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North Dakota Game and Fish Department Director Terry Steinwand (left) presents a certificate of appreciation to Eric Rogne, West Fargo. Rogne, an avid outdoors enthusiast, was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of a habitat stamp for hunting licenses more than 30 years ago. Today, monies generated from that stamp have created and opened lands to public hunting across North Dakota.

Opening doors to the outdoors: Rogne honored for part in implementing habitat stamp

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Some people claim to be pretty passionate for the outdoors.

Maybe they live for walleye fishing on Devils Lake, or can't seem to get enough mule deer hunting in the Badlands. They may even take their passion as far as to join a dedicated organization or club, such as Delta Waterfowl or Pheasants Forever.

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Other than that, their passion takes them only so far. But true, die-hard outdoor enthusiasts learn to reciprocate - they give back to the lifestyle they hold so dear.

Eric Rogne is one such person. Roughly 30 years ago, the lifelong hunter helped spur a program that, in its duration, has garnered millions of dollars and numerous acres of land for wildlife habitat and public hunting. He championed the habitat stamp, now a required addition to every hunting license purchased in North Dakota.

The gate key

"It came off a plan I looked at in South Dakota," Rogne explained during a recent telephone interview. "They had a designated pheasant stamp."

Even across miles of telephone wires, Rogne's voice drips with excitement when he talks about his love for the outdoors. He spoke of particular jaunts back in the early 1980s, when he was having unusually tough times locating pheasants in southern North Dakota.

"I'd work my tail off to find the birds, but we just didn't have the numbers," he said. "That's what motivated me to start the program."

Rogne's idea was to create a stamp - much like the pheasant or waterfowl stamps already in circulation - that hunters were required to purchase along with their yearly hunting license. Funds generated from the stamp would go directly to land acquisition, habitat improvement, and, most importantly, hunter access.

"I lobbied and went after it pretty hard, but eventually it got its own wings and flew along," Rogne said.

"He didn't do it by himself, but he absolutely was the leader in getting it done," said Terry Steindwand, Director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. "His thought process was right: get the habitat for the animals."

To become law, the habitat stamp had to traverse the usual channels of litigation, but eventually it became law, and for his efforts, Rogne was named the 1981 Sportsman of the Year by the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.

At the time, as the Conservation Reserve Program was in its infancy and after the Soil Bank days, suitable land for both habitat and hunting was at a premium. Rogne's habitat stamp was the spark that ignited many other programs.

Today, Rogne said, the habitat stamp - which now costs $13 and is called the General Game and Habitat License - has become more important than ever. With the loss of millions of acres of CRP across the U.S., North Dakota included, replacing the disappearing wildlife habitat is of the utmost importance.

CRP pays farmers to leave land fallow for a set amount of time. This lets natural vegetation grow, and helps reduce soil erosion while creating the environment necessary for wildlife to thrive. Many CRP acres also are open to hunting.

Reduced CRP means reduced habitat and hunting land.

"You need to have the access and the animals," Steindwand said.

Folks like Rogne and Steinwand now are looking to another program to help pick up somewhat where CRP left off. Private Lands Open To Sportsmen, or PLOTS, is a state program that pays landowners to open property for public hunting.

"PLOTS is funded at about

$4 million a year," Steinwand said, of which much of that funding comes from the General Game and Habitat License. Rogne's brainchild is working as it was designed, as a means "to augment the other programs," Steinwand said. "It really is focused on getting habitat and gaining free public access for people to enjoy."

Reaping the rewards

From the outside, it appears as if Rogne thought up the habitat stamp almost selfishly. He was having a tough time finding birds to hunt, so this was a way to help fill his game bag.

On the contrary. Rogne's drive to provide habitat and hunting land stems from a deep desire to share his love for hunting and fishing with others - and to provide the same opportunities he has had for generations to come.

"It's a wonderful thing, moneywise," he said of the Habitat License, "but what's our children's and grandchildren's future going to be like without that wildlife and habitat?"

Hunters like Rogne know that, to get people interested in the outdoors, they have to be exposed to it at an early age. Aside from an increasing draw of electronic distractions like video games and the Internet, the loss of access makes it difficult to get that outdoors exposure.

"I go back to the Soil Bank days, when I was a kid growing up in the '50s and I was the bird dog," he said. "I did get a passion for the great outdoors. It evolved into, as an adult, hunting hard.

"I've had a wonderful experience in the outdoors - it's in your blood. And it's our obligation to share it with our kids and grandkids."

Rogne knows that, as CRP and other programs are cut back, being able to spread that passion will get increasingly more difficult.

The Habitat License "is something that needs to be enhanced. It's coming back full force," he said. "It's kind of a historical thing in that it has sat there and gathered millions and millions of dollars.

"It has opened the door for hunters like you and I to hunt."

Tyler Shoberg is Sports Editor of the Pioneer, as well as an avid outdoorsman. He can be reached at 701-451-5717, or tshoberg@westfargopioneer.com.

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