BISMARCK - The days of North Dakota lawmakers introducing bills on behalf of groups wanting to raffle or auction off prized hunting licenses may be numbered.
A legislative committee on Thursday directed staff to start drafting rules requiring that such requests be submitted to the state Game and Fish Department, which would then decide whether to recommend them to the Legislature.
"We're probably looking to change the order of how things are brought forward," said Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, who chairs the interim Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Seven groups will receive one license each for raffle or auction this year, including a bill approved last year allowing the raffle of an elk license to support Annie's House at Bottineau Winter Park, an adaptive ski facility for disabled children and young adults.
The other groups include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation and the North Dakota Hunter Educators Association, which made $11,429 raffling off a pronghorn license last year.
Separate laws earmark up to 10 deer licenses for wounded military veterans and up to 13 various game licenses for terminally ill children.
Onstad and other committee members said it makes more sense for raffle and auction requests to start at the Game and Fish Department, where they can be evaluated based on field expertise, scientific data and the department's population surveys.
Deputy Director Scott Peterson agreed.
"The issue is that it becomes very difficult when an organization comes to the Legislature and asks for a ... high-value tag," he said. "And it's a very difficult task to stand there and try to make a judgment decision on who's worthy and who's not, because they're all good causes."
Among other rules, department officials would like to see requirements that organizations be based in North Dakota and that a percentage of the proceeds be returned to the department or dedicated to a conservation project, Peterson said.
The only raffle or auction that currently benefits the department directly is the single-license bighorn sheep auction by the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, which raised $70,000 in 2014, 90 percent of which went to the department, Peterson said. The department canceled the 2015 bighorn season due to low numbers after a die-off caused by pneumonia.
Some other groups provide indirect benefits to Game and Fish through partnerships and habitat projects, he said.
Peterson said lawmakers will have to decide whether licenses already designated for specific groups should be grandfathered in. One committee member floated the idea of allowing different groups to access those licenses on a rotating basis.
Rep. Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg, noted that once-in-a-lifetime licenses for big-game species are already limited in number, and he predicted that determining how many special licenses to issue for raffle or auction is "going to be something that's difficult to hammer out."
"We all know that that elk or moose (license) is a very special one, and the general public wants one, and some of them go a whole lifetime without getting one," he said.
Peterson asked for guidance from lawmakers.
"I can see that our constituents would put a lot of pressure on us not to allocate any more of those" special licenses, he said. "The onus is going to be on us instead of you folks."
N.D. Game and Fish Department special allocation licenses in 2015
• 1 spring turkey license to National Wild Turkey Federation for auction or raffle
• 1 bighorn sheep license to Foundation for North American Wild Sheep auction
• 1 moose to Wildlife Enforcement Museum raffle
• 1 elk to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation raffle
• 1 mule deer to Mule Deer Foundation raffle
• 1 pronghorn to ND Hunter Educators Association raffle
• Up to 4 "any deer" and 6 "any whitetail" licenses to Injured Military Wildlife Project
• 1 moose, 1 elk, up to 7 deer, up to 2 pronghorn and up to 2 spring turkeys to terminally ill children
• 1 elk license to Annie's House at Bottineau Winter Park (for 2016 only)
• Limited number of "any deer" permits within boundaries of Camp Grafton to disabled veterans
Source: N.D. Game and Fish Deputy Director Scott Peterson