By Nick Simonson
With North Dakota’s legislature meeting every other year, the winter of 2020 would seem like many to be a quiet one for the state’s lawmakers, but for Senator Larry Robinson of District 24, serving Barnes, southwestern Cass and northwestern Ransom Counties since 1989, his three decades of experience dictate otherwise. With concerns of sportsmen and conservationists at the forefront of the 2019 session, he knows those issues are carrying over and looming large for the next assembly in 2021 and it is important for all involved – including lawmakers and sportsmen – to engage in a dialogue that keeps those key issues top-of-mind and the opportunity to find solutions close at hand before the session begins.
“When we’re not in session, not only do the interim committees keep you busy, but it’s important to stay involved and engaged in your district activities and events and what’s happening and also statewide,” Robinson stated of his duties as a senator in the interim year, “it’s a time to prepare and regroup and gain an understanding of what has changed and what are the pressing issues as we prepare for the next session.”
An Outdoor Senator
Bills involving access, conservation and the laws that affect hunters and anglers throughout the state resonate with Robinson, who grew up with a shotgun in his hands and to this day is in the outdoors as much as his work as a legislator and his involvement with a number of local community groups and educational foundations will allow.
“I was fortunate, I grew up in Kidder County in some of the best upland game and waterfowl hunting in the state of North Dakota,” Robinson recalled, “as a young boy, my dad bought me a bolt-action .410 and to this day I’ve had more luck with that .410 back then than I do with three-inch magnum shot,” he concluded with a laugh.
His most prominent memories, however, surround the adventures with his sons in the outdoors as they got into deer hunting and other sporting activities in the fields, woods and waters in and around the Sheyenne River valley in southeastern North Dakota. With the recent death of his youngest son, Travis, weighing in his discussion of fond times in the outdoors, he recalled their first hunt together and how Travis tagged an impressive whitetail buck in a season that spurred many other fun and successful Novembers in their times together.
“Whenever we had a chance to get out and go fishing or hunting – and sometimes just to get out – and whether or not we would run across game…the priority was just getting out, spending time together in the great outdoors; so it’s been a big part of our life and will continue to be,” Robinson stated while reflecting on the pride that both he and his older son had while watching Travis on his first deer hunt and those in subsequent seasons.
Hunting, Angling Important to ND
While Robinson’s duties and involvement span the gamut of law-making arenas – he serves on the state budget, information technology and two higher education committees – he recognizes just how important hunting, fishing and outdoor access matters are each session to the people of North Dakota.
“It speaks to the emphasis that we place on it, it’s a big part of our life,” Robinson related of his constituents’ love of the outdoors “a significant percentage of our population really holds hunting and fishing and outdoor activities near and dear; it becomes a big part of their family outings and so on, so any time we address those issues in the legislature we need to realize they’re very sensitive issues to the folks across the state of North Dakota,” he concluded.
Following the hotly contested debate and defeat of SB 2315 which would have removed millions of acres of public access in the form of unposted land in North Dakota’s unique access system, Robinson recognized concerns on both sides. By Robinson’s three decades of involvement in bill drafting and debate, he has seen a number of legislative introductions come back session after session like SB 2315, and while they aren’t common, those repeat bills often represent heightened concerns which need to be inspected closely by legislators. He is unsure, however, that SB 2315 and the interim study created in its wake would solve any of the problems presented by its proponents and stresses that building up the sportsman-landowner relationship and recognizing the unique access program in the Roughrider State while thanking those who allow for it is a very important balancing act in moving the discussion forward for more positive solutions.
In closing, whether a bill is in regard to matters of access for hunting and fishing or the dozens of other topics that come up each session affecting sportsmen, Robinson advises individual hunters and anglers and their respective groups to be proactive in the legislative process and keep ongoing discussions with their lawmakers.
“I think it’s important that our voting sportsman population stay in regular contact and communication with legislators in their respective districts not only during the session but year-around,” Robinson stated, “so many organizations wait until the legislature convenes and then they come into Bismarck and they’ve got a list of priorities and that’s fine, but it’s important to be working on that in advance of the legislative session so we aren’t bombarded Jan. 5 or 6 and trying to play catch-up.”
Featured Photo: Habitat and sportsman access are at the top of the list of many hunters’ concerns when discussing legislative issues with their senators and representatives in the ND legislature. Sen. Larry Robinson suggests keeping those lines of communication open in the interim years when the governing body is not in session. Simonson Photo.