South Dakota game agency seeks input on land buying guidelines | TSLN.com

South Dakota game agency seeks input on land buying guidelines

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) Commission reported in a news release that the agency is calling for input on proposed land acquisition priorities and guidelines through Aug. 3, 2016.

Of the 25-30 comments they have received, nobody seems to be strongly opposed to current land acquisition practices, said Habitat Program Administrator Paul Coughlin.

"Comments range from, 'we like what you're doing,' to offering suggestions, like different priorities for the land we own," he said.

Harding County, South Dakota, rancher, Larry Nelson has some suggestions for the agency – first and foremost that it doesn't add more land to its holdings.

"We've got 800,000 acres of national grasslands in this state, we've got 270,000 acres of BLM and a million acres of national forest. How much is enough public land?"

While he does believe the state, as a rule, does a better job of managing land than the feds do, he'd still prefer to see the Game, Fish and Parks focus on partnerships with private landowners, rather than land ownership. "They'd be better served expanding their walk-in areas and CHAP (Controlled Hunter Access Program) and leaving the management in the private sector because in the long haul, the private sector does a better job in general of management," said the rancher. The compensation for landowners who take part on the hunting access partnerships will have to be sufficient to make it worthwhile, he added.

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The Pierre-based South Dakota Cattlemen's Association agrees, on the whole.

"Our preference is for the Game, Fish and Parks to create and/or expand leasing programs that engage private landowners in providing wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities," said the group's executive director Jodie Hickman.

Organizational policy also calls for socioeconomic assessment before land is sold to government entities, Hickman said, and yet another policy encourages the agency to effectively communicate with the public regarding land acquisitions. "It appears they are at least attempting to do this by putting forth these guidelines for public comment," Hickman said.

While Nelson prefers that neither the federal nor state government acquire any additional land, in the event it does happen, Nelson would like to see:

1. legislative approval beforehand

2. county commission approval in the county or counties that are home to the land purchases or trades and

3. accurate and fair appraisals.

"It has to be good for the local community," he said.

Nelson recalled a situation several years back, where the appraisal wasn't true, and ranchers looking to buy land couldn't compete with the state, based on the appraised value.

The state was looking at buying a ranch that their appraiser valued at $180 per acre. "They effectively took every private buyer out of the market at that price," Nelson said. The state decided not to pursue the land purchase, and eventually the ranch sold privately for $135 per acre. "They can use their seemingly bottomless coffers of tax dollars and price the private sector out of the market," Nelson said.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks pays taxes on their 282,000 acres dedicated to game production and public hunting, but their approximately 100,000 acres of parks for recreational purposes aren't taxed, Coughlin said.

"At any time we've got several acquisition projects we're working on," he added. The process is an open one and the governor-appointed commission has to approve any land purchases or trades, he said.

Lynn Tjeerdsma, Senior Policy Advisor for Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), said as a general rule, Thune doesn't advocate for more public land ownership. But he just introduced legislation calling for a federal-state land swap in his state (see sidebar).

Any land purchases and the subsequent management are financed with hunter license dollars, Coughlin said.

But in the case of the proposed land swap between Spearfish Canyon and the State of South Dakota, state (not agency) money would be used to buy 1,954 acres of school land out of trust. After the state buys the land at appraised market value, the state hopes to trade with the U.S. Forest Service for 1,468 acres in Spearfish Canyon and 523 acres in and around Bismarck Lake, both located in the northern Black Hills.

To see the land purchasing plan, go here.

E-mail comments to Paul.Coughlin@state.sd.us by Aug. 3.