The Legislature Must Recognize That the Land Doesn’t Belong to the Hunters


I’ve written a lot about SB2315, introduced by Senator Robert Erbele (R-Lehr), which would flip North Dakota’s presumption of land access.

Currently everyone, at any time, is presumed to have access to rural lands in the absence of signs posting it as off limits. Outdoors enthusiasts, hunters in particular, see this status quo as a boon to them. But for landowners, the expense and hassle of posting their land every year is onerous.

Also, from a property rights perspective, why should the public have the presumption of access to your land?

The legislation would make it so that land is presumed closed, and those wishing to access it must get permission. The legislation would also create an online database where landowners could post their land as open for hunters, etc.

There’s a lot of rancor over this bill, as you can imagine. The land owners want it recognized that the land is, you know, theirs and stuff. Outdoors groups and business/tourism organizations want the status quo to remain.

In a recent column for Ag Week, Senator Terry Wanzek (R-Jamestown) hints at a possible compromise:

There is a possible compromise in the works that would designate all land as posted with an exemption for hunting season. During hunting season, posting would remain as it is today with an option of posting land online once an appropriate program is designed. This would put some teeth into trespassing laws when it comes to situations like the Dakota Access Pipeline protest.

There are a number of problems with this.

For one, how are we defining hunting season? Looking at the calendar on the North Dakota Game & Fish Department’s website, it seems as though it’s one type of hunting season or another for most of the year. Depending on how any amendment has been worded – and I don’t see any filed online as of the time of this post – this seems like an awfully slanted compromise.

For another, this really doesn’t address the fundamental issue of property rights. This is not public land. It does not belong to the public. There shouldn’t be any time where there is a presumption of public access to it. If you want to go on private land, you should have to get the permission of the owners.

This doesn’t have to be the apocalypse some outdoors enthusiasts are predicting. This bill could easily be amended to allow property owners to post signs indicating their property is open. The provision for an online database could also include property owners who want their property restricted, but also don’t mind being contacted for permission to enter.

But the end result of all of this needs to be putting property owners back in control of their property. Any compromise which fails that test isn’t much of a compromise at all.