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Brad Dokken: Game and Fish likely to lift baiting restrictions in North Dakota deer hunting Unit 2B

Mar. 30—It's not yet official, but deer hunters in Unit 2B of eastern North Dakota likely will be able to hunt deer over bait again this fall.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department implemented baiting restrictions in Unit 2B in 2022 after chronic wasting disease was found in a whitetail buck shot in October 2021 on the Minnesota side of the Red River near Climax.

Unit 2B is a large hunting unit along the North Dakota side of the Red River extending from Grand Forks to south of Fargo.

As part of its CWD management plan, Game and Fish at the time implemented baiting restrictions in units where CWD had been detected or units within 25 miles of CWD-positive areas — in this case, the CWD-positive case on the Minnesota side of the river near Climax.

However, the Game and Fish Department in August 2023 announced as part of its CWD management plan that it would lift baiting restrictions in units with CWD or adjacent to CWD-positive areas if the number of deer equivalent to at least 10% of allocated gun licenses within that unit are tested for CWD, and all results are negative.

Unit 2B met that benchmark during hunter-harvested surveillance efforts conducted last fall in southeast North Dakota, said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck.

Game and Fish offered 1,800 deer gun licenses last fall in 2B, and the department sampled 181 deer from the unit, Bahnson said, all of which tested negative.

"We did meet our sampling goal in 2B, so according to our management plan 2B would come off the restricted list," Bahnson said. "I use that verbiage because there is no CWD proclamation yet, but that's what I would expect."

The restriction would be lifted even though another three deer tested positive for CWD in Deer Permit Area 661 on the Minnesota side of the river, Bahnson said.

"Had we found (CWD) within the unit, the baiting restriction would remain, but because we reached our sampling goal, even though it was found adjacent to that unit, it still goes through the decision tree of being allowed again," Bahnson said.

Game and Fish on Monday reported 11 new cases of CWD

were found during 2023 sampling efforts, with positive cases detected in units 3A1, 3A2, 3E1, 3E2 and 3F2 — all units where CWD previously had been detected. No cases were found in southeast North Dakota where the department focused its sampling efforts, Bahnson said.

The 2024 CWD and deer season proclamations will be sent to Gov. Doug Burgum for approval later this summer.

The way things were looking for a while there, I thought every lake in the region would be ice-free by now, and we'd be fishing in shirtsleeve weather.

Alas, it wasn't to be.

Now that it's spring, winter decided to make an appearance this past week in the form of a much-heralded snowstorm. Grand Forks dodged the brunt of this wintry wrath, with maybe an inch or two of the white stuff over the course of a couple of days, but the wind was brutal, and areas farther east and south got shellacked pretty hard.

And so we wait. For spring to return and spring activities to resume.

Spring walleye fishing on the Rainy River — an annual draw for thousands of anglers — got off to a promising start with an early ice-out along upper reaches of the river and boat ramps clear of ice in mid March.

Fishing for walleyes and saugers on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River is open through April 14, although fishing on Rainy River and adjacent Four-Mile Bay is catch-and-release only from March 1 through the end of the season.

Early fishing reports from the river were excellent.

Then came a cold snap, with some of the coldest temperatures of the winter, and large stretches of the river froze up again. The

Royal Dutchman Resort

on the Rainy River near Baudette, Minnesota, does an excellent job of posting river updates on social media — which is about as close as I get to fishing the Rainy River in the spring anymore, it seems — and there've been a few reports of hardy anglers launching boats and breaking through ice to reach patches of open water.

They've been rewarded for their efforts, but whether that's dedication or something else is a matter of opinion.

As for me, I'm just not that mad at the fish.