If you are one of the many that are concerned about eh perpetuation of our quality hunting in North Dakota, it's time you get involved! It's a fact...the future of North Dakota hunting depends on you. Most of us who spend a lot of time hunting are oftentimes nonpolitical and don't necessarily concern ourselves with what goes on in Bismarck, North Dakota, during a legislative session; although, we might read or hear about the various hunting issues; it's often tough to get our attention. But if you are one who dearly loves our sport of hunting, it's time you get involved. Now more than ever before, we must concern ourselves with the continuing issue of nonresident hunters and their impact on our state and our sport.
This issue is a difficult one to say the least, and our legislators have been and are hearing a great deal of testimony regarding this question, by many different groups and individuals. All of these people have their own special interest and agendas. I am not a special interest group, I am just a concerned citizen but I too have an agenda and I believe I speak for a majority of our North Dakota hunters who are motivated by just one thing...we love to hunt, and our only special interest and or agenda, is to preserve what we hold most dear...the truly wonderful hunting we enjoy in our beloved state.
Let me introduce myself, my name is Mark Hamilton, owner of Wild Things Galleries, in North Dakota. My perspective on this issue comes as a result of a wealth of outdoor experience. I am more than a casual outdoor enthusiast. And, as long as I can remember I have been totally consumed by wilderness pursuits, and the wonderful curiosities of nature. Only my love of family is dearer to me. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have experienced some of the most fabulous hunting on the globe. I have made 26 hunting trips to Alaska alone, and I have enjoyed many other hunts in several western states and most recently, Africa. These travels were wonderful experiences, many lessons were learned, many rewards were enjoyed, but the greatest reward of all was that for the first time, I began to realize and truly appreciate what we have here in North Dakota. There really is no place quite like it. When it comes to hunting, North Dakota is indeed one of "the last greatest places." Nowhere else can the common guy without means and connections find the variety of game, the abundance of game, and thanks to the landowner, the access to game that we currently enjoy...but its fading fast.
Based on recent observations, I am absolutely convinced that unless we have the courage and foresight to make some difficult decisions, now before it is too late, this hunting heritage we hold so dear will soon be no more than a memory.
In my nearly 50 years of hunting this great state, I have witnessed many changes, most were gradual with the passing of time, but no one could have predicted the dramatic changes we are currently undergoing. It took some time, but it is increasingly apparent that we have finally been discovered, and our nonresident neighbors want a piece of the action. And, why not share? It's true, we've got an abundance of game, and no rational person wants to turn away the nonresidents, indeed, many of us have been nonresidents from time to time, enjoying the bounty of other states. And, no one can ignore the economic benefits to the state and especially, to the small communities that nonresidents bring. The sad fact is that these benefits brought by an overabundance of nonresident hunters are short lived, and for these short term gains, we will pay a lasting and costly price, both economically and more importantly, in a diminished quality of life.
This is not a simple resident versus nonresident issue. We should not seek to deny nonresidents the opportunity to hunt in our state, but we must control their numbers, ironically, for their benefit as well as ours. There can be no doubt that the ever increasing numbers of nonresident hunters means fewer hunting opportunities for those of us who live here, not because of lack of game, but because of a lack of access to quality hunting habitat. Over the short span of about 11 years, our numbers of nonresident waterfowl hunters has increased from roughly 5,000 in 1991 to the current number of 30,000 in 2002, and there is many more knocking at the door.
Specifically, this recent dramatic increase of nonresidents is having three major effects. (1) More lands are being posted as farmers are inundated by the additional hunters. (2) The ever increasing numbers of outfitters who cater to nonresidents is resulting in large tracts of land being "tied up" as fee hunting becomes the norm. (3) Nonresidents themselves are leasing and in many cases buying lands for their own exclusive hunting use. The cumulative effect of all this is that the resident common Joe hunter, who has neither the extra cash nor the connections, is being replaced by the nonresidents who do.
The role of the state government in general and specifically the Game and Fish Department should be to manage the states natural resources in the best interest of all the people of North Dakota first, and not for those living in other states, or for the few who seek to gain economically at the expense of the general population. This marvelous resource we enjoy today should be managed for our hunters first, not for tourism, guides, or hunting companies. Its those who live here, who should be given first priority; we who pay the taxes, bear the winters, support our local communities, and forsake better paying jobs and business opportunities that other states have to offer. We choose to live and work here in North Dakota because we have something here to be found nowhere else, and money is not our only scorecard.
As a retailer, whose products are popular with hunters, one might think that I would welcome any extra business that these traveling sportsmen might bring. And, why should I particularly care about the influx of nonresidents? I've got plenty of places to hunt and the means to do so. But, I am deeply convinced that we're heading in the wrong direction. The sad fact is, hunting is fast becoming a moneyed sport in North Dakota and we are loosing our young hunters. Today, in many parts of the state, people are slowly but gradually giving up hunting. In far too many instances, fathers are reluctant to introduce their children to the sport of hunting; they simply cannot compete with the nonresidents and their greater economic means.
Much has been said recently about the problem of keeping quality people in our state, teachers, professional people, business leaders, and especially our youth. I personally know of many excellent people who have moved here from other states specifically because of the quality of hunting available here, and I know several young people who have felt the lure of higher paying jobs elsewhere but have chosen to live here largely because of the hunting opportunities. I believe the two are inexorably intertwined. As our hunting opportunities diminish, so too, will our young people.
The time has come to limit the number of nonresident licenses and I believe equally, if not more importantly, we should limit the number of guides and outfitters. While a certain number of them are needed to provide essential services for hunters, this steady proliferation of guides and outfitters is a slow cancer that will ultimately result in the death of hunting as we know it. About 17 years ago, I was one of the few to hold a guide license in the state of North Dakota. There were only twelve of us at that time; I have since let it lapse. As many of you know, today there are over 300 guides and outfitters registered with the state and they're gobbling up hunting lands faster than a pac-man.
I often wonder what Theodore Roosevelt would think of our state today, and how he would view these difficult issues which confront us. He undoubtedly would be pleased that his legacy of conservation is alive and well in North Dakota, and that the vast area of lands remains protected, and I expect he would be delighted and quite surprised to see how healthy our game populations are. As many of you know, Roosevelt's strong convictions about conservation were very unpopular at the time. The attitude in the country was that our natural resources were there for the taking. Throughout his presidency, he constantly spoke out against what he felt were abuses of our natural resources. If Theodore Roosevelt were alive today, he would have much to say about this issue and I believe he would recognize it for what it is... THE ACCEPTANCE OF NONRESIDENT HUNTERS WITHOUT REASONABLE LIMITS WILL ULTIMATELY RESULT IN THE EXPLOITATION OF OUR HUNTING RESOURCE BY THE FEW, (THOSE WITH ECONOMIC INTERESTS), AT THE EXPENSE OF THE INTERESTS OF THE MANY, (THOSE OF US WHO ONLY WANT TO PRESERVE OUR QUALITY HUNTING AND WAY OF LIFE).
Our legislators are currently debating this issue and they will soon be making decisions which will affect our hunting for years to come. Let your feelings be heard! It's time for us to take a pro-active stand for what we believe in. Recent surveys of lawmakers suggest little support for any legislation to limit the numbers of nonresidents. But, I believe that together, we can make a difference. Ours is a worthy cause...for we are not motivated by any economic gains, but by something much more important...to preserve what we have, for today and for future generations.
I have heard it said that "We have not inherited our great outdoors from our parents, we are rather borrowing it from our children."
I believe it is a bit of both, and it's time we ask ourselves, what kind of North Dakota will we leave our children and grandchildren? Will we allow our greed or our indifferences to deprive further generations of the great pleasures we so enjoy? Will North Dakota soon be no more than just a giant playground for the crowds of nonresidents? It is incumbent upon each of us to do our part to save hunting for North Dakotans first...now and for the future.
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