This week saw a study begin yet again on an “old friend” of the ND Legislature – the hunting trespass issue. As Chairman Erbele noted, it has been called the automatic posting bill, the trespass bill and several other names. While there was one session when it was not presented, virtually every session in memory has seen this issue pop up. NDSGA and most, if not all other Ag groups signed on in favor of land being automatically posted as it is in some other states.
So why does it fail every session? One answer is the power of inertia or the difficulty of change. North Dakota has a long history of allowing landowners to post their land if they wish to keep others out, and the right to allow people on by permission or by simply not posting various tracts. There is a view shared by some that posting is too onerous and expensive a task while other landowners complain of signs taken down or destroyed. It is seen as a property rights issue and folks are adamant about it. Others in agriculture are fine with the law as it is and have voiced the opinion that leaving land open helps them carry on harvesting duties without interruption from hunters seeking permission. This last attempt at changing the law would have instituted an online map which would have landowners characterize each tract of land in different colors to keep people out or allow folks on with a third color to ask for permission. This would have overcome a difficulty encountered in the NODAPL protests whereby protesters allegedly took down signs and claimed ignorance of trespass. But the legislative process saw the bill which passed in the Senate changed in the House.
So it went to a conference committee after 13 hearings during the session and it was rejected on the last day. One duty of this interim committee is to identify the amount of trespass to help identify the extent to which it is a problem. That information was presented by Game and Fish and generally speaking, of the 140,000 plus people who have a hunting license, the number of violations over the 5 years from 2014 thru 2018 average 110 per year. This means that .05 percent or less of hunters have been reported for violating trespass laws. Of that 110, on average about 20 percent of those have charges dismissed by the person who called it in. So, in fact the percentage of violations is very low. If one were to take that number of hunters times the number of times they go afield, (5 days? 10?) that percentage becomes even smaller. This committee is also looking at getting an electronic system up and running by next year which may use county figures for ownership. Using one, two or three counties in a pilot project is being explored. I will keep you up to date as this moves along.