In North Dakota, if a non-profit organization wants to buy land it has to go through an arduous process that includes a review from the North Dakota Natural Areas Acquisition Advisory Committee and approval from the Governor. It’s kind of a strange law, but an understandable one in a state as protective of land use as North Dakota is.
Recently Ducks Unlimited 47 acres of land from a private seller in Foster County. Governor Jack Dalrymple shot down the proposal, citing concerns from local officials. Dalrymple says that if Ducks Unlimited can assuage those concerns they can buy the land.
Steve Adair, a regional director for Ducks Unlimited, said in response that he doesn’t understand why the state has to come between a willing seller and a willing buyer:
“We appreciate the governor expressing a willingness to work with us towards a solution,” Adair said. “But we are concerned about the (North Dakota Natural Areas Acquisition Advisory Committee) decision to interfere with the private property rights of a willing seller and a willing buyer.”
It’s a little ironic for someone working for Ducks Unlimited to talk about property rights. After all, Ducks Unlimited is currently campaigning for a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to funnel billions in tax revenues into a slush fund that groups like, well, Ducks Unlimited could use to buy up property, competing with private individuals and businesses who don’t have the advantage of a massive government slush fund.
As a group, Ducks Unlimited has only selective respect for private property rights, something those who attend Ducks Unlimited events should keep in mind.
That being said, Adair has a point. Why can’t a willing seller hand over a piece of land to a willing buyer free of interference from the government? You can’t say that you support property rights while simultaneously supporting that sort of government interference in private land transactions.
So, I propose a reform to North Dakota’s law: Instead of requiring review of all non-profit purchases of land, why not review only those purchases that include non-profits which receive taxpayer dollars? After all, while the government has no business inserting itself into private transactions, you can’t really say that groups funded with taxpayer dollars are entirely private.
The government has a duty to maintain good stewardship of taxpayer resources. If a private seller wants to sell to a private organization that receives no money from the government then fine. Willing seller, willing buyer. But if an organization funded by tax dollars – state, federal, etc. – wants to buy land, there should be some review, and North Dakota’s current process seems adequate for that.