St. Paul While legislation aimed at nonresident anglers from
North Dakota brews in the Minnesota Senate, state officials have
taken a new route in the fight against nonresident hunting
restrictions in North Dakota: They’re suing the Peace Garden
The office of Gov. Tim Pawlenty made the announcement Tuesday
afternoon; shortly thereafter officials from the office of Attorney
General Mike Hatch held a press conference announcing the move.
Hatch later told Outdoor News the lawsuit was filed on behalf of
himself and U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson, a 7th District
“The constitutional question is whether North Dakota’s
anti-hunting’ restrictions place an undue burden on interstate
commerce,” Hatch said Tuesday. He said those nonresident
restrictions include closed periods and locations for duck and
The lawsuit was filed in North Dakota federal court because,
Hatch said, “there are probably as many opponents (of the
restrictions) in North Dakota as there are in Minnesota.” Hatch
said there had been no response from North Dakota officials as of
Hatch called the North Dakota restrictions “arbitrary” and said
there was no compelling reason for the state to interfere with
Minnesota and North Dakota officials had met several times
during the past few month, trying to resolve a dispute over
nonresident restrictions North Dakota placed on nonresident
pheasant and duck hunters last fall.
“The conversations we’ve had with (N.D.) Gov. John Hoeven and
(Fish and Game Department director) Dean Hildebrand led us to
conclude that there’s not much sympathy for Minnesota hunters in
North Dakota,” DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam said on Tuesday. “And,
if there were any legislative action (in Minnesota), that’s a long
Merriam said top brass in North Dakota have been getting pushed
different ways by resident hunters tired of competition from
nonresidents, and from those dependent on the tourism dollars
Minnesota hunters bring to their neighbor to the west.
Pawlenty said in a press release on Tuesday that he “wholly
supports” the suit filed by Hatch.
“Limiting out-of-state hunters even if they own land in North
Dakota from hunting during the legal season sets an alarming
precedent for interaction between the states,” Pawlenty said in the
release. “There is a maze of issues involved: property rights, who
owns migratory birds, not to mention fundamental fairness.
“We’ve been hopeful that we could work with Gov. Hoeven and
North Dakota on this, but they’ve been unwilling to change their
Last year, North Dakota banned nonresidents from hunting
pheasants, or any other wild game, on public lands the first week
or the pheasant season. The timing coincided with a time when
school’s out in Minnesota, and several duck hunters head to North
Dakota. Further, separate licenses were required for the first time
to hunt both ducks and pheasants, in essence doubling the fee for
those who hunt both.
Since then, legislation has been introduced in Minnesota’s
Senate that would close the fishing season for the first part of
the season to nonresidents from state’s that have similar
restrictions, like North Dakota.
Dan Wolter, director of communications for the Governor’s
Office, said the issue is something the governor had been working
on for several months. He said that included face-to-face meetings
with North Dakota officials, numerous phone calls, and several
staff-level discussions. Wolter said the action was “initiated by
the attorney general at the urging of the governor.”
Wolter said the issue still could be resolved outside the
courtroom, but that North Dakota officials have been “unwilling to
move on this issue. So we felt that this action was needed
“I have great respect for Gov. Hoeven and am mindful of the
issues and pressures in North Dakota surrounding out-of-state
hunters, but that doesn’t change the fact that these laws are
unfair and possibly unconstitutional,” Pawlenty said in the press
Merriam said restrictions on hunting migratory birds in North
Dakota might be the most compelling constitutional argument.
“I don’t think this is a slam-dunk case, but I think there are
definitely arguments to be made,” he said.
Pawlenty said he believed a legal opinion might be better
resolution than ongoing legislative action from the two states.
“In our own Legislature, there is an effort to retaliate against
the unfair North Dakota laws by putting restrictions on
out-of-state anglers,” he said. “It’s not healthy or productive for
either of our states, which is why we need to find ways to solve
the problem before we start building walls.”
North Dakota officials earlier told Outdoor News said the
state’s actions were in response to resident concerns about the
increase in nonresident hunting activity in the state. They said
the number of nonresident pheasant hunters had increased from 8,000
in 1992 to about 23,000 in 2002. Waterfowl hunter numbers had
increased from about 8,000 in 1992 to the nonresident cap of 30,000
in 2002. Also in 2002, nonresident pheasant hunters spent an
estimated $2 million in the state; waterfowl hunters spent about
$2.8 million, North Dakota officials said.