North Dakota’s elected officials gather at the state capitol every other year to propose, review, debate and ultimately vote on legislation that will set the course for the state and its citizens.
2023, an odd year, was no different for the gathering of the 68th legislative assembly.
Some of those bills are related to how the North Dakota Game and Fish Department delivers services to its customers, which is partly why we closely tracked those bills and provided input or testimony as needed or appropriate.
Once bills were formally introduced, we sat down and discussed those bills, which may have a nexus to the Department and its customers, based on their merit. A decision was then made to monitor the bills and decide whether to either take a position of support, opposition or to remain neutral.
As the curtain fell on the session at the end of April, it’s important to take a step back, as we always do, and assess how the session went from the standpoint of the Department’s customer base.
We began the session by tracking as many as 20 bills that had the potential to affect, either directly or indirectly, how the Department conducts business into the future. Of course, not all bills ultimately became law. And as is always the case, some bills generated more scrutiny and discussion than others. It’s worthy to delve into a couple of those bills a little more deeply.
House bill 1151 was a bill that, if passed, would have removed the Department’s authority to ban hunting big game over bait. Our position on HB1151 was based on the science surrounding chronic wasting disease and our testimony reflected that. HB1151 passed the House but failed in the Senate.
Senate bill 1538 generated a lot of interest and discussion as it relates to how the Department regulates fishing tournaments. SB1538 passed both the House and Senate but had to go to conference committee as it was amended on the House side. It ultimately passed both chambers, so we have new legislation governing the regulation of fishing tournaments in North Dakota.
The Department makes every attempt to represent its customer base when considering its position on all bills. However, that base is oftentimes divided on their specific perspective of legislation, so it can be virtually impossible to represent all individual interests in a way that satisfies everyone. Which is certainly why we encourage people to get involved in the legislative process in North Dakota that is built around, and encourages, citizen participation.
We will forever continue to encourage all to become informed on legislation and make their opinions known to their respective lawmakers.
One of the major changes made to the legislative process, largely due to covid, was that all conference committee hearings and floor sessions were livestreamed. I found it very convenient to be able to tune into those discussions without having to travel to the capitol each day. I hope others found this as convenient as I did.
So, in hindsight, I would say that our customer base fared fairly well in this past session. What I base that on is the fact that, for the most part, the people who make up our customer base will likely not notice an appreciable difference in hunting, fishing and trapping regulations, at least for the next two years, as they continue to enjoy the outdoors in our great state.
Noting New Legislation
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department tracked 20 outdoors-related bills during the 2023 legislative session, 12 of which passed both chambers and were signed into law.
The following bills take effect Aug. 1.
HB 1014 – Provides an appropriation for defraying the expenses of the industrial commission and agencies under its control. This includes Outdoor Heritage Fund at $15 million.
HB 1134 – Nonresident current North Dakota national guard members are eligible to receive resident licenses, except lottery permits.
HB 1224 – Allows a dog handler to carry a handgun in the recovery of a big game animal while in the presence of a dog. The dog handler cannot use the handgun to assist in the recovery of the animal and must have permission from the landowner or individual authorized by the landowner before entering private land for the recovery of a big game animal.
HB 1233 – Allows a 11-, 12- and 13-year-old antlerless white-tailed deer youth hunter to also hunt during the regular deer gun season.
HB 1260 – Develops agreements to compensate private landowners for the development of habitat on private property for addressing fish and wildlife populations. In addition, allows the Game and Fish director to issue special antlerless elk depredation management licenses to landowners upon payment of the fee required for a resident big game license. To be eligible for this license a landowner cannot charge a fee for elk hunting and must allow reasonable public access as determined by the director.
HB 1366 – Allows an individual engaged in barefoot skiing or surfing to wear a wet suit. A life preserver must be on board the towing vessel for an individual barefoot skiing or surfing.
HB 1409 – A nonresident youth who is less than 16 years of age may purchase a resident general game hunting license and may hunt small game and waterfowl, except swans and wild turkeys, during the entire regular small game and waterfowl seasons. The accompanying adult family member or legal guardian does not have to be licensed.
HB 1538 – Relates to fishing. Established a $50 entry fee for a fishing contest, an application fee of $75 for all tournaments, a conservation fee of an amount to be determined between the tournament sponsor and a representative of the fishing tournament (except for nonprofits), post contest reporting requirements, Game and Fish establishes a fishery conservation fund, and a surcharge of $5 on each nonresident fishing license. Effective April 1, 2024.
SB 2017 – Establishes an appropriation of $107,611,466 to the Game and Fish Department for the biennium beginning July 1, 2023, and ending June 30, 2025.
SB 2097 – Requires a political subdivision to notify the Game and Fish director, among others, before engaging in meetings with federal agencies to have any water body in the state designated a wild, scenic or recreational river under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
SB 2297 – Certified game and fish volunteer instructors who have maintained active status in the state for 30 years are eligible to receive complimentary fishing and certain hunting licenses. Emergency clause carried; effective immediately.
SB 2382 – Provides clarity to the motorboat numbering exemptions section of the North Dakota Century Code.
BILLS THAT FAILED
HB 1151 – Prohibits the Game and Fish Department from issuing rules or adopting a policy or practice prohibiting the baiting of big game animals for lawful hunting on private property.
HB 1175 – Provides for a legislative management study regarding the posting of school trust lands during the big game hunting seasons.
HB 1258 – The agriculture commissioner shall study challenges associated with native pollinating insects, including their decline, associated ecosystems, health and resilience.
HB 1377 – Any member of a party of 10 or fewer may take or kill the number of deer which is equal to the number of valid deer licenses held by the participating members of the party.
HB 1408 – Ten percent of the true and full valuation of land enrolled in the Private Land Open To Sportsmen program, which is owned by a resident of this state, would be eligible for property tax exemption.
HB 1414 – A nonresident who previously has purchased a resident hunting or fishing license with the Department and has a resident family member in the state may purchase a resident family member small game license and hunt upland game as authorized by the Department. The nonresident may hunt upland game for four days, which may be consecutive or nonconsecutive from November 15 to the end of the upland game season.
SB 2294 – Nonprofit organizations eligible to receive special allocation big game hunting licenses would also include those eligible organizations exempt from federal income taxation under section 501(c)(19).
SB 2368 – During the 2023-24 interim, legislative management shall consider studying the laws governing the Game and Fish Department and the possibility of implementing an appointed game and fish commission to supervise the Department.