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MN, ND address outdoors bills as legislative sessions begin

GRAND FORKS -- A bill to establish a trespass law in North Dakota stands to be among the more prominent pieces of outdoors legislation on tap when lawmakers convene Tuesday, Jan. 3.

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Terry Steinwand

GRAND FORKS - A bill to establish a trespass law in North Dakota stands to be among the more prominent pieces of outdoors legislation on tap when lawmakers convene Tuesday, Jan. 3.

In Minnesota, chronic wasting disease, elk and Department of Natural Resources funding all stand to be on the legislative agenda. Minnesota’s 2017 legislative session also gets underway Tuesday.

Here’s a look at existing or potential outdoors legislation in the two states.

North Dakota Terry Steinwand, director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, said a trespass bill hasn’t been pre-filed, but reliable sources have confirmed a bill is coming.

Steinwand said he doesn’t know how the legislation will be worded.

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“I can only speculate,” he said. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests apparently prompted calls for new legislation, Steinwand said.

Currently in North Dakota, private land that isn’t posted is open for hunters and others to access without permission. Hunters must gain landowner permission to enter posted land except in rare circumstances.

In neighboring Minnesota, hunters and other outdoor recreationists cannot enter legally posted land or agricultural land without permission.

“We haven’t seen a trespass bill in the Legislature for a number of years,” said Mike McEnroe of Bismarck, president of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation. “That could be a big issue, one North Dakota sportsmen have been concerned about for a number of years.”

Among the outdoors bills to be pre-filed is SB 2056, which would allow archery hunters older than 65 to hunt with a crossbow throughout the archery season. Current law requires archery hunters to obtain a doctor’s certification confirming a disability before they can hunt with a crossbow during archery season.

Sen. Ronald Sorvaag, R-Fargo, and Rep. Mary Johnson, R-Fargo, are listed as the bill’s authors.

Steinwand said the department’s budget isn’t in line for 10 percent cuts like other state agencies because it is entirely funded by users, including hunters, anglers and federal allocations from the sales taxes on hunting and fishing gear.

McEnroe said the Wildlife Federation will lobby on behalf of maintaining the department’s budget proposal.

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“The money is solid, so we’ll try to hold that,” he said.

Also pre-filed was HB 1025, a bill covering licenses that given to nonprofit groups as special allocations or fundraisers. The bill grandfathers in groups such as the Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Midwest chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, North American wildlife enforcement museum, and Hunter Education Association, Steinwand said.

“This bill if passed as written would mandate we develop administrative rules as to how we give out those” licenses to other groups, he said. The number of licenses could not exceed 2 percent of the general lottery allocation, and eligible nonprofit groups would have 501c3 tax-exempt status, Steinwand said.

Gone are the days when nonresident hunting issues dominated the outdoors agenda at the Legislature, McEnroe said. During the last session in 2015, lawmakers introduced about 40 bills related to hunting and fishing, McEnroe said, down from about 55 outdoors-related bills during a typical session.

“All kinds of one-constituent bills get introduced to help a particular district or corner of the state,” McEnroe said. “I’m sure there’ll be any number of those.

“There’ll be surprises. There always are.”

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department again this session will provide daily updates on outdoors legislation. The updates will be available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov/legislation.

Minnesota In Minnesota, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said the recent finding of chronic wasting disease in three southeast Minnesota deer likely will be addressed in the Legislature.

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Fabian in November was named chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.

“We’re going to have to have a hearing of some sort on the CWD outbreak,” Fabian said. “We need to stay on top of that.”

Fabian, who has been critical of the Department of Natural Resources on issues ranging from elk to motorized vehicle restrictions on state wildlife management area lands, said his viewpoints and policy initiatives are based on what he hears from constituents in northwest Minnesota.

Fabian authored a bill last session that put DNR plans to expand the elk herd in parts of Kittson County on hold after hearing concerns from local ag producers.

“I’m  a reflection of the people in my district,” Fabian said. “I really, honestly believe that.”

Fabian said he won’t support any requests from the DNR to increase license fees as a way to address funding shortfalls. However the agency’s budget unfolds, Fabian says he’d like to see the DNR incorporate volunteers to lighten the workload.

“I’m not saying the DNR is not doing things differently, but can we do things better? Do we really need to have a fee increase if we can recruit more people to volunteer? That’s what I want to look at first,” Fabian said.

As examples, he cited the Star of the North Trail system of hunting trails in Beltrami Island State Forest, and the DNR’s Adopt a Wildlife Management Area program. The Star of the North Trail is a partnership between the Lake of the Woods Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society and the DNR to develop and maintain a network of hunting trails; the Adopt a Wildlife Management Area program is designed to encourage volunteers to help improve or maintain WMAs.

The Legislature passed a bill establishing the Adopt a WMA program in 2012, Fabian said.

“The commissioner has said in public, ‘We don’t have the resources needed to do the things we would really like to do to enhance existing holdings,’ ” Fabian said. “I have strongly encouraged them to recruit more volunteers. I believe there is an army of outdoor enthusiasts up there that would be more than happy to take on projects.”

Fabian said he expects continued discussions on aquatic invasive species. Legislation allowing magnifying scopes on muzzleloaders for all hunters also is likely to surface again this session, he said. Currently, only hunters 60 and older can use magnifying scopes on muzzleloaders without a special permit.

“I think that’s an issue that’s time has come,” Fabian said. “I think we’ll have a hearing on a bill.”


Dan Fabian
Dan Fabian

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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