South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks land acquisition: Agency pursues land swap with feds | TSLN.com

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks land acquisition: Agency pursues land swap with feds

On July 14, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced a bill to enforce a land swap between the state of South Dakota and the U.S. Forest Service. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) co-signed the bill and Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) introduced a companion bill in the House.

The state seeks to own 1,991 acres of U.S. Forest Service land – 1,468 in Spearfish Canyon and 523 in and around Bismarck Lake located in the Black Hills.

They are offering for trade four sections of state land.

"We thought we could make that property into a better resource for the people of South Dakota," said Governor Daugaard's Policy Advisor Hunter Roberts, saying the state hopes to "upgrade" the land like it did with Roughlock Falls and Homestake Mine land in the same area.

Senator Thune's Senior Policy Advisor Lynn Tjeerdsma said the state hopes to make the property more accessible to the public by improving hiking trails and sprucing up other aspects of it.

The legislation requires that an appraiser selected by the U.S. agricultural secretary and the State of South Dakota would assign a value to all land parcels. The state would have to to compensate the feds dollar for dollar. If the state land is valued at less than the federal land, cash and/or additional land will make up the difference.

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Roberts said the idea of buying the federal land outright was discussed, but Senator Thune encouraged a land trade, saying it would be more politically palatable.

All land parcels will be appraised as agricultural land, Roberts said. "Obviously it is valuable for commercial development but nobody wants to see that happen. We'll be using it for outdoor purposes so we want to use an ag base for our appraisals."

Based on SDSU market trend research, the South Dakota Commissioner of School and Public lands estimates that the four state parcels, located in Lawrence, Pennington and Lyman Counties, are worth around $2 million total. While the Lawrence County land is currently under GFP management, the other three sections are school land – currently leased for grazing, with the fees going for K-12 school funding, Ryan Brunner said.

The three school land parcels bring in $5,676.80 per year, Brunner said, and at his estimated value of $2 million, and a conservative estimate of 3 percent return on their investment, the money invested would return about $60,000 per year – or about $54,000 more than it is now.

Brunner explained that the state investment council, who would invest the money, has a track record of solid returns.

The legislation calls for the three school sections to become National Grasslands property, under the trade, and requires that the U.S. Ag Secretary "allow grazing to continue subject to related terms and conditions including permitted stocking rates, access rates, and ownership and use of range improvements."

In other words, Brunner said, the current leases will have the opportunity to graze the land as federal land permittees. The land parcels adjoin federal grazing land and are not fenced out.

The Department of School and Public lands oversees about 760,000 acres in the state – with each acre being assigned a beneficiary – either one of the six state universities or K-12 school, Brunner said.