Governor’s Second Century Habitat fund is now in a non-profit, outside of Legislature’s control

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — None of the $321,000 raised this fall by auctioning a 2020 state license to hunt a bighorn sheep in western South Dakota will be part of the new Second Century Habitat Fund, a state government official said Wednesday.

The money will be used for other wildlife habitat programs offered by the state Game, Fish and Parks Department, deputy secretary Kevin Robling told members of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.

Robling said the Second Century fund has $2.4 million, including $1 million that the Legislature budgeted at Governor Kristi Noem’s request to help start it. Other money came from donations. He said DeLon Mork of Madison has agreed to be its chairman.

The fund won’t be overseen by GFP. “That is a completely separate 501(c)3 (not-for-profit),” Robling said. He provided a summary showing changes for the fund and its management that occurred after the Legislature contributed the state’s $1 million.

Robling noted that Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler and GFP Commission chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City are voting members by way of their positions. The not-for-profit has 11 members.

“These funds are completely separate from our operating budget,” Robling said, responding to a question from Senator Ryan Maher. The Isabel Republican chairs the legislative committee.

GFP fiscal director Chris Petersen said the Second Century Habitat Fund will hire an executive director to oversee its budget.

Maher wondered “six years down the line, when we’re all gone” about who would report to the Legislature on the fund and how lawmakers in the future would know about it. The South Dakota Constitution bars legislators from seeking a fifth consecutive term in the same chamber.

Robling said a legislative advisory panel could be added.

“I think that would be wise, because I can just see this being lost,” Maher said. He said that within five years “it would be completely forgotten about.”

Representative Shawn Bordeaux, a Mission Democrat, volunteered to serve on the advisory panel. 

Asked how GFP spreads information about its landowner programs, Robling replied “word of mouth” among landowners and with GFP staff.

Senator Jack Kolbeck, a Sioux Falls Republican, asked whether GFP conservation officers approach landowners to suggest participation.

“That is exactly what our mission and goal is,” Robling said. “This is all part of that conversation.”

Robling said rack cards have been shared with landowners.

Kolbeck suggested landowners should get the cards in the mail when they receive their landowner-preference tag for hunting big game.

Out in the audience, state Wildlife Division assistant director Tom Kirschenmann wrote down the idea. 

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