BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The number of deer gun hunting licenses that will be made available in North Dakota this year will be the lowest since 1980, due largely to declining habitat and several tough winters that have taken a toll on the animals.

Randy Kreil, wildlife division chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said 48,000 licenses will be available to hunters this fall, 11,500 fewer than last year.

It's the fifth-straight year that wildlife officials have cut the number of licenses because of declining deer populations, especially in the in the eastern part of the state.

“This should not come as a surprise to anybody,” Kreil said.

The state's deer population is still trying to rebound from several harsh winters beginning in 2008. Deer licenses peaked that year at just below 150,000.

Kreil said more than 2 million acres of wildlife habitat has been converted to cropland in the past year due to higher commodity prices. Tree buffers known as shelter belts also are being removed at an “unprecedented” pace, especially in the eastern two-thirds of the state, he said.

“It's being done for additional farmland and the easier movement of farm equipment,” Kreil said.

Deer licenses are determined by harvest rates, aerial surveys, depredation reports, hunter observations, input at advisory board meetings, and comments from the public, landowners and department field staff.

The statewide hunter success rate in 2013 was 55 percent, down from 63 percent in 2012. Kreil said the long-term hunter success average is about 70 percent.

Hunters are able to draw one license for deer gun season and one for the muzzleloader season.

Online applications will be available May 5.

North Dakota's two-week deer gun hunting season is held every November.