more people,” he said. “But if you went to a particular violation and who committed it, it could be a longtime resident who grew up in North Dakota, or it could be somebody who just showed up three days ago.”

The rise in outdoors violations is highlighted by a recent string of six apparently unrelated poaching cases in the Williston and Watford City areas. Between Sept. 10 and Oct. 18, people illegally killed eight deer and two pronghorn, according to the state Game and Fish Department.

“This happens quite a bit in this area,” District Game Warden Keenan Snyder said. “McKenzie County has one of the higher rates of problems. It seems like it has increased in correlation with the oil boom.”

Less game to go around likely is another reason. While North Dakota’s population has grown, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of deer licenses available due to three straight harsh winters beginning in 2008 that took a toll on the deer population. The 43,275 deer gun licenses made available for this fall’s hunt is the lowest in nearly 40 years - meaning tens of thousands of deer hunters can’t legally take to the field.

“There’s a lot of people out there who just don’t have a deer license,” Timian said.

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This story has been corrected to show that 123 citations were issued in McKenzie and Williams counties in 2009, not 2010.

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