S.D. House accepts GFP’s offer to reduce legal authority of department’s conservation officers

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The ask-first policy for conservation officers that the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department wants locked in as a new state law moved closer to the goal Wednesday.

The state House by a 13-vote margin passed HB 1140 that would prevent GFP law enforcement from entering private property in most instances without permission from the landowner or lessee or without a court order.

The 41-28 decision sends the legislation across the state Capitol’s rotunda to the Senate for further action.

Representative Marty Overweg said the department has generally been following the policy for compliance checks and other routine activities since 2011. The New Holland Republican said many landowners want wildlife on their properties.

“”We’re not out there trying to destroy. We build up,” he said.

Representative Roger Chase, a Huron Republican who farms, opposed putting it into law. He said it’s hard for conservation officers to establish rapport and develop relationships with landowners when the officers frequently change.

But Representative Richard Vasgaard, a Republican who farms near Centerville, said many of the emails opposed to the change came from hunters. “They don’t really have any skin in the game,” he said. He agreed with the department’s goal of better landowner relations “We have way more hunters than property owners out there, and we need to work together.”

Governor Kristi Noem wants the bill. Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden was the first witness for it at the Senate committee hearing Tuesday. Others in the committee room from the governor’s office were her senior policy advisor, her legal counsel and another aide who works with the department.

Representative Tim Goodwin, a Republican who lives outside Rapid City, said the department brought the legislation. He recalled the lockout of hunters by Harding County landowners a decade ago. “That was not good rapport at all,” he said.

Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Democrat who ranches in the Parade area, said the committee testimony from opponents “really fell flat” for him. “That’s all this does — gives some property rights back,” he said.

Representative David Anderson, a Republican who farms near Hudson, said he will let hunters on his land if they ask permission but he still has trouble with trespassers. “I’m in favor of the conservation officer looking out for me,” he said.

Representative Liz May, a Republican store owner at Kyle who grew up on a ranch in northwestern South Dakota, thanked the department. “To me, this is kind of a piece of healing legislation,” she said. “The landowner, that’s all they ever wanted, some respect.”

May told of bulls shot, fences lost and prairie fires caused by hunters. She said, “We want hunters. We just want some respect.”

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