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North Dakota's Stenehjem plans legal counterattack

North Dakota's attorney general is planning a legal counterattack against a Minnesota hunting lawsuit. Wayne Stenehjem will meet with his staff Friday to form a response to the suit, which seeks to overturn restrictions North Dakota's 2003 Legisl...

North Dakota's attorney general is planning a legal counterattack against a Minnesota hunting lawsuit.

Wayne Stenehjem will meet with his staff Friday to form a response to the suit, which seeks to overturn restrictions North Dakota's 2003 Legislature and Gov. John Hoeven placed on hunters from other states.

Stenehjem said he wants the suit to be dismissed. In arguing for the dismissal, the attorney general will make counterclaims with information about restrictions Minnesota places on nonresident hunters.

In Minnesota, residents of other states can't hunt some animals, most notably moose. Nonresidents also face some restrictions with fish houses on Minnesota lakes.

Stenehjem said that in Minnesota nonresidents pay far higher property taxes on lake homes, after tax rebates are given to residents.

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His arguments are to counter the Minnesota lawsuit that was filed Wednesday by Attorney General Mike Hatch and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Detroit Lakes.

The suit emphasizes two rules that particularly anger Minnesota hunters. One does not allow residents of other states to hunt in North Dakota the first week of pheasant and duck seasons. The other restricts where they can hunt.

Peterson said another problem is the new rules limit nonresidents who want to hunt in parts of North Dakota to a seven-day window.

In announcing the suit Tuesday, Hatch admitted Minnesota also restricts nonresident hunters. But he called the North Dakota rules more blatant.

Minnesota's suit claims birds do not belong to any one state. It says federal funds are responsible for rising numbers of waterfowl in North Dakota, so the state should not regulate them.

Hoeven's spokesman said North Dakota makes fish and game decisions based on what experts say is best for wildlife.

"We are building our resources and we are managing them well ..." Don Canton said. "We are doing it for residents and nonresidents alike."

Both sides plan to seek an early decision on the suit. While Stenehjem said will seek dismissal, Hatch wants a ruling before next fall's hunting seasons.

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Stenehjem said he had no warning about the suit and was disconcerted that Hatch didn't try to discuss a resolution before going to court. Neighbors don't do what Hatch did to North Dakota, Stenehjem said.

Hatch, however, said there is nothing Stenehjem could do about changing the laws, so there was no need to talk before the suit.

Stenehjem said he doubts the suit will succeed. He said the only legal support Minnesota has is one federal appeals decision, from the 9th Circuit, that struck down Arizona's attempt to restrict out-of-state elk hunters.

Hatch filed court documents supporting Arizona. That placed him on the opposite side he now takes in his suit against North Dakota.

A lower court already has called the Arizona decision "unpersuasive" while dismissing a similar suit involving a Florida hunter who challenged Wyoming's non-resident restrictions. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in that case Monday and should have a decision ready before any appeals are made in the North Dakota case, Stenehjem said.

"I wouldn't trade our legal argument for theirs," Stenehjem said.

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