- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Deer hunters in North Dakota are now able to let the state keep license fees if they don’t get a tag, as part of an effort to improve wildlife habitat and hunting access.

The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1WDCZCl ) reports hunters can let the state Game and Fish Department keep the fees, with funds going toward the Private Land Open to Sportsmen program.

The program is part of the department’s Private Land Initiative, which focuses on habitat conservation, providing cost-share help for property owners for development and protection of habitat while landowners allow the public to fish and hunt. Private landownership dominates the state, said Jeb Williams, chief of the department’s Wildlife Division.

Williams said the idea for donating didn’t come from within the department.

“It was actually a grassroots effort by deer hunters - by people who said, ‘You know, I don’t need my refund back. I’d just as soon donate it back to the department,’” he said.

Legislators passed a bill regarding the idea in the 2015 legislative session. Both online and paper applications ask about donating fees. The department spent about $40,000 to alter the online application process.

Fewer licenses have been issued by the department in the past five years in light of declining deer populations. Last year 43,275 licenses were issued.

There will be 49,000 licenses available this year. Williams said the deer population seems to be bouncing back, partly because of two consecutive mild winters.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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