South Dakota lawmakers refuse GFP rule proposals

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission doesn’t have authority under state laws to generally give out free entrance passes and free small-game hunting licenses, the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee decided Monday.

The lawmakers also turned down several rules that would have allowed traps to be used longer on public lands and rights of way along improved roads, and would have set a lower penalty for trappers caught lying when they submitted tails of predators for payments.

But the five legislators also acknowledged the state Game, Fish and Parks Department has authority under current laws to start a bounty program for predators that raid nests of pheasants, other upland game birds and waterfowl.

An existing state law 40-36-9 says: “The Department of Game, Fish and Parks may direct or employ personnel and conduct programs and the Game, Fish and Parks Commission may adopt pursuant to chapter 1-26 necessary rules to control foxes, coyotes, feral dogs, prairie dogs, and other wild animals.”

The department created the nest-protection bounties at the suggestion of Governor Kristi Noem after she won election in November. The program began April 1. It pays $10 per tail of badgers, striped skunks, raccoons, opossum and red fox, with a $500,000 limit the first year.

Noem grew up on a farm and ranch, helped run a commercial pheasant-hunting operation and during her campaign for governor last year emphasized restoring wildlife habitat in South Dakota as part of rebuilding the pheasant population.

One of her suggestions is rewarding people for good ideas on habitat improvement that the department uses by giving to them free park-entrances passes and free small-game hunting licenses.

The legislators voted 4-1 Monday that her crowd-sourcing approach was a no-go because state laws don’t allow it.

“I think this needs to go back and be thought about a lot harder,” Senator Craig Kennedy, a Yankton Democrat, said about the hunting-license piece.

State Wildlife Division director Tony Leif — pronounced life — said state law allowed the new bounty program.

Leif said 10,882 tails had been turned in through the first five weeks of the nest-bounty program. “The bulk of those are raccoon tales,” he said, followed by skunks .  

But the legislators thought there was something off-putting about the program. They pieced together 3-2 votes in several combinations to stop rule proposals that were supposed to be part of it.

They wouldn’t allow trapping to extend another four months on public lands and rights of way along improved roads.

The current rule says traps must be removed May 1. The change would have expanded the period until September 1.

The lawmakers also wouldn’t allow a broad rule that said: “To collect a bounty, a resident shall attest to the location, time and manner in which an eligible predator was taken. Predators eligible for a bounty are badger, opossum, red fox, raccoon, and striped skunk. If the person is under 18 years of age, a parent or guardian must attest on their behalf.”

Leif said the intent was to give conservation officers more discretion. That wasn’t clear in the proposed rule. There was confusion many times as legislators bounced about in their questions.

Representative Jean Hunhoff, a Yankton Republican, said her understanding of state law was that the department has the authority for the nest-predator program. “Now if we don’t like that, next session we need to come back and put some statute in there that curtails them,” Hunhoff said.

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