I've refrained from commenting on the current controversies swirling around hunting issues in North Dakota, but I have now been compelled to speak. I attended the recent Game & Fish Advisory Hearing held in Dickinson, and heard Gene Harris, President of the ND Stockmen's Assn make statements which certainly sounded to me to be a threat to deny access to hunters. Yesterday, I heard a news story on KFYR radio, and was interested enough in that story so I went to KFYR'S website and read it. To quote, "Observers of the debate about ND's pheasant season say its full effect won't be known until fall. That is when the 'No Hunting' signs could go up on more pheasant land. Rural business people and landowners say there's a lot of anger about hunter opposition to an early pheasant opener. Lowell Prince runs a bed and breakfast in Regent that caters to hunters. He says he's hearing a lot of talk about posted land in his area this fall." That sure looks like another threat.
The truth of the matter is that both the threats from the Stockmen's Assn and the commercial hunting operations are hollow. In the case of the "Grazers" of the public land; they have NO control over access to the public grasslands. They would certainly like to have the authority to close those public lands to all but their own self-interest, but for now at least, they will have to content themselves with their heavily subsidized grazing rates.
As to the commercial hunting interests in the Regent area; nearly ALL of the pheasant habitat in that area is in the hands of the commercial interests or absentee owners and lessees. What little land is open to non-fee hunting is quickly inundated with hunters forced away from of the "hunt for dollars" places. The result is that the miniscule amount of open land can't provide sufficient quality hunting opportunity, and hunters unwilling to concede to the selling of the public resources don't have much land or opportunity to lose. So the threat of more "No Hunting" signs is an empty one. The truth is that there just aren't many places left around Regent to put up another "No Hunting" sign. Many more and the signs will have to be planted in rows, like corn stalks.
The access/non-resident numbers/absentee landownership/wildlife management questions in North Dakota are far from settled. The pheasant opener date was a very small victory for the sportsmen of North Dakota, and while a small victory is certainly better than a loss, there is a danger of letting that small victory result in a return to apathy. The commercial hunting interests are well organized, well funded (some, such as tourism development, by our own tax dollars), and well connected politically.
If you're a North Dakota hunter, you must realize that no one is going to protect your interests except YOU! Don't let yourself be intimidated. Speak out, it works, just look at what the large turn-outs for the Advisory Hearings accomplished. Join a sportsmen's group. Get informed. Propose a positive idea. Don't threaten or confront. Contact your legislator, and learn his/her positions. If you don't like your legislator's position, get to work to elect someone who will represent you in the next session of the legislature.
Boy, did that get long. If you're stil sticking with me, I hope you're interested enough to convert that interest into action!