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Published January 14, 2013, 11:03 AM

Settling a dispute

North Dakota man will use mediation service for deer depredation disagreement.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

Bill Dethloff of Bismarck, N.D., will be the first to use North Dakota Mediation Services to help settle a dispute with the state over deer depredation remedies.

Dethloff, 71, and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department disagree about the remedy for protecting feed supplies in a feedlot at Dethloff’s home in the lowlands of northwest Bismarck, on the east side of the Missouri River. His daughter, Julie, owns the property.

Bethany Abrams, administrator of the mediation service, which is part of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, declined to confirm that Dethloff is the first to use the program for deer depredation, or even whether the service has yet handled any deer depredation cases. Another source knowledgeable about the case, however, confirmed that Dethloff is involved in mediation and would be the first to use the agency’s deer depredation function since it was passed by the Legislature in 2011.

The mediation service was started in the 1980s as an unbiased third-party negotiator between farmers and lenders over credit disputes. Abrams says the deer depredation dispute is different from other categories, which now include water issues, disputes with federal and state agencies, new farmer loans and rural housing, planning, seed disputes, energy development, property access and mineral rights issues. Mediation sessions are not open to the public.

“At the end, the parties have the ability to have the mediator make a decision only under the deer depredation statute,” Abrams says. “If they don’t like that, they can appeal to the North Dakota Credit Review Board.” That board includes six members, with two members each appointed by the governor, agriculture commissioner and attorney general.

From the beginning

Dethloff says he agreed last spring with NDGF officials that a fence wouldbe installed around his 20-acre property to deer-proof it and protect a feedlot he’s maintained for nearly 30 years.

On Oct. 4, Greg Link, chief of the NDGF department’s conservation and communi- cations division, sent the Dethloffs a letter, saying “compilation of correspondence and negotiations regarding the prospects of getting a deer-proof fence build (sic) around your livestock feeding operation is quite extensive, if not exhausting.”

Link wrote that although he hadn’t received a signed acceptance decision form, Bill Dethloff had verbally indicated Oct. 1 that he was willing to accept NDGF’s offer of $36,000 to put toward the fence. Dethloff had to complete the form by Oct. 15, or, as Link wrote, “it will be our understanding that you no longer want our involvement and assistance with your deer depredation.”

Dethloff says he was surprised to learn that the offer of $36,000 was to cover 8 vertical feet of woven wire, 8 feet high, and immediately protested, saying it wouldn’t work in trees, with snow and deadfall.

“‘It’s got to be panels,’ I told him,” Dethloff says.

Dethloff got three estimates for panels, which cost about $112,000, installed. The NDGF declined to consider the panels, referring to them as a “Cadillac,” when they could provide a “Toyota.”

Earlier conviction

This is the latest in a longstanding dispute between Dethloff and the department. Dethloff in November 2011 was convicted of shooting 17 deer in an attempt to protect his cattle feed from deer depredation.

NDGF prevailed in the case, aspects of which were determined in the North Dakota Supreme Court. Facing a longer jail term, Dethloff pled guilty to shooting deer and served four days in jail, forfeited game and fish licenses, and was given three years probation, for which two years remain. He was forgiven an $8,930 fine, but paid court costs of $1,350.

He thinks the process was unfair because it did not allow him to explain to a jury why he shot the deer. He claims it took away his freedom of speech and ability to protect his property and he is working to get that into federal court.