Editor’s note: This letter is a response to a Hubbard County Board discussion about the Hubbard County’s tax-forfeited land lease program. It has been edited for length.
At the heart of the problem are complaints that hunters tend to take over the land in those areas, that some leaseholders try to use public land as their own and kick other people out of it, and that some leaseholders put out feed plots, create wildlife openings, block off the main roads and prevent other people from using the land.
Certain hunting parties are creating a bad experience for others. I agree that this is a problem. The whole point of what we do as annual leaseholders and sportsmen is to be good stewards of the land, keep our areas clean and usable, and work with the county to make the land inviting for the general public to hunt, hike, and fish.
If individuals are not living up to this standard, it reflects poorly on all of us and needs to be addressed. However, does a blanket sunset of current leases solve this problem?
If there are complaints, there should be a paper trail to the specific people who are committing these violations, and they should be dealt with on an individual basis. If leaseholders are doing these things, then I agree that their leases should be at risk for revocation.
County commissioner Ted VanKempen has lived in Hubbard county for 40 years and said he was unaware of this program even existing. This hints that the general public is unaware of the lease opportunities, or that large swaths of public land are available to use. But is that the problem of the leaseholders? Or is it a failure on the part of the county?
On the financial side, some individuals are using the leases from year to year, so no new people can get in the cabin program. If the county is not promoting the land effectively, does it make sense to sunset current leases and turn around and sell the same leases back to new people? Or does it make more sense to keep the current guaranteed income from the leases and the economic impact for local businesses, then simply expand the lease program?
If the concern is undervaluation of the land, make sure we are comparing apples to apples. The Park Rapids Enterprise mentioned the amount of $20,000 for similar plots. Were these auctions for small footprint plots, or were they for acreage? Did the winners have to have to allow other people to hunt on the same land, or do they get exclusive rights? Are these auction winners allowed to make changes to their land, or are they required to leave the land as is?
Current leases are only for the footprint of our buildings. Though we can use all of the surrounding county land, we can’t clear fields, grow food plots, or make any changes to the woods. We clear the roads and trails of debris and set up stands, but we can’t keep other people from using them. This is county land and is meant for everyone.
We gladly accept these restrictions as part of our lease agreement with the county. I would be hard pressed to believe private auctions with these same restrictions will go for $20,000.
In conclusion, I and many other hunters agree about the actual complaints lodged. These individuals are giving us a bad name. We wholeheartedly agree that steps should be taken to remove them from the program. However, we do not believe a blanket sunset on all leaseholders will solve these problems achieve your goals.