Forum editorial: Lawsuit on posting a bad idea
The Forum - 08/03/2003
North Dakota landowners, who won significant victories in hunting debates in the 2003 Legislature, might be shooting themselves in the foot by pursuing a lawsuit over posted hunting land.
Supported (bankrolled?) by the North Dakota Farm Bureau (an organization that should know better), the suit is being brought against the state by Rep. Rodney Froelich, R-Selfridge, and his wife Kathryn. He wants the posting law changed so that all land is considered closed unless the landowner opens it. The law now states that land must be posted as closed or it's considered open to hunting.
The problem with the lawsuit is that it has the potential to further alienate the state's sportsmen, many of whom are peeved because so much good hunting land already is closed by posting. The 2003 Legislature struggled with several bills which aimed to restrict the number of non-resident hunters. One waterfowl bill regarding zones and day limits did pass, but nearly all other restrictive bills were defeated. It was in large part a stunning victory for landowners and small-town business owners, and a nearly complete defeat for urban resident sportsmen's organizations.
The land-posting issue has been a regular feature of most legislative sessions, but a reversal of the current law has never had enough support to pass. Unable to win in the Legislature, Froelich and the Farm Bureau want the courts to intervene. That's a curious stance for a conservative legislator and a conservative farm organization to take. Surely they would oppose "activist" courts that usurp legislative prerogative.
One upshot of the lawsuit could be more land being purchased and closed, not only by wealthy non-residents, but also by North Dakotans who have the means and inclination to ensure they have a place to hunt. That pattern has been repeated in states that adopted a land-posting law like the one favored by Froelich and the Farm Bureau.
While it's not a reach to understand the motivation for the lawsuit, its intent flies in the face of North Dakota tradition. One rancher who favors the suit said, "Hunting is no birthright." He's wrong, both by heritage and by constitutional provision. In November 2000, North Dakotans voted overwhelmingly to amend the state Constitution. Section 27 of Article 11 enshrines hunting, trapping and fishing as "a valued part of our heritage and will be forever preserved … and managed … for the public good." In other words, a birthright.
The Farm Bureau-Froelich lawsuit is a bad idea. It's lousy public relations for the Farm Bureau (and its battered insurance company, Nodak Mutual). It will worsen already strained relations between hunters and landowners at a time when legislators, farm groups, hunters and landowners should be working to find common ground.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board
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