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Source: United States Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND)

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HOPE, ND – North Dakota landowners voiced their concerns over the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) handling of private property rights, especially as it relates to Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) easement enforcement, to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt during a roundtable hosted by U.S. Senator and Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee member Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

“Thank you to Hope for hosting and all who came out to this event. The infringement of private property rights is a serious, ongoing issue in North Dakota,” said Senator Cramer. “What was once a cooperative, collaborative conservation community generations ago has now become a contentious one because of heavy-handed enforcement and a false sense of superiority. Having the Secretary in Hope to listen to North Dakotans was monumental because it gives them not only a chance to voice their concerns, but also lends them the ears of someone in a position to help fix the problems they have had for a long time.”

Before the roundtable, Senators Cramer and Hoeven with Secretary Bernhardt visited the property of Mike Johansen, a North Dakota landowner who had been intimidated and criminally charged by FWS for supposed WPA easement infractions.

Landowners like Johansen have regularly experienced problems with FWS’s enforcement of WPAs, which are easements purchased by the federal government to preserve and protect wildlife. Over the years, because of ambiguity and lack of proper accountability, FWS’s handling of these easements has devolved into a de-facto power grab by the government. Then-Congressman Cramer in 2017 held a town hall in Devils Lake on this issue.

When Cramer moved to the Senate, he met with then-Acting Secretary Bernhardt to address FWS’s heavy-handed enforcement. He received the Secretary’s commitment to addressing this issue, specifically: 1) to finish updating easement maps; 2) to establish an appeals process for landowners who disagree with FWS; and 3) to update FWS guidance to provide greater clarity and consistency for easement enforcement. During their meeting, Secretary Bernhardt committed to come to North Dakota to hear from these landowners, a promise he fulfilled in his visit today.