September 22, 2023

8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds N. Dakota's Hunting Restrictions

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Last March I wrote an article about North Dakota and how their hunting restrictions prohibited out-of-state hunters from participating in the first week of waterfowl season. What brought this ruling about goes back to the early 2000s when waterfowl hunters in North Dakota went from 5,500 to 30,000, many of them from out of state. Hunting access became crowed and residents wanted a chance at hunting before the out-of-state hunters arrived.

This hunting restriction was challenged in court by the state of Minnesota. They said the restrictions violated the interstate commerce protection act and was discriminatory. The Court of Appeals made its ruling and upheld North Dakota’s hunting laws.

They cited a Montana case in rejecting Minnesota’s contention that North Dakota rules are discriminatory.

“Just like Montana elk hunting, waterfowl hunting in North Dakota is a recreation and a sport,” the panel’s ruling said. “Waterfowl hunting does not provide a means to the nonresident’s livelihood. Equality in access to North Dakota waterfowl does not constitute a fundamental right basic to the maintenance or well-being of the Union.”

The court views hunting in any state as a recreation and not commerce, therefore there is no violation of the interstate commerce law. The original lawsuit listing two issues at stake. The interstate commerce law was one and discrimination was the other.

The 8th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Congress allows states to regulate such activities.

“We’ve maintained all along that states have the right to manage their natural resources. That includes hunting and fishing,” said Don Larson, a spokesman for North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. “We’re pleased the court has reaffirmed this decision.”

Where will this proceed from here? Probably nowhere. The court has cited other rulings to affirm North Dakota’s management of its hunting laws.

Incidently, at the time that Minnesota was filing its lawsuit against North Dakota, they were considering banning any North Dakota residents from fishing in Minnesota during the first week of fishing season. That proposal went nowhere.

Tom Remington