By John Bradley
The 2021 Legislature was a busy one for issues affecting wildlife, habitat and access for hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts. As we have in years past, the North Dakota Wildlife Federation (NDWF) played a crucial role at the Capitol, monitoring key issues and speaking up for those issues and our outdoor heritage. NDWF worked closely with lawmakers of both parties to ensure that the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F) budget saw an increase and that key conservation and access priorities got the staffing and funding needed to manage our public trust resources. We fought against any effort from legislators that tried to micromanage the NDG&F or impede on scientific wildlife management.
This session saw two bills from the Natural Resources Interim Committee study on access pass. The first bill, SB 2036, continues the interim process to study outdoor access issues in ND. The second bill, SB 2144, establishes a statewide electronic posting system, allowing landowners to post their land physically or electronically for no hunting. This portion of the bill addressed a time-consuming and costly task for some landowners, while allowing those landowners who want to physically post or leave their land open to do so. The bill also provides a definition of a fence and provides that a fence is a secure premises, which can lead to enhanced charges for criminal trespass, addressing the landowners concerns over protestors, ATV users, or others causing a disturbance.
However, licensed hunters and anglers are exempted and are still allowed to enter unposted fenced land when hunting or fishing. Hunters and anglers taking to the field can determine which land is electronically posted by using the online PLOTS guide and printing off maps or by accessing the information from the NDG&F App on the ArcGIS Explorer platform at: https://gf.nd.gov/plots/guide. NDWF will continue to be engaged on this issue during the interim committee study and will work to build collaboration across the diverse groups that represent North Dakota hunters and anglers. Sportsmen and conservation groups need to unite to increase public access and secure North Dakota’s outdoor heritage in 2023 and beyond.
Other important victories for North Dakota’s hunters and anglers included maintaining the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) at $15 million for the biennium and protecting the fund from special interest money raids. OHF, which is funded from oil and gas production tax revenue, supports projects such as access to public and private lands for sportsmen, farming and ranching stewardship practices, fish and wildlife habitat improvements and outdoor recreation areas. To defend OHF, the Federation worked to build a strong coalition of hunting and conservation groups, agriculture and landowner groups, as well as representatives from the energy industry to ensure strong support for the program.
Like past sessions, sportsmen and women had to guard the gate when it came to our deer lottery system. We saw a variety of bills that looked to carve out tags from the big game lottery system for special interests, including hunter education instructors, disabled veterans, non-resident active military, non-residents that were former residents, and hunters 75 years or older. Sportsmen and women were united in pushing back against these attacks and were able to defeat all these attempts to carve apart our lottery system and ensure more tags for the general public.
Our successes this session will be a building block for future sessions. We will keep the sportsmen’s coalition growing in the interim to ensure that the hunting and fishing community speaks with one voice on key conservation issues. That unity gives us more strength to pass key measures and we can build a better future for conservation, hunting and angling.
John Bradley is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and the Executive Director for the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.
Featured Photo: A Sign of the Past? New electronic posting measures ramp up this summer with a law from the most recent legislative session allowing registration of lands online with the NDG&F Dept. Simonson Photo.