Published November 18, 2012, 05:15 AM

North Dakota Game and Fish Depatrment audits gratis deer license applicants

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s audit of nearly 15,000 landowners applying for guaranteed deer licenses this year resulted in a few glitches, but the campaign should improve the process in the long run, a department official says.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s audit of nearly 15,000 landowners applying for guaranteed deer licenses this year resulted in a few glitches, but the campaign should improve the process in the long run, a department official says.

Robert Timian, enforcement chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said the department routinely samples a small percentage of the applicants for so-called gratis licenses every year. But when a check of 10 percent of the applicants a year ago raised some issues, Timian said the department decided to check every application this year.

That job, which began last spring, fell to the state’s crew of about 30 game wardens, he said, meaning each warden had an average of 500 landowners to verify. In some cases, that meant checking plat books, verifying legal descriptions and investigating properties with multiple owners to ensure applicants met the criteria.

To receive a gratis license, applicants either have to own at least 160 acres of land or lease and actively farm or ranch at least 160 acres. Landowners who receive a gratis tag then are limited to hunting that particular property.

The licenses are free for resident landowners and cost $220 for nonresidents.

“We knew it was going to be a pretty intensive process, but once we got into it, it turned out to be even more time consuming than we thought,” Timian said.

Ownership issues

Changing landownership patterns added to the challenge, Timian said. More property has multiple owners, he said, and some of those owners have structured their deeds to maximize the number of gratis licenses they receive.

“If it’s just you and three others that personally own the land, it’s kind of a gray area,” Timian said. “If you only own 160 acres, you’re not all four going to get a gratis license. But if you own 640, it’s possible each one of you can get a gratis on 160 within the 640.

“It all depends on how you’ve got your ownership set up,” he added. “That’s where it gets complicated.”

The goal of the audit, Timian said, is to make sure the people legally entitled to gratis licenses get them and the ones who aren’t, don’t. Adding to the urgency was a drastic reduction in deer licenses. The department this year offered only 65,300 gun tags, down from 109,950 last year and the lowest number since 1988.

The more gratis licenses issued, the fewer regular licenses available in the lottery.

Timian said the department received several calls from landowners wondering why they were turned down after receiving gratis licenses in previous years. That doesn’t mean they previously were legal, he said, it just means they might not have been included in the random checks.

In other cases, property descriptions were incorrect on the applications.

“We found a fair number of people in the end who were legally entitled to get a gratis, but they just needed to put the right property description down,” Timian said.

Not happy

Harold Simengaard of Portland, N.D., was among the landowners who encountered problems. Simengaard, 62, said he owns 635 acres, which includes 155 acres on the farmstead where he lives, and applied for his gratis license in May. He got a letter Oct. 29 saying he’d been refused. He furnished the local game warden a copy of his land deed the next day but didn’t receive a gratis tag in time for the Nov. 9 deer season opener.

The matter has been resolved, and he finally got his license in the mail Thursday, but Simengaard said he’s not happy with the process.

“The whole season is basically shot,” he said.

Timian said the percentage of similar problems was low, but that’s of little consolation to landowners who missed out on licenses they were entitled to receive.

“Even if .5 percent of all licenses ended up getting delayed or lost in the system, that’s 75 people, and that’s not good” Timian said. “The ones that called in to me — there wasn’t many — but I’ve apologized to them.”

He said the department was shooting for zero problems, but “sometimes things happen.”

Timian said he’s writing a report based on the audit’s findings for Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand and expects to have a draft by early December and a completed report in time for the North Dakota legislative session that convenes in January.

“We’re hoping that long-term this will have done some good,” Timian said. “We can improve the system and make a better system out of it — not just the law but internally.”


Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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