AG sues Audubon SocietyBISMARCK — Part of an Audubon Society bird sanctuary in central North Dakota was illegally acquired and must be sold, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem asserts in a case that arose from a separate dispute over privately owned nature preserves.
By: By Dale Wetzel, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Part of an Audubon Society bird sanctuary in central North Dakota was illegally acquired and must be sold, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem asserts in a case that arose from a separate dispute over privately owned nature preserves.
Stenehjem has sued the National Audubon Society in state court in Stutsman County, arguing that it must sell 263 acres of farmland that is part of a larger sanctuary about 12 miles northeast of Jamestown. The property was used as crop and grazing land before the society acquired it in 1988, court records say.
North Dakota does not generally allow corporations to buy or own farmland, although family-controlled corporations may do so. The Audubon Society does not meet any of the exemptions in the law that would allow it to own the land, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit asks a judge to fine Audubon $25,000, order the organization to sell the property within a year, and pay the attorney general’s costs of bringing legal action. “Audubon’s continued ownership of the land constitutes a continuing violation of state law,” it says.
Philip Kavits, an Audubon Society spokesman in Washington, said the lawsuit was being reviewed.
“At this point, we’re trying to figure out what our defense is,” Kavits said.
Charles Carvell, an assistant attorney general, said the Audubon Society’s ownership of the Stutsman County farmland became known while a separate state lawsuit proceeded against Crosslands Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by James Cook, a Minneapolis gold and silver dealer.
Crosslands bought more than 1,700 acres in Ward, Griggs and Cavalier counties for wildlife habitat. Southeast District Judge James Bekken ruled in June that Crosslands must sell some of the property.
Stenehjem is appealing Bek-ken’s decision to the North Dakota Supreme Court, arguing that it didn’t go far enough in requiring Crosslands to divest itself of its land.
Crosslands pointed to the Audubon Society’s ownership of the Stutsman County land as evidence it was being treated unfairly, but state officials were not aware of Audubon’s property holding, Carvell said.
Stenehjem later agreed not to sue Audubon over the issue until Bekken made his ruling in the Crosslands case. The attorney general said Monday that he has offered to delay the case further until the North Dakota Supreme Court decides the Crosslands appeal, which is likely to take several months.
Audubon has managed the sanctuary for almost 30 years, said Genevieve Thompson, the society’s North Dakota director. It includes a 500-acre lake with nearby trails for bird watching, as well as grasslands and wetlands that provide habitat for ducks and other wildlife, she said.
It is open to visitors year-round.