It’s an issue that pre-dates most of those serving in the North Dakota Legislature. At one time, it caused a rift… then a divide… and now a chasm. Of course, I’m speaking of whether landowners should have to post their property and how that issue has affected the relationship between them and hunters.
According to Senator Larry Luick (R – District 25), this issue has been before the North Dakota Legislature for at least eight sessions. The current version is Senate Bill 2315. Perhaps “current version” isn’t even the right terminology. After all, even SB 2315 seems to have undergone more changes through the amendment process than Michael Jackson had through plastic surgeries. In fact, when I was asked by a legislator yesterday about my opinion on the bill, I asked, “Which version?” I even joked that it had seemingly reached the level of Obamacare— we’d have to pass it to find out what’s in it.
Today, the House passed a much different version than the Senate did. They even divided the bill into two sections — adopting one and defeating the other — before finally getting to a point of passing something. What’s left will now go to the Senate where it will undoubtedly end up in a conference committee to hammer out the differences. That task will likely involve late nights, long meetings, more angry e-mails (from both sides of the issue), and mass quantities of Tylenol for everyone involved. In the end, it may just take Godly intervention to finally settle on something— and not even that will satisfy everyone.
I really don’t want to get into all the details regarding this legislation. I have a life and so do you. I’d not wish the agony of the excruciating process these Legislators have been through on anyone— even if some might argue much of it is self-inflicted. So, I’m certainly not going to even attempt summarizing it all here. Besides, my purpose in writing this isn’t to give you a historical overview of SB 2315. Having said that, the version that passed the House today is not a “posted North Dakota”. In fact, things like criminal trespass, hunting, and guiding or outfitting are all treated differently in the bill. Under the current version, hunters could still enter unposted land to hunt.
I actually wrote about this issue during the 2017 Legislative Session, when I expressed my view at that time that there was an unnecessary divide between landowners and hunters over the issue. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, that divide now seems to be a chasm. I wonder how long — if ever — it will take for it to be bridged? Watching the floor debate today will give you just a taste of some of the frustration. It’s a very toned down version of some of the things said in committee hearings.
The sad thing is that all the hard feelings could have been avoided. Why is it so complicated for some folks to accept the idea that none of us have a right to enter someone else’s property to hunt or to enjoy other recreational activities? I hate to even pit this as a Landowner vs. Hunter issue. Why? For a number of reasons, but one being that many of us are both.
All that has been needed to resolve this issue is for those of us who enjoy the outdoors to take the initiative to support private property rights. Not only to support them, but to all out embrace them. Why would it have been so complicated to stand with landowners across North Dakota and support the idea of “Ask Before You Enter”? Over and over in committee hearings and elsewhere, we’ve heard it stated that the vast majority of hunters already ask permission. If true, then as Rep. Kathy Skroch (R – District 26) — who has sat through the committee hearings — said today on the House floor:
“We were told that 99.9% of hunters asked. Then what are we afraid of? If 99.9% of hunters are already asking, what do we fear?”
I have my doubts about the 99.9% figure, but her point is a good one.
Look, I’m as nostalgic as the next guy. I even wrote about this back in November of 2017, when I suggested we may be witnessing the death of a North Dakota tradition. I, of course, was speaking of what was once considered as the state’s other holiday— opening day of deer season. In addition to reminiscing about days past, I wrote this about a survey done by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife:
“… in 2016 just 5% of the U.S. population, aged 16 or older, went hunting. But here’s the troubling aspect– from 2011 to 2016 the overall rate of hunter participation dropped 16%. Now, keep in mind that ‘overall’ takes into consideration all hunting activities. During this same period of time, big game (i.e. deer, elk, etc.) hunters fell a staggering 20%.”
Now, I’m not going to get into all the reasons for the decline in the number of hunters. There are many. What I’m trying to get across is that overall it seems the glory days are gone. And we’re sure as heck not going to get them back if hunters continue to banter back and forth with landowners over something as simple as whether the latter should have to post their land or not. Does any logical person honestly expect landowners to be happy about that argument? I certainly don’t.
Speaking as a hunter, I want to say this to other hunters— there’s still time, but it’s running out. We can continue to fight this. We can name all the reasons we think are rational that it shouldn’t be this way. We can talk about how it’ll kill the future of hunting in North Dakota. We can do all of that. But I’m telling you, it likely won’t do us a lick of good. No, in all likelihood it will only hurt us more.
Again, from Rep. Skroch:
“It has been said that this can has been kicked down the road— and kicked down. What my landowners are telling me in my district is that, ‘We’re going to take that can, we’re going to fill it full of cement, and put a No Trespassing and No Hunting sign on it and lock this land up so tight that no one will have access!'”
Rep. Luke Simons (R – District 36) expressed the same sentiment.
As for the North Dakota Legislature, they need to accept the reality that they can’t please everyone. It’s simply not possible. The attempt at doing so has — as the old saying goes — “generated more heat than light.”
At this point, I’m not sure where SB 2315 is going to end up. I’m not sure anyone knows. But I do know this— when faced with a decision between building the bridge or widening the chasm, choose the bridge.
PLEASE LIKE & SHARE!