Lawsuit seeks to reverse near century-old nonresident trapping rule in state
Bloomington, Minn. — Minnesota laws that allow nonresident trapping by those who own land in the state, but bar other out-of-staters from doing so are unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit recently filed in Ramsey County District Court on behalf of seven trappers from six states. Further, state law doesn’t have a property ownership requirement for Minnesota trappers, according to Bill Peterson, the Bloomington attorney representing the plaintiffs.
“The Minnesota law is doubly unconstitutional,” Peterson said in a press release last week.
If successful, the lawsuit would give nonresidents full access to trapping in the state, something that hasn’t occurred since 1919, according to the state DNR, the defendant in the suit.
According to Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director, a nonresident trapping license was available in 1909 for $10. Ten years later, nonresident trapping was prohibited and a $1 trapping (resident) license took effect. Today a trapping license costs $20.
Just a few years ago, the state Legislature brought about a change: Nonresidents who own land in Minnesota would be allowed to “take small game by trapping” only on the land owned by the nonresident. The nonresident would be required to have a small game (nonresident) and trapping license, currently about a $100 investment.
Boggess said he believes one reason the change was made was to aid nonresident landowners who were having beaver problems on their land. In 2010 and 2011, he said, the DNR sold seven nonresident trapping licenses each year for nonresident landowners to trap on their own land.
Peterson said the nonresident exclusion in Minnesota has been harmful to state trappers who’d like to trap elsewhere. Reciprocity arrangements mean Minnesota residents aren’t allowed to trap in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, or Iowa, to name a few. With the nonresident trapper prohibition struck down, more range would be opened to the Minnesota trapper who ventures beyond state boundaries.
“Hopefully, the ultimate outcome would be all of the other states (realize) that fur trapping is a national and international industry,” Peterson said, who points out fur trapping and trading has been going on since the 1600s.
“It was the original business (in this area),” he said.
According to the press statement from Peterson Law Office, the lawsuit is declaratory, meaning the plaintiffs are asking the judge to find the law unconstitutional and void. Peterson said a decision could come yet this year, but may not come until next year.
The Minnesota Trappers Association hasn’t taken a side on the issue, primarily because when polled, its membership in the past has been nearly evenly split, according to Conrad Christianson, a former DNR furbearer specialist who’s now an MTA member and specialist for that group.
As for the DNR – at least when he was on its staff – Christianson said there’s been no position taken: “It’s something they can’t win,” because of the split trapper opinion on the matter, he said.
Most species concerns – regarding added trapping pressure – seem to lie with those with “limited reproductive ability and limited range,” Christianson said, such as martins, fishers, and bobcats.
Peterson said renewed interest in the matter might be attributed to the current status of pelt value. Recently, he said, “The price of pelts, especially muskrats, has gone up substantially.”
Besides declaring Minnesota laws regarding out-of-state trappers unconstitutional, the lawsuit says the laws are “detrimental to their respective businesses.”
Plaintiffs in the suit are Minnesotans Robert P. Mochinski, of Winsted, and Tim Sawatzky, of Pennock. Out-of-state plaintiffs are Gary Mather, of Wisconsin, Robert Wendt, of Indiana, Kelly Peterson, of Iowa, Phillip Brown, of Pennsylvania, and Robert Waddell, of Missouri. All are commercial trappers.
“Our lawsuit does not dispute the right of Minnesota or any other state to reasonably manage their wildlife resources,” Waddell said in the law office press release. “Our argument is that trappers from other states should not be treated differently from Minnesota trappers.”