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[Authorized:  NDCC Chapter 20.1-02]

Game and fish laws were first established in Dakota Territory in 1861. By 1875 the Territorial Legislature began imposing restrictions on hunting in the territory with the passage of a law limiting the hunting of quail and certain water fowl. 
In 1881 it was illegal to kill and leave any part of a deer, elk, buffalo, antelope, and mountain sheep on the prairie (T. L. 1881, Ch. 82). In the same year, another law prescribed acceptable methods for fishing in territorial waters. In 1883, the Territorial Legislature allowed the Governor to appoint a Fish Commissioner to stock rivers and streams (T. L. 1883, Ch. 60). This law was repealed in 1885.

State management of game, fish, and other wildlife resources in North Dakota began with the designation of the Superintendent of Irrigation and Forestry as the State Game and Fish Commissioner in 1893 (S. L. 1893, Ch. 68). The State Game and Fish Commissioner was responsible for the "preservation and propagation" of game and fish in North Dakota. The State Game and Fish Commissioner nominated two persons from each county to be appointed by the Governor as Game and Fish Protectors. In 1895, the Superintendent of Irrigation and Forestry was re-designated the "State Fish Commissioner" with authority for protection and regulation of fish resources in state. Legislation in 1897 established the office of the State Game Warden (S. L. 1897, Ch. 83). The State Game Warden was appointed by the Governor for a two-year term and had authority to enforce all state game laws and to appoint deputies as required. Later, in 1903, the state was divided into two game districts and a State Game Warden was appointed by the Governor to head each district.

The State Game and Fish Board of Control was created in 1909 (S. L. 1909, Ch. 128) and consisted of five members appointed by the Governor to serve four-year terms. The purpose of the State Game and Fish Board of Control was to enforce laws to protect and manage game, fish, and other wildlife in the state. The State Game and Fish Board of Control was empowered to appoint a Fish Commissioner and one chief game warden for each game district. In the same year, the State Legislature created a fish hatchery at Fish Lake, Birchwood Park, in Rolette County. Membership on the State Game and Fish Board of Control was reduced to three in 1911 (S. L. 1911, Ch. 141) and another law authorized the Board to establish game and bird reserves in the state.

Another reorganization in 1915 authorized the establishment of the North Dakota Game and Fish Board to replace the State Game and Fish Board of Control. The North Dakota Game and Fish Board consisted of the Game and Fish Commissioner appointed by the Governor and three members also appointed by the Governor for four-year terms. The North Dakota Game and Fish Board had responsibility for appointment of the required number of game wardens and enforcement of North Dakota's game and fish management laws. Repealed in 1929 (S. L. 1929, Ch. 130), the North Dakota Game and Fish Board was replaced by the office of the State Game and Fish Commissioner. This law was referred and approved by voters on June 25, 1930. The Commissioner inherited the duties and powers formerly vested in the North Dakota Game and Fish Board. Additional legislation during the 1930s and the 1940s enhanced the power of the Game and Fish Commissioner, increasing the number of deputies and allowing authorized entry of buildings and automobiles suspected of containing game and fish taken in violation of the law. The availability of federal funds for wildlife management programs through the Pittman-Robertson Act (1937) enabled North Dakota and other states to begin scientific management of game and fish resources on a large scale. Since 1977 other federal funds for various projects have been made available through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and other state agencies.  

In 1973 the entire chapter of the Century Code was rewritten (S. L. 1973, Ch. 202). Many of the legislative sessions provided legislation that changed the duties and powers of the department and the Commissioner. (See chronology.) 

The Commissioner worked with federal agencies in the preservation and management of wetlands, reserves, and restoration projects. With the approval of the Attorney General the Commissioner could lease or exchange lands within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner, or land considered necessary to improve wildlife management (S. L. 1983, Ch. 264). The Game and Fish Commissioner was appointed by the Governor to a two-year term. In 1989 this was changed to a four year term to coincide with the election of the Governor (S. L. 1989, Ch. 277). The Commissioner adopted rules and regulations necessary to conduct the duties of the department. 

Since 1983 the Game and Fish Department has had regulatory powers over game, fish, and wildlife resources in North Dakota (S. L. 1983, Ch. 261). Specifically, under the direction of the Commissioner, the department has authority to promulgate rules and regulations governing management of game and fish resources; manage the two fish hatcheries (Riverdale and Valley City) and game management areas; administer the state's habitat improvement program; survey and research fish and wildlife species; issue hunting and fishing licenses; enforce hunting and fishing laws; inform and educate the public on the department's wildlife management programs; and publish the agency's magazine, North Dakota Outdoors and other informational publications as required by state law.

In 1991 the Commissioner was renamed the Director (S. L. 1991, Ch. 231). The Director was required to submit a proposed wildlife and fish restoration program and project plan and to update segments involving the proposed acquisition of area wetlands, water and land by purchase, lease, easement, or servitude. The Director was given authority to establish a statewide acquisition plan (S. L. 1991, Ch. 42). The Director was charged to appoint a deputy commissioner, a chief state warden, biologists, and technicians all of whom were to enforce the rules and regulations of the department. Under the supervision of the Director and the advisement of the State Game and Fish Advisory Board, the department administers regulatory powers over game, fish, and wildlife resources in North Dakota. It is headquartered in Bismarck.

State Advisory Board
[Authorized:  NDCC Section 20.1-02-23]
The State Game and Fish advisory board was established in 1963 (S. L. 1963, Ch. 191) and consisted of one member appointed by the Governor from each of the six judicial districts in the state. At least three members on the Board were required to be farmers or ranchers. All served six-year terms. Originally the advisory board met at least twice a year at the state capitol but it now meets at other locations. (S. L. 1977, Ch. 205). The advisory board increased to eight members in 1979 (S.L. 1979, Ch. 301), one member from each of eight districts. Members served four year terms with no member serving more than two consecutive terms. Four members had to be farmers or ranchers. At least twice a year members held public meetings in their respective districts. In 1997 legislation required that copies of the advisory board’s recommendations be forwarded to the Governor. At the meetings each board member gave a presentation to determine district needs or respond to the opinions of the residents within their district. In 1991 four members were required to be sportsmen and four farmers and ranchers (S. L. 1991, Ch. 237). Three farmers and ranchers were selected from a list of names submitted by agricultural organizations and four sportsmen from names offered by outdoor, sportsmen, wildlife, and conservation organizations. The duty of the State Game and Fish advisory board was to advise the State Game and Fish Commissioner on any policy and the operations of the Game and Fish Department. 

1875       The Territorial Legislature passed legislation limiting the hunting of quail and waterfowl in the territory.  Fishing limitations were also specified.

1881       Laws relating to hunting wildlife included a penalty for disposing of carcass remains on the prairie (T. L. 1881, Ch. 82).

1883       The Territorial Fish Commissioner was appointed and served until 1885.

1889       After statehood, all territory lying north of the seventh standard parallel became known as North Dakota (S. L. 1889, Ch. 99).

1893       The Governor appointed two persons per county as Game and Fish Protectors (S. L. 1893, Ch. 68).
1895       The Superintendent of Irrigation and Forestry was named the State Game and Fish Commissioner (S. L. 1885, Ch. 64).

1897       The office of the State Game Warden was created by the Legislature (S. L. 1897, Ch. 83).

1909       The Legislature created the State Game and Fish Board of Control (S. L. 1909, Ch. 128).

1911       The Board was authorized to establish statewide game and bird reserves (S. L. 1911, Ch. 141).

1915   Authority was given by the Legislature to the North Dakota Game and Fish Board.

1929       The office of the State Game and Fish Commissioner was established (S. L. 1929, Ch. 130).

1930       During the June 25, 1930 primary elections, voters approved of a law to establish the office of the State Game and Fish Commissioner.

1963       Legislation created the State Game and Fish Department advisory board and established fees for hunting and fishing (S. L. 1963, Ch. 191).

1973       The Governor appointed a Game and Fish Commissioner for a term to coincide with the term of the Governor. Laws were concerned with the handling and use of furs, skins, and other specimens. Each county managed the predator animal and destructive rodent laws through the board of county commissioners. Language in the Century Code related to federal payments for each county designating game and fish lands (S. L. 1973, Ch. 202). The Game and Fish Department was to provide a definition for rare and endangered animals and to set up the rules and regulations for wildlife preservation and conservation (S. L. 1973, Ch. 204). Guides were to be licensed by the Game and Fish Department (S. L. 1973, Ch. 205). Reports of transactions and expenditures were required to be filed with the Governor and Secretary of State (S. L. 1973, Ch. 403).

1975       Definitions, rules, and regulations for guides and outfitters were written (S. L. 1975, Ch. 201). Laws were established regulating the use of a motor vehicle while hunting big game (S. L. 1975, Ch. 203). The Commissioner was authorized to issue special permits for aerial hunting (S. L. 1975, Ch. 205). Standardized procedures were set up for violations, complaints, and summons regarding of game and fish regulations (S. L. 1975, Ch. 207). The Commissioner submitted reports to the Governor and the Department of Accounts and Purchases (S. L. 1975, Ch. 466).

1977       Five new subsections were added to the Century Code including the Commissioner’s responsibility to protect endangered species and enact a penalty (S. L. 1977, Ch. 199), and licensing laws relating to residency requirements were established (S. L. 1977, Ch. 201). The responsibility of district deputies and game wardens to enforce issues concerning game or fish was added by the Legislature (S. L. 1977, Ch. 202). Establishment of wildlife restoration projects and procedures of land acquisition for the relocation of fish and wildlife were set up (S. L. 1977, Ch. 203). Legislation resolved issues of the acquisition by the U.S. Department of Interior over North Dakota land, wetlands, water areas, and drainage of these areas, and the acquisition of migratory bird reservations (S. L. 1977, Ch. 204). Fairness issues within districts of the advisory board members were addressed (S.L. 1977, Ch. 205).  The Game and Fish Department was responsible to set up education programs and certification procedures for hunters prior to the issuing of a license (S.L. 1977, Ch. 206).

1979       Legislation amended the law relating to land acquisition for wildlife and fish restoration (S. L. 1979, Ch. 279).  Two new subdivisions of the Century Code were added to establish a special private land habitat improvement fund and program (S. L. 1979, Ch. 299). Legislation authorized the Commissioner, deputy commissioner, chief game warden, and district game wardens to operate under the same directive as police officers (S. L. 1979, Ch 300). Change to the advisory board included increasing the membership to eight who served four year terms (S. L. 1979, Ch. 301). The Legislature agreed that all income from the Game and Fish fund should be used by the Game and Fish Department (S.L . 1979, Ch. 688).

1981       Specific rules were set up for hunters with special needs (S. L. 1981, Ch. 255). Responsibility for entering the private premises of a business or private property was eliminated from the duties of the deputy commissioner, deputy warden, and district wardens (S. L. 1981, Ch. 256).

1983       The law did not allow trails on cultivated land to be used for public hunting (S. L. 1983, Ch. 260). The Game and Fish Department was authorized to protect fish and wildlife from willful and grossly malignant acts (S. L. 1983, Ch. 261).  The Commissioner was given the authority, with the approval of the North Dakota Attorney General, to lease or exchange land for the purpose of improving wildlife management (S. L. 1983, Ch. 264). Crows were added to “harmful wild bird list” (S. L. 1983, Ch. 259). Fishing regulations and licensing for contests were issued by the Commissioner (S.L. 1983, Ch. 266). The federal authority regarding the acquisition of state land was suspended (S. L. 1983, Ch. 267). The Commissioner selected, trained, and certified qualified instructors for the authorized educational programs of the department (S. L. 1983, Ch. 268). Hunters with special needs who were living in a residence licensed by the State Department of Health or the Department of Human Services were exempt from the licensing requirements for hunting, fishing, and trapping (S.L. 1983, Ch. 269). Fees were set up for the trout and salmon fishing stamps (S. L. 1983, Ch. 270).  Legislation allowed an exemption for land owners when hunting antelope on their own land (S. L. 1983, Ch. 271). Laws were set up relating to the bagging and transporting of game birds by non-residents (S. L. 1983, Ch. 275).

1985       Amendments and new rules governing the department were added to the Century Code (S. L. 1985, Ch. 272).  Procedures were set up for the acquisition of land by the Game and Fish Department relating to the mitigation of the Garrison Diversion project (S. L. 1985, Ch. 274). The Legislature removed the term “constable” from the language of the Century Code and the law no longer gave the Commissioner, deputy commissioner, warden, and deputy wardens the same authority as that of a sheriff (S. L. 1985, Ch. 151). Legislation was added for the issuing deer licenses to North Dakota residents who served in the armed services (S. L. 1985, Ch. 273). The federal project relating to waterfowl production areas was limited to 50 years (S. L. 1985, Ch. 275). Landowners were given rights to hunting elk (S. L. 1985, Ch. 276). Game hunting and the big horn sheep auction license fees were established (S. L. 1985, Ch. 277). Legislation stipulated that hunting applications and licensing fees for an elk, big horn sheep, or moose were non-refundable (S. L. 1985, Ch. 278).

1987       Laws addressed any interference with those hunting on public lands (S. L. 1987, Ch. 270). A complimentary fishing license could be issued to non-resident dignitaries (S. L. 1987, Ch. 271). Non-criminal violations were given out or reviewed by either the Commissioner or the Governor (S. L. 1987, Ch. 269).

1989       The Governor appointed the Game and Fish Commissioner to a term of four years (S. L. 1989, Ch. 277). Legislation concerned land acquisition by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the role played by the Commissioner (S. L. 1989, Ch. 279). A small and big game habitat restoration trust fund was created (S. L. 1989, Ch. 278).  Hunters who were hunting on private lands were given the same protection as anyone hunting on public lands (S. L. 1989, Ch. 276). 

1991       The Commissioner was renamed the Director of the Game and Fish Department (S. L. 1991, Ch. 231) and was required to establish a statewide land acquisition plan (S. L. 1991, Ch. 42). The Director was authorized to plan and carry out a coyote depredation program (S. L. 1991, Ch. 234). Mountain lions and black bear were added to the legislation relating to fur bearing animals hunted and collected (S. L. 1991, Ch. 233). Legislation related to big horn sheep trophies (S. L. 1991, Ch. 235). The advisory board membership requirements were changed (S. L. 1991, Ch. 237). Legislation addressed the operation of a motorboat or vehicle persons under the influence (S. L. 1991, Ch. 254). Legislation addressed the concerns of licensing and harvesting clams (S. L. 1991, Ch. 232). A biennial report was submitted to the Governor and the Office of Management and Budget (S.L. 1991, Ch. 231).

1995       A guide or outfitter had to be licensed by the department (S. L. 1995, Ch. 225). Legislation addressed interference with the activities of trappers (S. L. 1995, Ch. 224). There were legislative changes made to the duties of the Director of the Game and Fish Department. The biennial report was to be submitted to Governor and Secretary of State (S. L. 1995, Ch. 350).

1997       Authority was given to the Director to establish a program for landowner assistance and to encourage the access of hunters on private lands. Legislation required the department to publish annually an informational booklet showing public lands available to hunters (S.L. 1997, Ch. 210). Legislation enforced laws for snowmobile operators using alcohol or drugs (S. L. 1997, Ch. 347).

1999       The Legislature set the funding to defray the expenses of the Game and Fish Department and required a minimum balance to remain in the fund (S. L. 1999, Ch. 41). There was legislation on the assessment of the improvement fund administered through the Game and Fish Department and a publication was to be distributed concerning private lands habitat (S. L. 1999, Ch. 217). 

2001       An impact analysis of the Game and Fish Department was sent to the North Dakota Department of Commerce.  The Governor or designee under federal law became responsible for the final approval of acquisitions of North Dakota land, water, or wetlands by the US Department of the Interior (S. L. 2003, Ch. 488). Hunters with special needs could hunt on land owned by the state (S. L. 2001, Ch. 219). Rules, regulations, and restrictions were amended for guides and outfitters (S. L. 2001, Ch. 220). Volunteer instructors of hunter education courses were issued a complimentary lifetime combined licenses if they taught at least one class a year for thirty years (S. L. 2001, Ch. 221). The Director was required to provide for “deer proof hay yards” (S. L. 2001, Ch. 222). Legislation required specific descriptions on the licenses for special needs hunters (S. L. 2001, Ch. 223). 

2003       Legislation was established for the programs that targeted waterfowl resting areas on private lands and payment to landowners who leased the resting area lands (S. L. 2003, Ch. 196). Issues were addressed by the Game and Fish Department concerning a crossbow hunting license for a hunter who is declared to be visually impaired (S. L. 2003, Ch. 194). Non-resident provisions of licensing were established and non-resident fees set (S. L. 2003, Ch. 197).   Non-resident students who are involved in the Midwest student exchange program or a student who attends a North Dakota educational institution could receive a residence hunting license (S. L. 2003, Ch. 195). Guides and outfitter regulations were set up for waterfowl hunters (S. L, 2003, Ch. 202).

2005       Agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation gave the management of Heart Butte to the Game and Fish Department (S. L. 2005, Ch. 207). Legislation required special provisions for special needs hunters (S. L. 2005, Ch. 208).  Hunting privileges were addressed for out of state students enrolled in North Dakota private institutions of higher learning (S. L. 2005, Ch. 209).

2007       The proclamation regarding hunting rights for a terminally ill child was approved by Legislature and signed by the Governor (S. L. 2007, Ch. 226).

2009       On-line hunter safety education courses became available for hunters 16 of age or older. Laws passed regulating  deer hunting by children under age fourteen and issuing an apprentice license good for one year to hunters over the age of sixteen ( S. L. 2009, Ch. 204). Children age fourteen could hunt in youth season and deer season (S. L. 2009, Ch. 205). Rules, regulations, and exemptions for guides and outfitters were addressed (S. L. 2009, Ch. 206). Legislation amended laws relating to land postings that prohibited hunting.  It also determined who had authority for the posting of land (S.L. 2009, Ch. 200). State laws were passed prohibiting hunting on fields of cereal crops and oil crops (S. L. 2009, Ch. 201).  Legislation also created a new section to the Century Code relating to exploitation of wildlife and laws were amended for the suspension of hunting, trapping, and fishing privileges (S. L. 2009, Ch. 202).  A new section was added to the Code concerning the apprentice hunter program and laws were amended relating to additional requirements for obtaining a hunting license (S. L. 2009, Ch. 204). Legislation amended laws concerning guides and allowed for exceptions for outfitter licensing (S.L. 2009, Ch. 206) as well as other exemptions for guides and outfitters (S. L. 2009, Ch. 207).   Also, the transfer of revenues for motorboat registration fees was amended (S. L. 2009, Ch. 203). 

2011       The Legislature responded to issues concerning the internet and electronic or remote control devices by requiring that a hunter be present in North Dakota for the hunt (S. L. 2011, Ch. 169). A new subsection and section were added to the Century Code relating to the prohibition of internet hunting and the penalty for any violation (S.L. 2011, Ch. 169). An amendment to the Code changed the types of guns allowed to be used on certain of animals (including beaver) and determined which artificial lighting was found to be acceptable for night hunting use (S. L. 2011, Ch. 170). Also, legislation created a new section to the Code concerning the use of a crossbow for the duration of the deer-gun season whenever a legal license was held by the hunter (S. L. 2011, Ch. 171).  Legislation allowed the Game and Fish Director to issue deer licenses under the wounded warrior project (S. L. 2011, Ch. 172).  Amended sections were added to the Century Code relating to the definitions and powers of the Director of the Department.  Other legislation concerned private land habitat and access improvement programs, the deer proofing of the hay yard program, and the culpability requirements for unlawfully taking big game (S. L. 2011, Ch. 173).  Also there were changes amending the laws relating to the hunting of Canada geese by non-residents (S.L. 2011, Ch. 174). An amended subsection to the Code concerned youth hunters who hunt antelope and deer (S. L. 2011, Ch. 175).  Also legislation required an amendment to the Code relating to landowners with a preference for elk hunting licenses (S. L. 2011, Ch. 176).  Legislation repealed a bill passed in the previous session concerning the licensing of guides and outfitters (S. L. 2011, Ch. 177).

2013       Legislation concerned disabled veterans and hunting fees (S.L. 2013, Ch.188) and the allowance of certain types of suppressors used for hunting certain game (S. L. 2013, Ch. 189).  Legislation also concerned special deer licenses and asked that the wounded warrior projects become the Military Wildlife Project of North Dakota (S. L. 2013, Ch. 190). Other changes to licensing were addressed (S. L. 2013, Ch. 191).  Legislation amended laws relating to the Game and Fish Department purchasing state lands (S. L. 2013, Ch. 192). One new section and two new subsections of the Century Code related to hunting of geese and early scheduling of the Canada goose season (S. L. 2013, Ch. 193).  It amended a law concerning big game and gratis licenses (S. L. 2013, Ch. 194).  Also the Code addressed amendments relating to hunting license fees (S. L. 2013, Ch. 195) and also defined disabled veterans.  An increase in fees for a license was requested (S. L. 2013, Ch. 196).  Changes were made to legislation concerning the computerized issuance of game and fish licenses by allowing each county auditor to implement an on-line licensing system (S. L. 2013, Ch. 197).  Legislation required proof of possessing a hunting or fishing license when requested by authorized officials (S. L. 2013, Ch. 198) and Paddlefish tags were also addressed through legislation (S. L. 2013, Ch. 199).


30653 Game and Fish Board Minutes.
30654 Commissioner’s Files.
30655 Advisory Board Records.
30656 Administration. Garrison-Oahe Interagency Council Records.
30657 Administration. Proclamations and Executive Orders.
30658 Game Management. Waterfowl Survey Records.
30659 Administration. General Ledger.
30660 Game Management. Easement Refuge Record.
30661 Game Management. Game Management Certificates.
30662 Game Management. Game Management Register.
30663 Game Management. Licenses Delivered for Sale Register.
30664 Game Management. County License Reports Ledger.
30665 Game Management. Posters.31366 Game Management Reports.
30666 Administration. Game and Fish Board Budget Ledger.
30695 Administration. Aerial Photographs.
31335 Game Management. Game Management Meeting Records.
31336 Game Management. Game Management Reports.
32085 Accounting. Register of Receipts.
32086 Accounting. License Register.
32105 Information and Education Division. Slides, Prints, and Negatives.
32168 Planning Division. Strategic Plan and Appendix.


Gray, David P.  Guide to the North Dakota State Archives, 1985.
Laws of Dakota Territory.
North Dakota Century Code.
North Dakota Game and Fish Website.
North Dakota Secretary of State Blue Book.
North Dakota State Legislature Session Laws.

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