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Wisconsin outfit charged with N.D. hunting violations

Posted on Fri, Apr. 21, 2006

Associated Press

GRAFTON, N.D. - Charges have been filed against a Wisconsin corporation that allegedly set up a commercial hunting operation in Walsh County without the proper North Dakota licenses, authorities say.

Highlands Sportsman's Ranch, if convicted, could be fined up to $15,000 on each of 17 misdemeanor counts of selling waterfowl trips without a North Dakota guide or outfitter license.

Charges of guiding or outfitting without a license also have been filed against two men in the case. Tracy Sommer, 43, of Cedarburg, Wis., faces four counts. Charles Gelling, 52, of Campbellsport, Wis., faces 12 counts.

Sommer and Gelling did not immediately return a telephone message left Friday at the Highlands office seeking comment. Walsh County State's Attorney Sharon Martens said Friday that she did not know if the men had yet been formally served with the charges.

Martens said initial court appearance for the men likely will be sometime in May.

Court records show Sommer is the registered agent for Highlands Sportsman's Ranch and provided guide and outfitting services to paying clients. Gelling, who worked out of Wisconsin, set up the trips on behalf of the corporation, the records show.

Paul Freeman, northeastern district enforcement supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said the charges result from an Oct. 8 search of a ranch north of Edinburg owned by the Wisconsin corporation.

Sommer also allegedly hired two unlicensed guides in neighboring Cavalier County, where additional charges have been filed, Freeman said.

"Those guys made a pile of money off the state of North Dakota," Freeman said. "They took half the money up front and half when (the clients) got there."

A North Dakota law passed in 2003 established tighter rules for guides and outfitters to control the rapid growth of commercial hunting operations in the state.

Since 2003, guides have had to meet a stringent list of requirements that includes background checks, a written examination of fish and game laws and proof of competency as a guide. Guides also must be employed or contracted by a licensed outfitter.

The Walsh County case will be the first involving a corporate hunting violation since the new rules went into effect, said Bruce Burkett, a Game and Fish investigations supervisor.

Out-of-state residents and corporations were not eligible to guide or offer services in North Dakota before 2003.

"The cases charged here are on nonresident corporations or individuals that under the old system could never have gotten licensed," Burkett said.

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