Land access pilot program facing legal questions ahead of August 1 deadline

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Years of debates and tugs of war between the rights of property owners and hunters in pursuit of game have failed to come up with a permanent, agreeable solution.

Some state lawmakers say they believed they had a compromise worked out in this year's legislative session, only to see the bill fail in the waning days. All they could salvage was a pilot project, which goes into effect in less than a year.

Now it’s unclear as to whether the pilot program can be effective due to the law.

A room full of landowners, lawmakers and sportsmen are trying to bring North Dakota's land access laws into the 21st century. While the idea of electronic posting for land access is easy, legal technicalities are keeping the legislature from pulling the trigger.

"The electronic phone apps, the computer generated posting is the sign of the future and that's what we're looking towards but for right now, there'd be no penalty for that violation,” said Ryan Younggren, Cass County Assistant States Attorney.

The law doesn't allow for a penalty with electronic posting right now. Younggren says there's a possibility of due process violations. Joe Schettler of Dunn County says he deals with trespassers every year. It's why he supports a total shift in how land is viewed.

"Electronic posting would make it easier than putting out paper signs but I'm still a fan of reversing the law so all land is considered posted. It's private property rights,” said Schettler.

Legislators spent nearly all of session debating the bill, ranging from whether land should be open or closed, what the penalties should be and how do you look something up online in some the state's more remote locations. The bill eventually failed in the House. The hunting-side of Schettler is encouraged seeing how much information is already available for the state to use.

"All the information is out there with technology currently but if the state would run our GIS system, it would consolidate it all and make it easier to access,” said Schettler.

But the concerns over how to balance pilot with potential penalties is putting the whole program at risk.

One member of legislative management, the committee that oversees the interim work, told Your News Leader they're going to bring the concerns to Representative Chet Pollert, the chairman, about the legal concerns. This could result in terminating the study, but it’s not clear whether that was an option at this point.

Game and Fish provided numbers of hunting trespasses from 2014-2018. Morton County led the way with 36.