Contributor: Adam Justinger
North Dakota is one of the only states that permits individuals to enter onto private property as long as the land is not posted with signs indicating language such as “No Hunting” or “No Trespassing.” Other states, like Minnesota, prohibit individuals from hunting on land without permission even if it is not posted. In that regard, North Dakota is very unique and beneficial to outdoorsmen. However, the state also receives pushback on this topic from private landowners. So, what has changed for the upcoming 2021 season?
Where It Began
Before we dive into the new changes for 2021, it is important to look back at the history of North Dakota posting laws. As previously mentioned, North Dakota permits individuals to enter privately owned land that is not posted. However, if the land is posted by the owner or someone authorized by the owner, the individual would need to get permission to enter the land.
In 2019, Senate Bill 2315 was introduced to reform posting laws and hunting/fishing access to private lands. This Bill was the first attempt to utilize an online database to allow landowners to post their land electronically. However, the Bill failed to pass during the 2019 session. Although the Bill did not pass, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department began a pilot program designed to test electronically posting access to land. The pilot program selected three counties (Ramsey, Richland, and Slope) to participate in the program during 2020. This gave landowners until July 15, 2020, to electronically post their land. Because this was a pilot program, no penalty existed for trespassing on solely electronically posted land. As such, to prohibit people from entering your property, a landowner would still need to physically post their land. This all changed during the 2021 legislative session.
During the 2021 legislative session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 2144. The Bill modified how land is to be posted. As far as posting is concerned, the Bill modified who can post the land. Previously, the law permitted owners, tenants, or individuals authorized by the owner of the land to post the private land. Now, only owners or individuals authorized by the owner of the land may post the private land. Additionally, a new subsection was added to N.D.C.C. § 20.1-01-17 that allows landowners to electronically post or close their land in an online database. If landowners do not want to use the online database, they can still physically post their land. While there are now two ways to post privately owned land, unposted land is still open to the public. Generally, it is still always best to talk with the landowner before entering their property.
As part of the Bill, the criminal trespass statute was also modified. Under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-22-03, an individual who trespasses on posted land is guilty of a class B misdemeanor for a first offense and a class A misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense within a two year period. The same penalties apply to an individual hunting or pursuing game on posted land without permission under N.D.C.C. § 20.1-01-18. However, Senate Bill 2144 also created a section under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-22-03 that permits a peace officer, at their discretion, to cite an individual with a noncriminal offense for knowingly entering or remaining on posted land. The penalty for the noncriminal offense is a two hundred and fifty dollar fine.
What To Do For the 2021 (And Future) Hunting Seasons
On April 28, 2021, Gov. Doug Burgum signed Senate Bill 2144 making North Dakota the first state in the nation to allow electronic posting of private land. Landowners were permitted to begin posting their land electronically on May 18, 2021. The deadline for landowners to digitally post land was July 15, 2021. Landowners cannot post their land electronically after the July 15, 2021 deadline so that print materials can be available to hunters that do not have access to digital maps. However, landowners can turn off lands posted electronically after the deadline. The print materials will not reflect this change. The law recently went into effect on August 1, 2021.
According to North Dakota news sources, 7,000 North Dakota landowners posted roughly 3.75 million acres electronically, which makes up about 8% of the state. As such, it is imperative that outdoorsmen check for both physical and electronic posting before taking to the field. You can go to the North Dakota Game and Fish website to download one of two different apps to navigate electronic posting. Alternatively, you can get a printed map with this information.
Whether posted or unposted, it is always important to respect landowners’ property. This includes cleaning up after yourself, respecting signs, and not tearing up the land; among other things. Asking for permission regardless of whether the property is posted is likely in your best interest and is often appreciated by landowners. Stay safe and good luck this fall.
Electronic posting is sure to throw a slight curveball for outdoorsmen this fall. If you are facing legal issues pertaining to the electronic posting laws or trespassing it is likely in your best interest to contact an attorney to review your case. For help with criminal matters in North Dakota or Minnesota, please contact Adam Justinger at SW&L Attorneys in Fargo at 701-297-2890. For future articles, check out our blog.
This article is for informational purposes only.