North Dakota Non Profits Should Be Able To Buy Land, But Only If They Stop Taking Public Money


Grand Forks Herald opinion editor Tom Dennis gets in a jab at property rights proponents over North Dakota’s restrictions on non-profits buying up land:

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 makes a fair point. From the point of view of private property rights, there’s not a lot of good reasons to prohibit a private seller from engaging in a willing transaction with a private buyer. Though, it would be nice if Dennis were a bit more respectful of private property rights in other areas.

But here’s the rub: If we’re going to let non-profits unrestricted access to purchase land in North Dakota, then we need to cut off the flow of public dollars to non-profits. Entirely.

Already the legislature has created a slush fund for special interests and non-profits called the Outdoor Heritage Fund, and while that fund doesn’t allow money to flow to land purchases, let’s remember that money is fungible. If a non-profit like, say, Ducks Unlimited gets a couple of million bucks worth of tax dollars for some project, that’s a couple million bucks from other sources they don’t’ have to spend, and are thus theoretically available for land purchases. And conservationists are pushing a ballot measure for November that would explicitly allow land purchases.

That’s problematic. Private property purchasers shouldn’t have to compete with non-profits fueled with tax dollars for land.

Dennis wants a level playing field for land purchases. Fair enough, but a level playing field should also mean getting non-profits off the taxpayer dole.