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North Dakota hunters, landowners clash as pheasant season approaches

One of the most contentious subjects during the recent legislative session, SB2315 sought to deal with the issue of whether landowners should have to post to prevent hunters and others from entering it, or whether hunters should be required to request permission from every landowner before entering private property
Written By: James Miller | Sep 26th 2020 - 8pm.
 
Fence dividing public and private land. (Dickinson Press file photo)
Fence dividing public and private land. (Dickinson Press file photo)
 

Across the prairies, farmland and badlands of North Dakota, a new crop is growing in surprising abundance. It is not spring wheat, canola, barley, soybeans or corn, but rather a crop of unique signage reading, “ND LOCK OUT” and “#IAmNDLockOut.”

The signage which began appearing in late 2019 comes from a group that took the mantle in an old fight in North Dakota. The group, North Dakota Lock Out, says that they are focused on protecting the property rights of North Dakotans as property owners -- primarily agricultural producers -- and have been seeking changes to North Dakota's private property laws.

The signage is only the latest effort in a struggle pitting landowners and hunters in a battle that has raged for more than a decade as North Dakota remains the only state in the region permitting hunters to enter private property, without permission, unless the land is posted for no trespassing or no hunting — putting the onus on the landowner.

 

Signage began appearing in late 2019 across western North Dakota from a group that took the mantle in an old fight. The group, North Dakota Lock Out, says that they are focused on protecting the property rights of North Dakotans as property owners. (Dickinson Press file photo)
Signage began appearing in late 2019 across western North Dakota from a group that took the mantle in an old fight. The group, North Dakota Lock Out, says that they are focused on protecting the property rights of North Dakotans as property owners. (Dickinson Press file photo)

 

One of the most contentious subjects during the recent legislative session, SB2315 sought to deal with the issue of whether landowners should have to post to prevent hunters and others from entering it, or whether hunters should be required to request permission from every landowner before entering private property. The amendments and subsequent watering down of the verbiage in SB2315 became the impetus for a reinvigorated debate in North Dakota and is one that will certainly be felt as pheasant season approaches this fall.

 

Rep. Luke Simons, R-District 36, spoke on the House floor on the topic, siding with landowners in what he said was a clear violation of property rights.

“Our land is being violated, our rights are being violated and as landowners, we are being violated,” Simons said. “Landowners would like people to ask for permission before they come on private land. It’s not a lot to ask. No one is saying, ‘no hunting here’, most welcome hunters. I welcome hunters. We just ask that they ask to come on private land.”

Simons said that hunters are failing to understand a simple concept, saying “It’s not your right, it’s a privilege” to hunt on private property.

Craig Armstrong, a North Dakota landowner and avid hunter, said he understood both sides of the argument.

“When I started hunting it was commonplace to not have posted land, so we had access to all this private land because of the laws and the way things were. It was honestly wonderful growing up that way,” Armstrong said. “In the few times that we came across land that was posted, we’d find the landowner and talk to them. It was always better to be hunting posted land with permission because not as many people were hunting there because a lot of people won’t knock on doors or make that phone call. I wouldn’t hunt on land if there was even half a sign that maybe blew away, I think it’s better to just be on the side of caution and respect.”

 
 

Armstrong detailed how challenging it was to hunt before cellphones were invented and how the innovation makes the old ways of doing things much easier.

“Back before cellphones I would write the name and phone number on the signs, come home and make the calls to the landowners to ask permission for the next time I would go out hunting,” Armstrong said. “When cellphones came out that was one of the things I was most excited about, being able to call right there. I’ve done that many times, I still do that all the time because I like doing that.”

Today, Armstrong said that he understands the concerns raised by landowners.

“It’s been great having access to all this private land that I can just hunt, it’s been wonderful. As a hunter I love our posting laws, but as an American citizen and proponent of property rights and land ownership, I don’t believe that landowners should have to post signs to keep people off the land,” he said. “Here in town if someone comes onto my property, I don’t have to post it. If people come on my land they are trespassing. Really, what is the difference?”

Armstrong added, “I don’t blame landowners who are fighting for their rights on this. As a hunter, it’ll be a little more difficult for me and it’s a tradition being lost — which is a hard thing to lose — but in today’s age with technology it’s just not that hard. You have to do your homework and go find the landowner and get permission and everyone is more comfortable. They know who is out there and you know whose land you’re hunting.”

 
 

Just southwest of Belfield, hidden in those rolling pastures of ranchland and protected by buttes and valleys, lies a patch of land that is, according to local property owners, under attack.

Evidence of the coarseness that so rattles these landowners can be found all throughout the neighboring patches of land: battered and beaten land, trash and spent shells, grass patches turned to mudholes and pronounced ruts in the shape of truck tires, some up to 10 inches deep, criss-crossing the mud chaotically, all but destroying a generations-old dirt trail used for work, not play.

The main suspects? According to the landowners, irreverent hunters.

Beginning in early 2019, farmers and ranchers along the Western Edge became more and more vocal about the apparent increase in flippant maltreatment of the land they work. Some have said that the age of hunting without permission is dying at the hands of those who benefit the most — hunters.

The grievances of these ranchers and farmers doesn’t appear to be with hunting or all hunters in general, but rather a blatant disregard by a few bad apples for the land on which they stand. Many of these same landowners are proud, but concerned hunters themselves.

“More and more people are wanting landowner rights back because of bad hunters,” Armstrong said. “There are bad hunters out there and they give all of us good hunters a bad name. They have a lot of ways that they piss off landowners by not following the rules, the law, shooting too close to their house, etc.”

Armstrong added, “It seems to me, and really is, that we’ve become more of a hunting destination state for our neighbors. Most of the bad hunters are coming from the east, places like Minnesota and Fargo. They’re from the city and don’t know the ethics and think this land is theirs to use and abuse — it’s not.”

Armstrong said that he believes that it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing should posting laws become a thing of the past.

“I think that passing those laws would weed out the bad hunters because they’ll have to put some work and effort into it that they don’t want to do,” he said. “I think that my quality of hunting, I believe, will be better because not everyone is going to do their homework. Maybe then our relationship with landowners will become better. Then and probably only then.”

For more information about the rules and regulations governing hunting on private property, visit https://gf.nd.gov/

Signage began appearing in late 2019 across western North Dakota from a group that took the mantle in an old fight. The group, North Dakota Lock Out, says that they are focused on protecting the property rights of North Dakotans as property owners. (Dickinson Press file photo)
Signage began appearing in late 2019 across western North Dakota from a group that took the mantle in an old fight. The group, North Dakota Lock Out, says that they are focused on protecting the property rights of North Dakotans as property owners. (Dickinson Press file photo)
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Seems like a hit piece.  The theme "land is being trashed so it must be out of state hunters" is getting pretty old.  I find the story about the poor condition of the rural road particularly head shaking as in my experience locals with a six pack and a wild hair and farmers with heavy machinery are more often the culprit. 

 

It is interesting the get out and stay out narrative comes from an area that is one of the largest beneficiaries of federal farm payments, notably CRP and crop weather damage.

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36 minutes ago, co_setter said:

Seems like a hit piece.  The theme "land is being trashed so it must be out of state hunters" is getting pretty old.  I find the story about the poor condition of the rural road particularly head shaking as in my experience locals with a six pack and a wild hair and farmers with heavy machinery are more often the culprit. 

 

It is interesting the get out and stay out narrative comes from an area that is one of the largest beneficiaries of federal farm payments, notably CRP and crop weather damage.

 

Bingo. The push to change our ND trespass law is coming primarily from the pay to play operations in ND's pheasant country and the duck belt. Those commercial operations view open land as competition. The same farm group that shoved it through in Idaho a few years back wants to do it here. The ND Senate Bill 2315 was killed on the state House floor by 4 votes last time. They will bring it up again and sportsmen will have to kill it again. Just power politics. 

 

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I am an Easterner, and a Southerner.  My take on property rights does not fit the Western model of "open range".  In fact I just do not understand it.  I bought and paid for my land, I pay my taxes, I keep up the property and I consider it my privilege to lease or otherwise limit the hunting and entry rights of others.

 

Sure, I get some CRP money and other Ag Bill goodies from "we the people", but you get tax advantages in your business from the gov. as well.  Why would that factor entitle you to trespass on my property any more than it would have to do with me demanding a dividend from your business profits?

 

East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet...SelbyLowndes  

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4 hours ago, co_setter said:

Seems like a hit piece.  The theme "land is being trashed so it must be out of state hunters" is getting pretty old.  I find the story about the poor condition of the rural road particularly head shaking as in my experience locals with a six pack and a wild hair and farmers with heavy machinery are more often the culprit. 

 

It is interesting the get out and stay out narrative comes from an area that is one of the largest beneficiaries of federal farm payments, notably CRP and crop weather damage.

 

 

Easy solution. Spend federal money to acquire and manage public land. We have spent BILLIONS on things like CRP, just to see land supposedly benefitting wildlife taken out of the program, baled, or plowed up in the end. Current wildlife benefit is ZERO. Permanently buy land that is susceptible to erosion, flooding, etc..... taking it out of production. Manage it specifically for wildlife. Period. Doing otherwise is a farce. Sorry for the rant. 40 year sore spot for me.   

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Alaskan Swamp Collie

I agree with Remo.This is yet another attempt to commercialize hunting, to make it more like South Dakota. It does not take that much effort to post land and when I've asked about posted land the usual response is to wait after deer season. When I have used Onx to locate a landowner to hunt the response is go ahead that's why I didn't post it. Than they tell me about another area they have that holds birds to go hunt. Sure there are some slobs, but posting doesn't make them go away. The really prime pheasant and deer land and I assume waterfowl land is already posted. Making it universal will just take away the small cattail swamps and draws that small groups of hunters utilize. It will make it more difficult for a father and son to hunt for an afternoon unless they pay a trespass fee. Ask South Dakotans how they feel about their trespass law and the increase in preserves and leased hunting.

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37 minutes ago, SelbyLowndes said:

I am an Easterner, and a Southerner.  My take on property rights does not fit the Western model of "open range".  In fact I just do not understand it.  I bought and paid for my land, I pay my taxes, I keep up the property and I consider it my privilege to lease or otherwise limit the hunting and entry rights of others.

 

Sure, I get some CRP money and other Ag Bill goodies from "we the people", but you get tax advantages in your business from the gov. as well.  Why would that factor entitle you to trespass on my property any more than it would have to do with me demanding a dividend from your business profits?

 

East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet...SelbyLowndes  

 

Just to clarify - You only have the right to access land if it is not posted. 

 

Those that have a problem with that seem to fall into 2 categories - the ones that say it is a burden because they operate so much land & those that see land open for hunting as competition for thier pay hunting operations. 

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I probably ought to amend my opinion of western open range to say that with respect to Government land administered by BLM etc. I do agree it ought to by right be open to all its owners, meaning us.  It is the private land access I take issue with...SelbyLowndes 

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2 hours ago, Tilkut said:

 

 

Easy solution. Spend federal money to acquire and manage public land. We have spent BILLIONS on things like CRP, just to see land supposedly benefitting wildlife taken out of the program, baled, or plowed up in the end. Current wildlife benefit is ZERO. Permanently buy land that is susceptible to erosion, flooding, etc..... taking it out of production. Manage it specifically for wildlife. Period. Doing otherwise is a farce. Sorry for the rant. 40 year sore spot for me.   

 

Your easy solution is common sense and legal in many states,......BUT it would interfere with pay to play commercial operations and so the same farm groups have outlawed government conservation purchases of ND land and also non-profit conservation organizations. In addition they have restricted any permanent lease for conservation purposes. Few people can imagine what a corporation will pay for a prime hunting lease with compensation under the table.

 

The most fundamental individual right of willing seller/willing buyer is thrown under the bus.   😈

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I hate to see old ways go away. I know the access rules in ND and it is great to know if the property is not posted you can proceed. If a land owner doesn’t want you on it just post it.  One of the problems especially out west was finding land owners to ask permission. Some times the owners live on the property sometimes they are no where near.  In ND. Any time I want to hunt private  posted or not I always try to find land owners to ask permission.  I’ve had some say no some were ok with it.  All this just seems like the way it used to be done around here. I didn’t get to experience it but my G pa told me he could hunt any where he wanted all around his house.  He didn’t have to ask for permission. It was pretty much a given. No one cared if you were hunting on there property. The main thing that changed it was big game.  Once deer began to show  land began to get leased every where. 

 

Unfortunately   The bill will eventually pass and the guides will lease up everything.  I know guys that have been going to ND for 20-30 years. They told me probably the last 5-10 years to get on the bulk of land to duck hunt you had to pay to get on.  

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5 hours ago, SelbyLowndes said:

I am an Easterner, and a Southerner.  My take on property rights does not fit the Western model of "open range".  In fact I just do not understand it.  I bought and paid for my land, I pay my taxes, I keep up the property and I consider it my privilege to lease or otherwise limit the hunting and entry rights of others.

 

Sure, I get some CRP money and other Ag Bill goodies from "we the people", but you get tax advantages in your business from the gov. as well.  Why would that factor entitle you to trespass on my property any more than it would have to do with me demanding a dividend from your business profits?

 

East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet...SelbyLowndes  

Just curious what tax breaks are available to other businesses but not available to farm businesses.  Just for clarity I would suggest there is a difference between cash subsidies and tax breaks, although it's really irrelevant to this topic.  I would agree that owners should have to right to prevent trespass - in ND it's really a matter of being open to others unless posted and in  other areas it's closed unless permission is given, although most I've seen use no trespass and posted signs anyway.

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Thirdbite, I agree government payments have nothing to do with the public access question because the issue is property rights.  I brought it up only to answer the proposition that accepting government freebies might in any way give property rights to the general public.  Of course government payments/tax breaks could be drawn so as to open public access, but only upon acceptance of that burden by the property owner. That would just be a quid pro quo agreement between government and landowner...SelbyLowndes

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Just an update on the  state wide no trespass electronic posting trial from this fall. The legislature allowed a test run of the same in 3 ND counties. And 1.5% of property owners signed up in those counties. A dismal failure by any standard. Kind of lets the air out of the argument that landowners want this in ND.

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In the end it is nothing more than greed and continued move toward a feudal state model.  Is there really any private ownership free from government oversight? If you own the land free and outright and receive no gov't subsidy and pay for all improvements etc out of you pocket; good for you ... I'll stop before I get on a roll and thrown out. I can't recall off hand but there is a really interesting website that list the all the govt $ that farmers/ranches recieve from the gov't; just type in the name and see what they received; as my SD rancher said, "some ranchers are better at farming the gov't than actually farming themselves". 

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On 10/4/2020 at 6:37 PM, Remo said:

Just an update on the  state wide no trespass electronic posting trial from this fall. The legislature allowed a test run of the same in 3 ND counties. And 1.5% of property owners signed up in those counties. A dismal failure by any standard. Kind of lets the air out of the argument that landowners want this in ND.

 

meaning 1,5% posted or continued to allow access? By your closing comment I'm assuming (hoping) the former, but just checking...

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