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Published October 26, 2010, 09:05 AM

Drawing lines over Measure 2

FARGO, N.D. — Major agriculture groups in North Dakota are coming down against Measure 2, which would ban “high-fence” or “captive” hunting and hunting businesses in the state.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Major agriculture groups in North Dakota are coming down against Measure 2, which would ban “high-fence” or “captive” hunting and hunting businesses in the state.

Curiously, some key proponent groups and ag groups both strongly justify their positions as a way to fight off a domino effect of regulations, pushed by anti-hunting/anti-animal agriculture groups, including the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Dick Monson, a farmer from Valley City, N.D., was one of the original petition organizers in the North Dakota Hunters for Fair Chase group, which is promoting Measure 2.

“As a North Dakota farmer of 40 years in the fields, I believe farming and hunting are more related than most people realize,” Monson says.

He says the ban should be passed because of bad publicity that eventually will rub off on conventional agriculture and because of a potential spread of diseases that can pass to livestock.

On the other side of the issue are the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, the North Dakota Farm Bureau and the North Dakota Farmers Union.

The most emphatic opponent is Eric Aasmundstad, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau. He says the animals in the high-fence operations are “wild,” but also being raised for meat — like livestock.

“It would seem to me that the animal there is private property,” he says. “This (ban) is one step away from banning the slaughter of cattle, hogs and sheep, what have you.”

Regardless of Monson’s assertions, Aasmundstad thinks HSUS and others are somewhere in the background, pushing this kind of thing. He seems to take a frontal approach with such groups, which he says have gained more power than they should in states like Ohio.

“If that’s what it takes to smoke ’em out, bring ’em on,” Aasmundstad says. “If they want a fight, welcome to North Dakota. This is a no-compromise deal.”

A no-compromise deal

Aasmundstad says the animals in the bulk of these operations are being taken care of properly. “Why wouldn’t then be? That’s not to say there isn’t a bad apple out there. But they’re keeping them comfortable, or they’re not going to make any money,” he says.

Other interested groups come to the same conclusions, but from slightly different or less militant mindsets.

Jason Schmidt of Medina, N.D., the newly elected president of stockmen’s group, says his organization recently passed a resolution to oppose the measure. The stockmen hadn’t taken a position on an earlier effort, two years ago. Schmidt says his organization was aware of the issue, but looked at it from a distance and hashed it over.

“Now it’s real, and it’s on the ballot and it’s going to force the issue. That’s the only reason we’re going to take a position now,” he says.

Schmidt says the resolution to oppose the measure comes from a property rights position.

“The people who are involved are good at taking care of the animals, and it’s a more controlled environment than wildlife” in the wild, he says. The issue was debated at the stockmen’s recent annual convention, but no association members in the high-fence hunting business were there to talk about it. Still, the debate was lively.

“I think he (Monson) is underestimating the motives of groups like HSUS or PETA,” Schmidt says. “They want to eliminate animal agriculture and this is just a small step toward that. The property rights issue is a slippery slope. If you give them that one thing in legislation, I don’t think they’re going to quit.”

The North Dakota Farmers Union opposes the measure.

Is it farming? Hunting?

Robert Carlson, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, says his organization opposed a similar proposed measure two years ago, and still does, equating the practice with humane treatment of farm animals

“I don’t think we regard it as hunting,” Carlson says, but he says if a farmer is raising elk and someone wants to come out and shoot it for a “nice, clean kill,” use the meat and put a trophy animal head on their wall, “why shouldn’t they do that?” He says the issue seems no different than domestic cattle.

Significantly, Carlson sees it as a “single issue” and doesn’t see any larger philosophical or greater importance than that.

Both Carlson and Aasmundstad say their group complained to proponents who have been using their organizations in advertising. Carlson says the ads have mischaracterized the opposition to the measure by the two farm organizations as a rare point of agreement.

“Actually, we agree on many things,” Carlson says.

Monson, himself a farmer, cites the perils to animal agriculture by allowing the operations, particularly in the case of cervid bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.

“In the case of CBT, there is transfer risk to domestic livestock with associated economic loss to both cattle and wildlife,” Monson says. “In both cases, the taxpayers will foot the bill, the sportsmen will be charged twice, and the canned shooting operation will walk away with an indemnity check from APHIS (Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) while farmers will be stuck with disrupted markets and increased regulations.”

Monson claims that North Dakota Game and Fish Department is “always tapped in the liquidation and monitoring phase when a canned shooting operation is shot down for reasons of disease.” He says CWD is closely related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad-cow” disease), and that his group thinks the disease has been spread across the country by shipments of “privately owned” cervids, or horned animals.

Adequate health rules?

Schmidt says he’s comfortable that the North Dakota Board of Animal Health has enough regulations in place to protect the public.

“If it’s a matter of enforcing regulations, we are absolutely in favor of enforcing those regulations,” he says.

He worries that if these operations are banned, regulations eventually will “go into more than wildlife” and that anti-agriculture groups will “see this as an opportunity to get a foothold” legally in “regulating the harvest” of animals.

Similarly, Monson says his group sees a “long-range implication to the ag community” because of a domino effect: The public gets a negative perception of canned shooting, which extends to ordinary hunting.

“This (high-fence hunting) industry seeks to hide itself behind the shield of agriculture in an attempt to gain allies against criticism,” Monson says. “Farmers and ranchers are in a tiny minority of the U.S. population that do not deserve nor need negative publicity. Farmers and ranchers do not benefit from shielding canned shooting operations that wrap big game in net wire for an artificial trophy,” he says. “Radical animal rights groups run with this bone in their teeth and use canned shooting as a draw for donations and membership. Just the annual budget of the HSUS alone can swamp any positive aspects of public relations by the ag community.”

Schmidt agrees that the groups have this kind of hunting on their “radar screens,” but that the property rights issue is the deciding factor.