North Dakota voters will soon be asked to decide the fate of Initiated Measure No. 2, a measure that has left both proponents and opponents emotionally drained.
The measure, if it receives a majority of yes votes, will shut down "high fence hunting" in North Dakota.
Those opposed to the measure say the real issue is property rights, that landowners should be allowed to operate a private business on private property. Those in favor of the measure say that shooting of captive animals should not be allowed, citing the rules of Fair Chase and concerns about the future of hunting.
"It is about commercialization of wildlife. Now they put elk or deer inside a fence and call it domestic livestock and allow hunting," said Roger Kaseman, Bismarck, the man behind the push to get the measure on the ballot.
North Dakota currently has 12 fenced hunting ranches. If the measure passes, as did a similar measure in Montana in 2000, those hunting ranches would be required to cease hunting operations for "captive game animals."
Ernest Mau of Tolley operates the Silver Wing Ranch where those wishing to shoot an elk or buffalo pay a fee based on the size of the animal.
Initiated Statutory Measure No. 2
SECTION 1. A new section to chapter 36-01 of the North Dakota Century Code is created and enacted as follows:
Fee killing of certain captive game animals prohibited Penalty Exception. A person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor if the person obtains fees or other remuneration from another person for the killing or attempted killing of privately-owned big game species or exotic mammals confined in or released from any man-made enclosure designed to prevent escape. This section does not apply to the actions of a
government employee or agent to control an animal population, to prevent or control diseases, or when government action is otherwise required or authorized by law.
SECTION 2. EFFECTIVE DATE. This Act becomes effective on November 1, 2012.
YES Means you approve the measure as stated above.
NO Means you reject the measure as stated above.
"If that measure passes, it's damn sure a violation of property rights," said Mau. "I don't think we're doing anything wrong. The group behind this was saying anything to get a signature is what it amounts to. I'm sick and tired of it."
Kaseman was born in North Dakota and raised in California. He returned to North Dakota about three years ago. Kaseman's motive for placing Measure No. 2 on the ballot has long been questioned by the opposition, including speculation that animal rights groups have been actively involved.
"Those are stories and rumors. Yes, the money is there for the asking but our group voted 100 percent in favor of not taking any money from the Humane Society of the United States. They stepped up and offered but we haven't had anything to do with them at all," said Kaseman.
"He was dropped in our lap from California. Boy, wasn't that convenient. You talk about a man with an agenda," says Shawn Schafer, Turtle Lake, president of the North Dakota Deer Ranchers.
Schafer is a well-known breeder of white-tailed deer. Fee hunting is not part of his operation. While the number of deer breeders in the state remains small, there are 80 elk ranching operations in North Dakota. Most of the elk are raised for slaughter but some are grown for sale to ranches that charge a fee to shoot elk.
"These elk and deer are privately owned. It's not a public resource. It doesn't effect public hunting a bit. It's all private land and privately owned animals," said Schafer. "We're talking about people's livelihoods."
Prices for harvesting a trophy elk can range up to $10,000 or more, depending on the measurement of the antlers.
"It's not available to everybody, only to those with fat bank accounts," said Kaseman.
Kaseman labeled the measure the "Fair Chase Initiative" and refers to enclosed hunting operations as "shooting galleries," inflamatory phrases that cut into people's emotions on both sides of the issue.
"This is one thing that'll fire people up," said Kaseman. "It'll get their motors running on both sides. It will ruin hunting by privatizing it. If we don't win this, it'll be too bad for the future of hunting."
If it passes, Measure No. 2 would be added to Chapter 36 of the N.D. Century Code which deals with livestock. Opponents say any proposed measure should have been destined for Chapter 20 which deals with Game and Fish laws, including big game animals. Even the wording of the measure, say opponents, leaves too much room for interpretation.
"There's some tricky language in there for a reason," says Schafer. "It just smells bad. It's crazy. It is an intrusion of property rights and just a stepping stone of more to come. I encourage everybody to vote no."