Hunter safety instructors asked students to sign North Dakota conservation petition

By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

CLASSROOM ADVOCACY: North Dakota Department of Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand says he took swift action to address hunter safety class instructors advocating for a controversial conservation amendment in class.

BISMARCK, N.D. — Watchdog.org has uncovered another citizen complaint about advocacy for a controversial ballot measure taking place at a state sanctioned event.

This time, instructors at a hunter safety class put on by the North Dakota Game and Fish department used classroom time to advocate for the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment.

Conservation activists are circulating petitions in support of the amendment, hoping to put it on the November ballot. If passed, the amendment would divert hundreds of millions of dollars in state oil tax revenue into a conservation fund every biennium with a requirement that most of the funds be spent every year.

Watchdog.org previously reported that an auction in support of the Report All Poachers program was used by the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, a group that also is a sponsor of the amendment, to promote the petitions.

Now Bismarck resident T.J. Hermann says he was subjected to criticism and propaganda about the measure while taking a hunter safety course.

“After taking the course, I was left with an extremely bad taste in my mouth,” Hermann said of his experience, which occurred in August 2013. “At the first class they brought up the Clean Air/Clean Water petition that is going around collecting signatures and encouraged the class to sign it, stating it was a ‘vital wildlife conservation’ petition and not telling the class what it really is and does.”

He said that when the instructors learned that he works in the oil industry, he was criticized.

“He demonized me, my business and gave the class the impression that I’m ruining hunting and fishing in (North Dakota) because of what I do,” Hermann said referring to one of the two volunteer instructors.

Hermann said that on the last night of the two-day course, the instructors brought a petition to class and asked students to sign it after turning in their final exam.

Section 16.1-10-02 of the North Dakota Century Code states “No person may use any property belonging to or leased by, or any service which is provided to or carried on by, either directly or by contract, the state or any agency, department, bureau, board, commission, or political subdivision thereof, for any political purpose.” The definition of political purpose includes “any activity undertaken in support of or in opposition to a statewide initiated or referred measure.”

“We were informed in September, 2013 that two Hunter Education volunteer instructors advocated on behalf of the petition and encouraged class participants to sign it,” North Dakota Game andFish Director Terry Steinwand said in response to a Watchdog.org inquiry.

Steinwand said he responded to the complaint, ordering a subordinate to inform the volunteer instructors not to engage in political advocacy while working for the state.

“I promptly notified the division chief under which Hunter Education is administered and informed him that this type of solicitation/activity cannot occur with employees or volunteers when they’re representing the North Dakota Game and Fish Department,” Steinwand said. “The division chief personally contacted the lead instructors involved in the activity on approximately September 20 and informed them that such activity was considered improper and a Hunter Education course is considered a state function.”

Aside from the complaint filed with his department regarding the Report All Poachers auction, Steinwand said this is the only problem reported to him regarding advocacy for the conservation petition.

The conservation amendment needs 26,904 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot in November. Those signatures must be turned into the secretary of state’s office by August 6th.

Contact Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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