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Published September 07, 2010, 09:25 AM

Farmer appeals deer case to ND Supreme Court

DAWSON, N.D. — A deer-shooting case involving Dawson, N.D., rancher Harlan Kleppe, that initially was scheduled for an Aug. 18 jury trial has been canceled for the moment.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

DAWSON, N.D. — A deer-shooting case involving Dawson, N.D., rancher Harlan Kleppe, that initially was scheduled for an Aug. 18 jury trial has been canceled for the moment.

The case now has been appealed directly to the North Dakota Supreme Court and will be heard on a date not yet scheduled, Kleppe’s lawyer says.

Kleppe, 57, farms with his brother, Gerald, about eight miles south of Dawson in Kidder County, across the road from the 3,500-acre Dawson Wildlife Management Area, about three miles south of Lake Isabelle. He has a herd of about 120 cows and runs a 1,500-acre organic flax, wheat and hay operation. They also do custom manure hauling and hay conditioning.

Kleppe claims he asked the North Dakota Game and Fish Department for help in either providing feed to get deer out of his yard or otherwise removing them. He says his cows contracted a reproductive disease, causing abortions in 2007, as well as some premature and stillborn calves. After problems in 2008 and 2009, he acknowledges shooting at and killing some deer in 2010 in an effort to protect hay.

Randy Kreil, wildlife director with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says Kleppe had installed a deer-proof hay yard many years ago, but had let it fall into disrepair.

Attorney Robert V. Bolinske Jr. of Bismarck, N.D., says Kidder County State’s Attorney Jerod Tufte on Aug. 18 agreed to allow a “conditional plea of guilty,” meaning the case can be appealed without going through a county-level trial. This happened because on Aug. 17 Tufte had filed a motion “in limine,” which would have disallowed Kleppe’s defense.

Kleppe had planned to admit he’d shot deer last winter — but only to protect his hay property from depredation. Bolinske had planned to use a state statute that allows farmers to shoot “fur-bearing” animals (typically wolves or bears) in defense of property.

District Judge Bruce Romanick had agreed with Tufte, saying the defense wasn’t applicable, and that Bolinske couldn’t talk about that.

“He said it is a ‘strict liability’ issue, meaning you either did it or you didn’t do it,” Bolinske says.

Without the depredation argument, the defense would have been silent.

“We would have just sat and looked like fools,” he says. “We’d have liked to have tried it with the defense of protecting his crops and property.”

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