North Dakota lawmakers voted down the so-called “trespass bill” on the final day of the 2019 legislative session, but a lobbyist for hunters and anglers says he’s encouraged that private lands issues will be further studied as the result of a separate bill.
As Jenny Schlecht of Agweek magazine reported, the North Dakota House on April 25 defeated Senate Bill 2315, which would have considered all land posted for no trespassing except for the purpose of hunting.
The bill went through a number of configurations in both the Senate and the House before its ultimate defeat. But a key provision of SB 2315 called for a study into the possibility of developing an electronic database of hunter access instead of actual signs, which now are required before private land is considered off-limits.
North Dakota is one of the few states in which land is considered open to hunting unless specifically posted for no trespassing.
While SB 2315 was defeated, Mike McEnroe of Fargo, a registered lobbyist for the North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society and the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, said House Bill 1021, the information technology department’s budget bill, also includes a study of land access issues.
HB 1021 calls for establishing a committee to study the idea of an electronic database of posted land. Two representatives from sportsmen’s groups, two representatives from agricultural landowner groups and five legislators would be voting members of the committee, he said.
In addition, five non-voting members would consist of representatives from the state Agriculture Department, the state Game and Fish Department, the information technology department, the Association of Counties and the North Dakota State’s Attorneys Association.
From his perspective, at least, an electronic database of posted land that includes landowner contact information would simplify the process of trying to get permission to hunt land that’s posted, McEnroe said.
“I think there were a lot of people who supported the idea of a study,” McEnroe said. “The makeup of the study group will determine a lot of where it goes.”
Support for the database isn’t unanimous, McEnroe says, and he heard as much from some sportsmen during the session.
“My response was, ‘Why would you object to a database that listed all the landowners or renters of the property that’s posted so you know who to ask?’ ” he said. “Because right now, there’s a lot of posted land out there that you can’t find the owner of. The platbooks are out of date or the signs aren’t identified or signed or there’s no phone number. We know land is posted so why not be able to have a way to easily find it.”
Trespass issues have been debated in seven of the last eight legislative sessions, McEnroe said, but before this year’s session, the debate always focused on land being posted — even without signs — or existing law staying the same, he said.
“Each side lined up on ‘yes’ or ‘no’ toward that,” McEnroe said. “But we never have discussed the issue of what the problem is and what the solutions could be.”
The committee and study called for in HB 1021 has the potential to steer the land access debate in a new, more productive direction, he said.
“I just think we, the sportsmen, have an opportunity in the next year and a half to really have some serious discussions and offer some good input,” McEnroe said. “It can’t be criticism and it can’t be ‘No, we don’t want to change.’ Things are changing.”
Here’s hoping both sides can come up with a working compromise so the trespass debate doesn’t come up every two years like it has during recent sessions.
The future of landowner-sportsmen relations depends on it.
“I think with the study, we have that opportunity to have much more of a fruitful discussion than two sides just firing shots at each other’s bow,” McEnroe said. “And that’s all we’ve had for the last seven sessions.”