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Minnesota suing North Dakota over hunting laws
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Attorney General Mike Hatch announced Tuesday that Minnesota is suing North Dakota over that state's restrictions on out-of-state hunters. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson are suing the state of North Dakota over hunting restrictions. A North Dakota law passed last year restricts the first week of the waterfowl hunting season to North Dakota residents only. Hatch says the law discriminates against Minnesotans and other nonresidents.

St. Paul, Minn. — Rep. Peterson, a Democrat whose Congressional district covers much of western Minnesota, says he travels to North Dakota each year to hunt pheasants. Last year, he hunted the second weekend of the pheasant season, because North Dakota law doesn't allow nonresidents to hunt during the first week of the season. Peterson says he and many of his constituents are angry about the law.

"The migratory birds of this country belong to all of the people of the United States. They do not belong to people in North Dakota," Peterson says.

Attorney General Mike Hatch says the North Dakota law violates the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. Hatch and Peterson are suing North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and the director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. In a written statement, Hoeven responded by saying his state will vigorously defend the lawsuit.

North Dakota has not only the right, but the responsibility to manage wildlife, hunting and fishing within its borders. Minnesota itself exercises that very same right. ... It does not make any sense to sue North Dakota for doing what Minnesota itself does.
- North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven

"North Dakota has not only the right, but the responsibility to manage wildlife, hunting and fishing within its borders," Hoeven said. "Minnesota itself exercises that very same right, and makes distinctions in licensing between resident and nonresident sportsmen, as do most states. It does not make any sense to sue North Dakota for doing what Minnesota itself does."

The lawsuit asks a North Dakota district judge to stop Hoeven and wildlife regulators from enforcing the law. Attorney General Hatch says the law is discriminatory.

"Looks to me like a number of people in North Dakota just want to keep the birds to themselves. And if every state does it, we got problems," says Hatch.

Many other states place restrictions on out-of-state hunters. South Dakota doesn't allow nonresidents to hunt during the first three days of the pheasant season, and Hatch didn't rule out suing South Dakota at a later date.

Some North Dakota hunting groups say restricting out-of-state hunters is a critical wildlife management tool. United Sportsmen of North Dakota supports limits on nonresident hunters. The group's chairman, Jim Weight, says many North Dakota residents like the idea of not competing with hunters from other states at the beginning of the season, when they believe there's usually the best hunting.

"I think with any game bird -- and let's use birds for the discussion -- the more you push them, the more you kick them up, the more you shoot at them, the more they're going to seek cover in different areas, tougher cover, etc.," says Weight. "So I think the earlier you get out there to hunt them, the more successful most hunters could be or are going to be."

Weight says he's disheartened by the Minnesota lawsuit, and surprised that the governors of the two states couldn't work out their disagreements without resorting to a lawsuit. Gov. Pawlenty met with North Dakota Gov. Hoeven last fall to discuss the issue.

In a statement, Pawlenty said Hoeven is unwilling to change the state's policies, so he supports Hatch's lawsuit.

Some Minnesota lawmakers have talked about retaliating for the North Dakota law by placing restrictions on out-of-state anglers. A bill introduced this year would prohibit nonresidents from fishing the first two weeks of the season, if their state places restrictions on out-of-state hunters or anglers. The bill is scheduled for a hearing in a Senate committee Wednesday.

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