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Survey finds $1B bonanza: Bill hearings this week
By Mike McFeely
[email protected]
The Forum - 01/22/2003

The interest in two hunting-related bills scheduled for committee hearings this week in the North Dakota Legislature can be summed up in three words: Brynhild Haugland Room.

It's the largest meeting room at the Capitol in Bismarck, holding up to 300 people. And it's where the Senate Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on Senate Bill 2048, which calls for the state to cap nonresident waterfowl licenses.

A House Natural Resources Committee hearing Friday on House Bill 1307, which would place fewer restrictions on nonresident waterfowl hunters, is scheduled for the 150-person Pioneer Room.

"But I've made arrangements to move it to the Brynhild Haugland Room if need be," said Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Wolford, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. "We'll see how things go Thursday for the Senate hearing. It's obviously going to be a full house for both hearings."

Hearings allow citizens to offer testimony in support or opposition to bills. They are intended for the public.

At issue is the future of waterfowl hunting regulations in North Dakota, a hot-button issue that has become hotter in the past several months.

On one side are resident hunters who want to limit the number of nonresident hunters in the state. Residents say the growing number of nonresidents coming to North Dakota to hunt ducks and geese - a number that has risen from 8,175 in 1992 to 30,000 in 2002 - is making access to good hunting land more difficult.

On the other side are rural residents who don't want to severely limit the number of nonresident hunters. They say nonresidents give a much-needed economic boost to struggling rural economies.

"It is an emotional issue and everybody knows the arguments on both sides, but as we look for solutions we have to work from the areas we agree on," Nelson said.

The hearing on the Senate bill is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Thursday. The bill came out of the Judiciary "B" Committee, which reviewed proposed changes in hunting laws for more than a year before wrapping up work in September.

The bill is based on the hunter pressure concept, a formula devised by the Game and Fish Department that would limit nonresident hunters based on waterfowl numbers, environmental conditions and the number of resident hunters.

It is supported by North Dakota's three major hunting groups, among the loudest advocates for limiting nonresident hunters. Members of the hunting groups are expected to show up in large numbers and testify before the committee, said Rep. Lyle Hanson, D-Jamestown.

"All the e-mails I've been getting support the hunter pressure concept," Hanson said. "Both residents and nonresidents support it."

The House bill hearing is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. Friday. It was written by Nelson and introduced by five legislators from the Devils Lake area. The region's businesses believe they would be hit hard by severe limits on nonresident hunters.

A key component of the bill would limit nonresident waterfowl licenses to 10,000 over two, 10-day periods at the beginning of the season. After those 20 days, there would be no limits on out-of-state hunters.

Nelson said his bill is unlikely to come out of the House in its present form. He has already appointed a sub-committee to "get it in shape" after the full committee hears testimony.

"I want finality to this issue. We need to find a common ground that appeals to sportsmen, landowners and rural communities," Nelson said. "It seems like we revisit this issue every two years and I would like to bring that to an end."

It will not be easy, a wide gulf remains between the two sides.

"I want to ask the hospitality industry and the tourism industry how much money they've put into habitat in North Dakota," Hanson said. "The answer is, they haven't put in any. Resident sportsmen have put in millions through their purchase of licenses and habitat stamps. We need to remember that."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580

Just another example of residents underestimated impact on our state economy.
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wow :thumb: but it's too early to be happy :-?
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