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Port: Hunters better get with the program or get locked out

From a property rights perspective, SB2315 got it right, but at the Legislature, the hunters, who far outnumber the farmers and ranchers, won the political fight. The bill ultimately failed in a narrow 44-48 vote in the state House. It may prove a pyrrhic victory for hunters.

Posted
A bill that would have required sportsmen to ask permission to enter private land even if it wasn't posted fell to defeat in the North Dakota Senate, but the trespass issue isn't likely to go away anytime soon. The bill was one of the more controversial pieces of outdoors legislation debated during this year's North Dakota legislative session. (North Dakota Game and Fish Department photo)
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MINOT, N.D. — One way or another, the status quo when it comes to land access for outdoor recreationists like hunters is changing.

It's going to happen.

Hunters, you'd better get used to it.

One way that change could come is an electronic posting pilot program , created during the last legislative session, which allows landowners to control access to their property virtually. They'll be able to post their land, or not, by way of a website, with hunters able to track which land is available, and contact landowners about accessing posted land, the same way.

Hunters and landowners in North Dakota will participate in this program in Ramsey, Richland, and Slope counties this season, and there are high hopes that it will work well.

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It's an elegant solution to a cantankerous problem.

Landowners won't have to go through the work and expense necessary to post the signs required by current law to control access to their land. They could do that with a few clicks on a website.

Hunters, meanwhile, will have a nifty database for figuring out who owns what land and how to contact them to get on that land.

Participation isn't mandatory — the Game and Fish Department's website says hunters "are encouraged" to use the online resources this fall — but the hunting community had better make this thing work.

The alternative is a growing movement among North Dakota's farmers and ranchers toward locking hunters out of any access to their land.

"Across the prairies, farmland and badlands of North Dakota, a new crop is growing in surprising abundance," journalist James Miller wrote recently . "It is not spring wheat, canola, barley, soybeans or corn, but rather a crop of unique signage reading, 'ND LOCKOUT' and '#IAmNDLockOut.'"

I wrote about this movement in December , and it seems to have gotten some momentum since then. It was born of the contentious fight over SB2315 in the last legislative session, which, if passed, would have ended our state's current presumption of open access to private land.

Instead of requiring landowners to post their land to control access to it, the default would be that land is posted and those wishing to access it must get permission.

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From a property rights perspective, SB2315 got it right, but at the Legislature, the hunters, who far outnumber the farmers and ranchers, won the political fight.

The bill ultimately failed in a narrow 44-48 vote in the state House.

It may prove a pyrrhic victory for hunters.

They get to keep the status quo for now, but they've aroused some long-simmering anger among landowners over the way hunters take access for granted and often abuse it.

Remember, for many of these landowners, the land isn't recreational. It's their livelihood. Stories about litter and vandalism and livestock harassed are common.

Hunters need to get with the program, or they will get locked out.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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