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Many supporters of Senate Bill 2315, which would make all private land in North Dakota presumed "posted" for no trespassing, wore green stickers during the bill's first committee hearing in Bismarck, N.D., on Jan. 25, 2019. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

ND Senate passes revised trespassing bill

BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 19, passed a bill that would update the state's laws on entering private property — a top issue for the state's agriculture groups.

Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount, introduced amendments to Senate Bill 2315 as well as the bill itself. Efforts to change the state's posting requirements and strengthen private property rights have come up in at least the past eight legislative sessions, he said. The bill at hand, Luick said, had as much testimony and input as any bill on which he's worked, with agriculture groups, landowners, farmers, hunters, sportsmen's groups, state agencies, the governor's office and more lending their thoughts.

"We took the interests of both sides of this issue to heart," said Sen. Dale Patten, R-Watford City.

Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, said the repeated efforts at changing the state's private property laws to match those of neighboring states have created a chasm between ag and hunting groups. The bill, as amended, "builds a bridge for unity between landowner and hunter," he said.

SB 2315 in its original form would have eliminated the requirement that landowners who don't want people to enter their land have to post it for no trespassing, putting the burden of asking for permission to hunt on hunters. The bill also would have set up a database for people to list their land as open to hunters.

The Senate quickly approved a "hoghouse" amendment that would set up a database on which landowners or operators would be able to indicate whether their land is open to hunters, whether hunters need to obtain permission to enter land or whether land is closed to all hunting. The database would be set up by a hunters access advisory group, consisting of members of agriculture and hunting groups and government officials. The bill also would clarify that entering private property for reasons other than hunting would be considered criminal trespassing at all times.

Hunters who enter land designated as closed to hunters or open with permission without obtaining permission could be found guilty of an infraction for a first offense or a Class B misdemeanor for a second or subsequent violation.

Landowners also could continue to physically post no trespassing signs, and the signs also would have to be heeded by hunters.

Luick said the new systems would simplify things for landowners, many of whom are open to having hunters on their land.

"Sometimes landowners just want to know who's out there," he said.

Patten said there has been "a great deal of fear" on the part of hunters, who have worried they will lose access to land on which to hunt if the law is changed. However, the database should make it easy for a hunter to "sit in a recliner at home" and plan a trip on land that is open and call for advanced permission on land on which permission is needed.

"And then you're all ready," he said. "It's no different than scheduling a tee-time at a golf course."

The bill passed on a 28-18 vote. No one spoke in opposition to the bill, though Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, questioned logistics, including what happens if the database does not get to a functional point and whether there was a fiscal note or appropriation attached to the bill.

Luick said the Department of Game and Fish will put up the database using existing funding. The bill says "several counties" will be included in a database by fall 2020, with data from all counties to be included by 2022. Nothing will change in existing practices until then, Luick said.