GFP, other South Dakota agencies discussing changes to laws for invasive species

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Legislators might be asked to change some state laws in the 2020 session so South Dakota can deal more effectively with invasive species such as zebra mussels that have been found in the Missouri River.

That’s according to Tony Leif, director for the state Wildlife Division in the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. He spoke about the matter Monday at a meeting with the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee.

The Game, Fish and Parks Commission adopted emergency rules July 24 designating two more Missouri River reservoirs, Lake Sharpe and Lake Francis Case, as containment waters where special boat-decontamination regulations apply.

The emergency rules expire after 90 days and therefore weren’t subject to the Legislature’s normal rules-review process.

Leif said the commission will propose permanent rules at its September 5-6 meeting in Spearfish, followed by a public hearing October 3 at its next regular meeting. The commission could approve the permanent rules later that afternoon or possibly October 4.

Statewide regulations already require boaters to remove drain plugs when they are traveling to and from waters throughout South Dakota.

The containment designation adds further decontamination requirements for two types of boats: Those used in wake-boarding and those kept more than three consecutive days in a containment water.

A third Missouri River reservoir, Lake Lewis and Clark near Yankton, and the river downstream have been previously designated as containment waters, as have several other connected waters.

Three of the legislators on the rules panel — Representative Jean Hunhoff, a Republican, and Representative Ryan Cwach and Senator Craig Kennedy, both Democrats — come from the Yankton community.

Hunhoff said she understood that zebra mussels weren’t supposed to spread. Leif responded that the goal “all along” was to slow them. He said zebra mussels would likely get to other water bodies eventually.

Leif said the boat-plug rule was the most important method and has met “some resistance” as state conservation officers work to enforce it.

Hunhoff noted that the Yankton area saw the highest frequency of citations and was concerned that other areas weren’t getting attention.

Leif said the department is stepping up enforcement efforts on the boat-plug rule and has found anglers comply at a higher rate than recreational boaters.

Senator Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, asked whether decontamination should be required on all South Dakota waters.

Leif said he had met Monday morning with the commission’s chairman, Gary Jensen of Rapid City, and various GFP staff. Last week GFP officials met with employees of other state agencies.

Zebra mussels evidently made their way to the United States from Europe on barges during the early 1980s. Leif said they don’t have a natural predator in North America and chemical treatment that was considered for Lake Lewis and Clark ran into the “billions” of dollars.

Leif said zebra mussels accumulate on pipelines that municipalities, rural water systems and irrigators used to draw water.

He indicated there would be legislation in the 2020 session that opens in January proposed more stringent restrictions.

“We’re trying to flush out a variety of options that are out there,” Leif said. There are no control measures, he explained: “When you get them, you got them.”

Replied Solano, “It’s unfortunate.”  

The commission’s chairman, Gary Jensen of Rapid City, said later Monday that he was “very encouraged” after a recent telephone call with Governor Kristi Noem.

GFP Secretary Kelly Hepler told commission members Monday during a special meeting on another topic that their letter to the governor was “well received.”

Hepler has been involved in the discussions with other state agencies about their potential roles in addressing the situation.

“I’m encouraged,” Hepler said. “It’s water users, which is where this conversation needs to go.”

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