The North Dakota Legislature continues to work on a bill that could, potentially, strengthen private property rights in the state.
But to be perfectly honest, we're pretty pessimistic about the possibilities of lawmakers finding a solution that provides any relief to the landowners of the state. Instead, we would suggest that the state needs a culture change outside of changes to the Century Code.
North Dakota is the only state in the region where anyone can come onto land that isn't posted for no trespassing. If you listened to any of the debate on the bill in the Legislature this year, you may have heard comments to the effect that the law has "been working for 90 years." For hunters or people who live in cities, that's probably true. The existing law provides ample opportunities for hunting on private land.
However, to suggest that the law has been working for landowners is ridiculous. If it were working, ag and landowner groups wouldn't be advocating, session after session, for a change.
Simply put, the law isn't working. For many of us, it never did.
Landowners are tired of the time and expense required to post their land and of the fact that not posting their land means they won't know who is on their land. Do you know how far 880 yards is? Landowners do. That's how often they have to put up a no trespassing sign in order to make their land properly posted.
Landowners are tired of seeing people on land that is posted and hearing excuses for why they're there. Sometimes the trespassers "didn't realize" the land was posted, because they must have walked in through those 880 yards that didn't have a sign. Sometimes they may have taken a sign down. Sometimes, they just lie about why they're there.
Landowners are tired of outdoors groups advocating for things that make it harder to use land for agricultural purposes. They're tired of hunters taking for granted that landowners pay the taxes and upkeep on the land.
Landowners are tired of worrying about whether they'll be liable if someone goes on their property without permission and gets hurt. They're tired of worrying about their livestock - or, more seriously, themselves or their loved ones - being shot. They're tired of property damage and trash left on their land.
They're just tired.
Maybe the law did work 90 years ago. But life has changed in the past 90 years, and this law needs to change, too.
However, the voices of the people who like the law the way it is are louder and angrier than the voices of the landowners, and many of the legislators lack the intestinal fortitude to stand up for property rights. They might say they're for liberty in a commercial or on an election sign, but they're a little less willing to do the right thing when they think they might not get reelected.
So, what can we do if the law doesn't change? Here's what we suggest: Do away with the "North Dakota nice" way of handling things.
If you like the law the way it is, go ahead and leave your land unposted. Let anyone in. But for everyone else, post your land. All of it. Put up more signs than the law requires. Only allow hunters on your property who agree to abide by your rules. Only allow hunters who agree that the law needs to change. If you see someone on your posted land, don't just sigh and let it go. Call law enforcement and have them removed. If you don't, it'll allow opponents of property rights to keep saying there isn't a problem.
Take a look at how the lawmakers who represent you have voted on this issue. If they have a problem with property rights, let them know you'll be voting for their opponent next time around. And then, actually do it. We have a lot of people in North Dakota who bloviate on the importance of property rights, local control and independence. It's about time we elect people who actually stand up for those principles.
It's time landowners use some tough love to get the message across. Quit being the nice guys. Change the culture and remind people that if they want to come on private property, they better be willing to work with landowners.