2019 Enforcement Division Review

Authors and Contributors
Robert Timian
Warden in truck

North Dakota Game and Fish Department warden Corey Erck of Bismarck.

Over the course of every year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and its enforcement division, receive a fair amount of feedback relating to sentences or penalties that result from some hunting and fishing law violations.

A good share of that feedback comes from people who may be somewhat familiar with a case, or they see a news report about a case, and feel the sentence or other result is less than what they expected.

It’s a fairly common misconception that the Game and Fish Department determines the final sentence or penalty, which is why we get the calls, emails and personal discussions out in the field. That’s not true. Once a game warden issues a citation, or completes an investigation, it’s the state’s court system that determines innocence or guilt, and if guilty, what the penalty is, unless (as with a few laws) there is a mandatory sentence established by state law.

Violations have sentences in state law based on the category under which the violation falls, but the eventual sentence to those who plead guilty, or are found guilty, of criminal violations is seldom the maximum allowed by law.

Most Game and Fish investigations are settled via plea agreement before they even get to a trial.

There are several factors that play into the results of a case, as each must be decided on its own merits. Cases generally fall into one of three categories.

First, and most common, are cases where the state’s attorney, within his or her authority to decide how a case is to be prosecuted, or not, makes a motion to the court, with agreement of the defendant (generally referred to as a plea agreement), that a lesser sentence or dismissal is appropriate, and the court concurs.

The ability of the court to determine a sentence within the law is an important and necessary function, as each case has its own set of facts, evidence and circumstances, even when the charge may be the same as another case.

Second, and uncommon, are cases where human error on the side of the state is involved. While game wardens, as do all working within the state court system, strive to adhere to the rules of criminal procedure, based on the constitution, mistakes that benefit defendants occasionally influence cases. The general response to this for game wardens is continued training to ensure that they are up to date on the latest law changes and court rulings.

A third scenario is when plea agreements are reached, or cases are dismissed, not based on evidence, facts, or the warden’s investigation, but simply because of time. The state’s attorney is forced to prioritize because he or she does not have time to prosecute all the cases that are pending.

While this third scenario is not something new, it does seem to be a growing issue, based on reports and comments from game wardens.

I’m not sure what the solution to the time/resources dilemma might be, but I do know that even though the system may be overloaded at times, those who work within it will continue to do their jobs to serve the citizens of North Dakota.

Personally, I wish to express thanks and appreciation to the Game and Fish Department wardens who provide an important service to the state. And last, but certainly not least, I am most grateful to the people of this great state, who have given, and continue to give us, their support.

2019 Summary of Violations

Big Game
Exceeding limit 5
Failure to wear fluorescent orange 17
Tagging violations 27
CWD violations 19
Killing wrong species or sex 9
Other big game violations 14
Total Big Game 91
Small Game
Using gun able to hold more than 3 shells 74
Hunting in closed season 5
Illegal possession/taking 5
Exceeding limit 13
Failure to leave identification or sex of game 33
Killing wrong sex or species 5
Nontoxic shot violation 6
Failure to carry federal waterfowl stamp 19
Wanton waste 17
Hunting in unharvested field 28
Other small game violations 75
Total Small Game 280
Boating
Use of unlicensed or unnumbered boat 49
Failure to display boat registration 49
Operating without lights at night 42
Inadequate number of PFDs 206
Water skiing violations 10
Reckless or negligent operation 1
Operating vessel under influence/intoxicated 5
Other boating violations 60
Total Boating 422
Fishing
Fishing with excessive lines 48
Exceeding limit 158
Fishing in closed/restricted area 2
Failure to attend lines 14
Use of illegal live baitfish 9
ANS violation 153
Paddlefish violations 7
Other fishing violations 84
Total Fishing 475
Furbearer
Untagged snares 4
Shining (using artificial light) 1
Hunting/trapping in a closed season 5
Harassing furbearers with motor vehicle 5
Other furbearer violations 10
Total Furbearer 25
General
Use of motor vehicle off established trail 9
Use of motor vehicle in restricted area 37
Hunting on posted land without permission 67
Hunting before/after legal hours 26
Wanton waste 10
Aid in concealment of unlawful game 6
Hunting in wrong unit/closed area 9
Loaded firearm in motor vehicle 54
440 yard violation 6
Littering 37
Other general violations 28
Total General 289
Licensing
Failure to sign/affix stamp 7
Hunting/fishing/trapping without proper license 213
Failure to carry license on person 240
Misrepresentation on license or application 24
Other licensing violations 12
Total Licensing 496
Wildlife Management Areas/Refuge
Failure to obey posted regulations 31
Tree stand violations 17
Possession of glass beverage containers 14
Baiting on WMA 3
Prohibited uses of motor vehicles 6
Other WMA/refuge violations 5
Total Wildlife Management Areas/Refuge 76
Miscellaneous
Possession of controlled substance 28
Possession of drug paraphernalia 25
Open container 23
Minor in possession 40
Criminal trespass 35
Other miscellaneous 9
Total Miscellaneous 160
Commercial
Commercial violations 8
Total Commercial 8
Grand Total 2,322

Warden in boat

Department warden Erik Schmidt of Linton patrols the Missouri River.

*Incidents 2019 – Top 10 Counties

  • McKenzie – 243
  • Burleigh – 193
  • Williams – 191
  • Ward – 155
  • Cass – 140
  • Mountrail – 136
  • Ramsey – 134
  • Richland – 133
  • Stutsman – 124
  • McLean – 120

*An incident is defined as any situation that requires a response from a game warden. It does not have to be a crime. The situation could be, for example, a stranded angler.

Warden in by tree stand

Department warden Jeff Violett of Mandan inspects an illegal elevated deer blind built on sovereign land along the Missouri River.

Citations 2019 – Top 10 Counties

  • Ramsey – 227
  • Williams – 215
  • McKenzie – 188
  • Burleigh – 99
  • McIntosh – 98
  • Mountrail – 75
  • Stark – 78
  • Stutsman – 69
  • Bottineau – 68
  • Mercer – 65