Landowners, sportsmen working to find solution on hunting issues
By Sen. Robert Erbele, Lehr, N.D., chairman, Interim Natural Resources Committee
I would like to share some additional information on hunter–landowner relations in response to an article that appeared in our major newspapers recently. The article was accurate in describing the history of the battle between property rights advocates and sportsmen protecting their hunting privilege. However, the article did not lay out the work that has been done by both sides, hunters and landowners, to bridge the gap and bring healing to the conflict.
This is a summary of the work done since the end of the last legislative session. The Interim Natural Resources Committee as appointed by Legislative Management was made up of 5 legislators, two from the House and two from the Senate (one from each party) and a chairman that they selected. The committee also included two members selected by sportsmen groups, and two members selected by landowner groups. These 4 citizen members had voting rights equal to the legislative members. In addition the committee had a non-voting Advisory committee that was selected to be a part of all committee meetings. They were the ag commissioner, the Game and Fish director, a representative from the Association of Counties, a representative from the State’s Attorney’s Association, and a representative from the Information Technology Dept. The committee finished its work on Sept. 25 and is advancing three bill drafts to be presented to the full legislature this winter.
One bill will make electronic posting equal to physical posting so both methods would be legitimate means of posting with the same penalties for violations. The trial study for electronic posting that was held in 3 counties this year was to test the ease of use and the functionality of the system. Since electronic posting was not a part of the law, landowners still had to physically post if they did not want to allow hunting or required permission to hunt.
The program that Game and Fish and IT developed from GIS data from the county tax records is easy to navigate for both the landowner and hunter. Landowners can post their land with a few easy clicks in just a few minutes. Hunters can locate the posted land either by an app on their phones or they can download the maps if they are in areas with no cell coverage or they can print the maps from the PLOTS section of the website.
A second bill draft continues the work of the study committee to guide the process of rolling out the electronic posting option to the entire state and bring back a report and recommendations if any other legislation is necessary.
The third bill draft will be a work in progress for the legislature to address other property rights concerns outside of hunting. Our posting laws as they now stand consider property open unless posted and that has caused the concern by sportsmen whenever an attempt was made to have land deemed closed. By accepting electronic posting for hunters and anglers, several positive outcomes are realized. 1. Landowners or property managers will not have the time and expense required to physically post, although they may still do so if that is their preferred method. 2. Many landowners do not mind having hunters on their land, so the land will be considered to be open and they will not have to do anything. 3. Hunters will have better contact information and will have advance knowledge of available land before going to the field. 4. Hunters will be more likely to join property owners in finding a solution to closing property to trespassers if they know that their hunting privilege is secure.
The biggest issue with property rights proponents is just wanting to be able to know who is on their property and when they can be there. Hunting is different than other trespass situations. The wildlife belongs to everyone and property owners recognize that the numbers need to be managed. A property owner knows when it is hunting season and if he sees someone dressed in orange in his field he knows what is going on. All other times the reason why someone else would be on someone’s property is an unknown and the property owner should not have to put signage up to keep people out. Hunting and trapping are addressed in Section 20 of the Century Code and criminal trespass is laid out in Section 12 of the code. My hope is that we will focus on Section 12 this session to bring a workable solution to protecting property rights beyond the hunting seasons. Great progress was made during the interim. The collaborative spirit of sportsmen and property owners working together to find a solution was refreshing to see. As we prepare for this legislative session we are in a good position to bring an end to the divide that has existed in previous sessions.
Erbele, a Republican, represents District 28 in the North Dakota Legislature.