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Posted on Thu, Jan. 16, 2003

NORTH DAKOTA LEGISLATURE: Season opener on hunting bills
Senate, House committees open hearings today
By Xiao Zhang
Herald Staff Writer

BISMARCK - As the Senate and House natural resources committees open hearings on hunting bills today, North Dakota lawmakers expect a large turnout of citizens who will testify in the next two weeks.

One of the hot topics will be nonresident waterfowl hunting. Two bills drafted by the Judiciary B Committee, formed after the 2001 Legislature to study the issue, will be heard next week.

"It'll be emotional," said Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Wolford, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

Both bills originally were introduced in the Senate. But last week, Senate Bill 2049, which would set a limit of 10,000 nonresident hunters for each of two 10-day periods at the beginning of the season and would open up the rest of the season to unlimited waterfowl hunting, was withdrawn from the Senate.

Nelson found four other co-sponsors to introduce it in the House.

House Bill 1307 will be heard by the House Natural Resources Committee next Friday.

Nelson said the bill was introduced to the House because he'd like to "spread out the load" and give both houses an opportunity to debate the issue. He does not think moving the bill to the House gives it a better chance to pass, he said.

Senate Bill 2048, known as the hunter pressure concept, would regulate nonresident waterfowl licenses based on wetland conditions and the previous year's resident licenses. It will be heard by the Senate Natural Resources Committee next Thursday.

Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, who chaired the Judiciary B Committee, said the hunter pressure concept acknowledges biology and will guarantee quality hunting in the long run.

She said the bill looks at biology rather than just the emotional side of the issue, and that it makes more sense to determine the limit of hunting licenses based on the wetland conditions.

"To me that's the beauty of it," she said. "It's not an arbitrary number."

Following the rules in the bill, this year's nonresident waterfowl license number would be set at around 23,000, which would come out about the same as HB 1307 proposes, Delmore said. But in a year when the waterfowl populations are low, the number could be much smaller.

Nelson said the hunter pressure bill would not really solve the hunter pressure problem. Most hunters come to the state for waterfowl hunting early in the season, and the number of hunters drops sharply as the season progresses, he said.

With the hunter pressure concept in place, "everybody could conceivably pick the same weekend to come, (and) you could still have a bottleneck," Nelson said.

HB 1307, however, would help spread the hunters throughout the season, he said.

Landowners and businesses that cater to nonresident hunters have reported a downturn in business because of negative publicity due to license caps, Nelson said. And "that's not what we want to portray to the nonresidents," he said.

But Delmore said, "I don't think hunting is just about economic development."

In fact, she quoted statistics from the Game and Fish Department saying that resident hunters and anglers spent about $402.7 million in North Dakota in 2001, while their nonresident counterparts spent about $65.9 million during the same year.

Eventually, the lawmakers say they would like to find a solution to satisfy both resident and nonresident hunters.

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