September 28, 2023

North Dakota Natural Resources Committee Rejects Ban On Elk Ranching

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Yesterday morning the North Dakota Senate Natural Resources Committee began debate on SB2254, a bill that would ban elk ranching and hunting on those ranches. The committee voted 7-0 to reject that bill saying any bill would infringe upon property rights. This is a big victory for all ranchers and Americans who value their rights. The bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote.

The biggest arguments against elk ranching and more in particular the practice of hunting on those ranches, deals with hunting ethics which is a personal view and difficult to force on anyone. Those opposed to hunting in enclosures seem to beat the drum loudly about the ethics issue.

“Blasting a captive (animal) inside a cage and calling it hunting is morally wrong,” said Shawn McKenna, executive director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation.

“No one wants to come shoot animals in a cage,” said Shawn Schafer, of Turtle Lake, president of the North Dakota Deer Ranchers and a member of the state Board of Animal Health.

Here are some other random comments made during the debate from those opposed to ranch hunting.

“I’m just going to call it what it is, it’s killing in a cage. for a fee.”

“it’s been said the games we play reflect the kind of people we are. In my opinion no one should run a business in which people pay to kill pen big-game animals and call it hunting.”

Opponents even cited a recent survey that showed that almost three-quarters of North Dakotans opposed ranch hunting. What they didn’t report was that the survey didn’t ask North Dakota residents what they thought about property rights or what kind of impact the ban would have on individuals and the economy in general.

Those who spoke out against the ban focused mainly on rights issues and leaving ethics up to the individual. When an opponent of elk ranching claimed that Teddy Roosevelt would turn over in his grave if he knew people were hunting behind fences, one Senator replied this way.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said if state lawmakers were to infringe on hunting rights, “I think Teddy Roosevelt would crawl out of his grave and come get us.”

Others spoke out to defend their businesses.

“No, we do not tie our deer to a tree or a fence post,” said Vance Tomlinson, a deer rancher near Max.

Tomlinson said game farms particularly benefit the handicapped and elderly who otherwise would not be able to hunt. “Special interest groups are trying to make us out to be criminals,” he said.

Ernie Mau, president of the North Dakota Elk Growers Association, said it would be a “slap in the face” for the state to take away a business he started nearly two decades ago.

“If you don’t like ‘high fence’ hunting, you don’t have to come or even drive by the ranch,” he said.

I will repeat what I have said all along. Ethics is a personal perception and something that shouldn’t be legislated. If hunting groups feel that ranch hunting is an unethical practice, they should focus their time, money and energy into an education program. For those who worry about the image of hunting being tarnished in some way by this form of hunting, then a program to educate hunters and particularly young hunters about ethics might just be in order.

All too often opponents of ranch hunting describe all enclosed ranches in the same way. They describe them in a way that paints a picture of ranchers tying animals up to a post or putting them in a cage and letting someone walk up and shoot the animal. This is a very unfair and an inaccurate description. If hunters presented to the general population a better balanced and accurate approach, they could accomplish far more in preserving their heritage and reputation than they are doing by standing up in front of Senate committee hearings claiming things that simply aren’t true and presenting themselves as “Big Brother”.

The bottom line is this. Elk farmers have their rights as Americans and property owners. Real sound science has yet to prove that a well run and regulated elk industry poses any threat to the wild population of elk. Ethical standards should be left up to the individual and not legislated.

The elk rancher that is serious about protecting his/her industry better be working very hard to ensure that it is run in the safest manner, following all the guidelines for disease control, etc. If not, his future will be short. Hunters should protect their heritage by presenting facts, meaning the truths about game ranches on a case by case basis, while at the same time educating other hunters and prospective hunters about why fair chase is good for all.

I believe the North Dakota Senate Natural Resources Committee, got it right. Hopefully the full Senate will as well.

Tom Remington