North Dakota Lockout looks to 2021 law changes
After an unexpected legislative defeat in the 2019 session, North Dakota landowners are banding together to regain their property rights.
Current North Dakota law provides that hunters and others can enter private property without permission unless the landowner has strategically posted “no hunting” or “no trespass” signs throughout the property.
A growing group of North Dakotans is getting vocal about their intent to change this – to provide property owners an assumption of privacy, the expectation that an individual or individuals will ask permission before entering that property.
Bob Wheeler, Underwood, president of the North Dakota Lock Out, said the issue is about more than just hunting. “Property rights should be an interest for everyone. It’s about individual rights. I believe in our constitution,” he said.
The group’s motto, “Supporting our agricultural and hunting heritage by protecting our inherent private property rights,” sums up what he and the group are all about.
During the 2019 legislative session, a bill to re-establish fundamental property rights for property owners gained significant support, but also attracted some very vocal opponents – mostly hunting or wildlife groups.
“None of us are anti-hunting,” said Wheeler, who himself is a lifelong hunter and a farm employee.
“Is this a hunting issue? Yes, it is because it’s a concern for hunters and landowners. We didn’t make it a hunting issue, the hunting groups did. Our goal is to work to get our rights back,” he said.
The North Dakota Lock Out group developed a yellow sign that interested landowners could purchase and post, to show support for the property rights movement and also to protect themselves against trespass.
Wheeler said his group believes that around 500,000 acres were posted with ND Lock Out signs, which is not meant to indicate that hunting is not allowed, but rather to call attention to the issue, in hopes of developing conversations between landowners and potential hunters.
While some landowners have chosen to completely close their land to hunting, many others who posted lock out signs simply did so in an effort to show support for property rights.
“If you have a North Dakota Lock Out sign, you are basically supporting the movement to regain our private property rights,” said Wheeler.
The lock out group as of yet has not established a protocol for membership dues, but that is in the works, said Wheeler. The group is also working on developing a piece of legislation it will support during the 2021 session (North Dakota holds legislative sessions ever other year).
After the barrage of opposition from hunting and wildlife groups in the past, the lock out group realizes it may have to work on making incremental changes legislatively, but Wheeler says they are willing to do that.
“We will work with everyone, hunters, landowners, legislators. It’s a process,” said Wheeler.
“The issue has been going on for years and years. In the last 50 years, it would always go away after the legislature shut its doors, but this year it hasn’t gone away. Our movement has created some attention.
The group hopes to get more “grassroots” support from actual landowners in the next legislative session, as well as support from constitution-minded legislators, even if that means personally supporting new candidates, he said.
“As a hunter, I know how it was done all my life. That was gaining permission for access to someone’s property,” said Wheeler. “When I was 12 or 13 years old, my dad encouraged me to start making the phone calls to landowners to ask permission to hunt. My dad knew the value of a relationship and he instilled that in us,” said Wheeler.
For more information, look up North Dakota Lock Out on Facebook or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org