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Dennis: Property rights for me but not thee

Property rights are the talk of the state, especially as North Dakotans weigh the proposal to give special consideration to “extraordinary places.”

0 Talk about it

And for one side of the debate, the answer is clear:

The government has no business interfering with a property owner’s decisions on the disposition of his or her own land.

Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring put it this way in a Forum News Service column over the weekend: “Private landownership is a right that must not be infringed upon.”

For the North Dakota Farm Bureau, even that might not be enough. Though Goehring is a former bureau vice-president, the organization is endorsing someone else for ag commissioner, in part because Goehring had made “questionable decisions to erode the personal property rights of our citizens,” the bureau said in a statement.

The bureau’s preferred candidate is Warwick farmer Judy Estenson, who’s also got strong views on property rights.

“I’ve grown weary of a government that seems to increase in size and regulatory authority, and has become intrusive in our daily lives, and has eroded the basic property rights of all North Dakotans,” Estenson said at a Bismarck event.

Similar statements can be found in lots of comments on the “extraordinary places” proposal.

All of which is great news for conservationists.

Because clearly, this bedrock concern is going to lead to a reversal of one of America’s most blatant infringements on property rights: the North Dakota law that forbids landowners from selling directly to conservation groups.

In the other 49 states, if a landowner wants to sell and Ducks Unlimited wants to buy, then the two parties agree on a price, and DU writes a check. Willing buyer, willing seller, done deal. It’s unfettered property rights at work.

But in North Dakota …

In North Dakota, it turns out, such deals first must be judged by the local county commission, then a statewide group called the Natural Areas Acquisition Advisory Committee.

And what do you know?

The chairman of the Natural Areas Acquisition Advisory Committee is the agriculture commissioner, of all people.

The president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau also has a seat at that table. So too does the president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, among other industry and government officials.

So, be glad, conservationists. Because now, we’re sure to hear Commissioner Goehring, Candidate Estenson, the Farm Bureau and other foursquare supporters of property rights come out strongly in favor of disbanding the advisory committee and letting landowners sell directly to conservation groups.

Because “private landownership is a right that must not be infringed upon,” and the government should end practices that have “eroded the basic property rights of all North Dakotans.”


Dennis is the opinion editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at