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Consequences due to retention of hunting rights lead to legislation

In recent years, it has become somewhat common for a landowner when selling his/her property to retain some or all of the hunting rights.

Lyle Hanson, a state representative from Jamestown, hopes to make it a little harder to do so to avoid complications that could arise from the practice.

"I don't know when it started," Hanson said. "It's basically just getting started and we thought we needed to get a handle on it before it got out of hand."

During the 2007 legislative session, lawmakers placed a two-year moratorium on all property sales that would include retention of hunting rights so they could better study the issue.

Hanson said the concern is the ownership of hunting rights could become as muddy an issue as mineral rights.

"You get a couple owners down the road and you don't know who has the hunting rights," Hanson said. "Oil companies spend hours and hours in the courthouse trying to figure out who has the mineral rights."

Another concern that was raised during testimony at the last legislative session was the possibility that anti-hunting groups would come in to buy land, then turn around and sell it while retaining the hunting rights.

"We're just trying to get ahead of the whole ballgame," Hanson said. "Say some big organization that is against hunting comes in. They could come in and buy and then sell it, but maintain the hunting rights."

Hanson said there was no solid evidence of this happening in North Dakota, but it has happened elsewhere and is the main reason he supports the bill.

North Dakota Game and Fish Department deputy director Roger Rostvet said the department is interested in maintaining quality opportunities for the state's outdoors enthusiasts and has no qualms with Hanson's bill, but has asked for an amendment to it.

"We wanted to make sure that it didn't affect our short-term leasing of land within the PLOTS program," Rostvet said. "We just don't want a bill that was intended one way to have a negative impact on public access to hunting land. Sometimes there are unintentional consequences...We figure we had better get it figured out ahead of time so there aren't those problems."

Rostvet said the Game and Fish has no stance on the bill outside that issue. He added Hanson and others working on the bill have responded positively to the Game and Fish's requests.

A provision was added to the bill allowing for the lease of PLOTS program land to transfer, said Hanson.

Hunting is not the only area of concern, however, said North Dakota Stockmen's Association Executive Vice President Wade Moser.

"It looks innocent on the surface that someone wants to come home and hunt, it makes sense," Moser said. "What we see happening with access or hunting rights is you are competing for the same resources."

Moser said farmers and ranchers often times find themselves in a situation where hunting rights directly conflict with their management strategy.

An example Moser used was if a rancher wanted to graze his cattle in the fall on a piece of land, but those who retained the hunting rights wanted to utilize that land for hunting.

Moser said arguments have arisen from situations similar to that regarding who really controls surface rights in a given situation. These conflicts have yet to lead to legal action, but Moser said that's the reason the legislation is so important.

If the bill passes, it doesn't mean all issues are going to be resolved.

Those properties sold before the legislation that separated the surface rights from the hunting rights are not be grandfathered in, meaning there may be upcoming legal challenges looming.

"We are saying that those rights cannot be severed because they are too intertwined," Moser said. "Because this is fairly new, we haven't run into those problems yet, but let's be proactive."