- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s former state wildlife chief and some Democrats are opposing the potential transfer of public land around Lake Oahe south of Bismarck-Mandan to private landowners.

The possible transfer of more than 9,000 acres of federally owned land would be unfair to thousands of hunters, anglers and outdoors enthusiasts who use the area, retired Game and Fish Department Wildlife Chief Randy Kreil said.

About 2,000 acres of the land is leased by Game and Fish for wildlife management. “A lot of sportsmen have dollars invested in these lands,” Kreil told The Associated Press.

Some Bismarck-area Democrats also have released a statement calling the possible land transfer “unacceptable.”

The federal government bought the land when dams were built on the Missouri River in the mid-1900s. Some of it is now considered “excess” - no longer needed for flood control.

The 2015 Legislature passed a bill encouraging Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple to work with the state’s congressional delegation on a bill in Congress authorizing the transfer of that property to the state.

Some, including Kreil, believe there is a push to ultimately give some of the land back to private owners, including state Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Mandan, a sponsor of the bill in the Legislature. Schmidt said in a 1996 letter to then-U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., that his family has an interest in some of the land. The AP obtained the letter from state Game and Fish Department files through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Schmidt told The Bismarck Tribune that he and family members are interested in reobtaining family land that was “grabbed unnecessarily,” and that he would pay for it and “make sure that recreational values are met.”

Andrea Travnicek, the governor’s policy adviser on natural resources, told the Tribune that the possible return of land to private hands, where practical, is under discussion, but that “the intent is that public access would be the same in the future as it is today, no matter what happens.”

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