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An Open Letter to North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum

by Bill Mitzel

Dear Gov. Burgum:

As sportsmen and sportswomen who reside in North Dakota and who share a deep passion for our state’s beauty, it’s rich history, it’s contributions to our nation’s needs and it’s outdoor heritage of managing public trust resources, we welcome you to the Office of Governor of our great state.

By way of introduction, we collectively enjoy our outdoor lifestyle and proudly support the philosophies of one of our greatest historical residents, Theodore Roosevelt, who was one of the fathers of the conservation movement and who developed the now widely accepted definition of conservation as the “wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of its people”.

Working closely with our state and federal agencies, to restore and manage our fish, wildlife and cultural resources and to wisely use and conserve these public trust interests provides a unique “user-pays, public-benefits” system. Sportsmen and sportswomen are the primary funders of fish and wildlife in North Dakota, providing virtually 100 percent for the funding for our ND Game & Fish agency. No general fund revenues are received by NDGF.


Because we are passionate about our interests and because we put our money behind our convictions, we want you to know that we have a long history of being puzzled, disappointed and frustrated with our previous governor, Jack Dalrymple and his staff in all matters related to the impacts on our public trust wildlife, fisheries and cultural resources in Western North Dakota due to the Bakken Oil Field Development. We have always supported research and thoughtful discussion to address both impacts and recovery goals due to prudent development of the Bakken Formation, but your predecessor and his staff made it clear that the folks who pay for proper and sustainable management of wildlife and habitat were not welcome at the table when major decisions were being made.

To that end, we extend a new and welcome hand to you and your staff and hope for better working relations. Basically, we feel that you are one of “us” -- a rancher, a hunter, a person who values our outdoor heritage. You can very much help “clear the air”, increase government transparency and increase our overall trust by giving us answers to the following questions, so we can get an accurate picture of where the sporting public, land management agencies and the energy industry is positioned on recovering public trust resources, and what is in store for the future.

We thank you in advance for your help on this, and offer our collective support in working cooperatively.  Your responses will be published in Dakota Country magazine. The editors of this magazine are open for an interview with you on all matters concerning sportsmen and sportswomen during your tenure.



Sportsmen and sportswomen have lost substantial wildlife trust resources as a result of the Bakken oil field development with apparently no plan for recovery and/or mitigation for these losses. What is your view on minimizing the long-range impacts on our natural resources in western ND from oil and gas development in the Bakken oil patch? How can outdoor users have their views considered in a public process to minimize impacts and begin recovery planning in order to be compatible with ND land values?

As you know, natural resource-based outdoor recreation is a key economic base for our ND Tourism and Visitor Industry and it relies on our clean waters, wetlands, prairie, badlands and Missouri River reservoirs to maintain their healthy state. What economic strategies can/will you implement that will ensure that our natural resource based outdoor recreation and other natural systems required for recreation will thrive in the future and continue our legacy as a prime outdoor recreation state?

You are very familiar with our Badlands in western ND. Much of our “Badlands” is managed as the 1.1 million acre Little Missouri Grasslands by the US Forest Service. Wildlife and conservation organizations have proposed that some 61,000 acres of the Badlands, those last acres currently managed as roadless areas and suitable for wilderness designation, be set aside in an undeveloped condition, with current grazing still allowed, to effectively conserve these public trust lands in a natural state for future generations to enjoy. Do you support this collaborative effort to retain this small piece of unique public lands in an undeveloped state for future generations to enjoy and study?

Habitat is the key to our wildlife abundance, health and sustainability. However, in recent years, the state has seen a decline in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage from 3.4 million acres down to 1.4 million acres, deer license allocation dropped from 149,000 to 49,000 in 2016, pheasant harvest has dropped 900,000 birds to less than 600,000, and the PLOTS acreage, so valued by resident and nonresident hunters alike, has decreased from 1.1 million acres to 700,000 acres. The loss of habitat is directly related to these alarming declines. What direction will you give to our ND Game and Fish Department to reverse these trends of declining habitat and opportunity, and increase and enhance the quality and quantity of habitat for sportsmen and sportswomen of ND? In addition, because NDGFD is a “special fund” agency financed by hunting and fishing license sales, excise taxes paid by sportsmen and sportswomen on a variety of outdoor equipment and additional federal programs, would you consider exempting NDGFD from across the board cuts in other state government budgets, if needed?


There are certainly many more questions that could be asked, and you most likely have had these same questions and others related to current and future status of outdoor resources during your campaign and the transition into to governorship. However, these four questions compose a spectrum of the most asked questions by our most prominent conservation organizations, individual sportsmen’s clubs, landowners, tourism businesses and a cross section of people who hunt, fish, camp, and generally enjoy our outdoor heritage, and are alarmed to see it slipping away, seemingly without concern from our Executive and Legislative Branches of Government.

Thank you for your attention to this letter Gov. Burgum. We look forward to hearing from you, and further pledge our support for making direction changes for the betterment of our outdoor heritage.

Signed by: The major Sportsmen’s Groups, Conservation Organizations, and individuals concerned about the future of North Dakota’s outdoor resources.