Turmoil over pheasant habitat | TSLN.com

Turmoil over pheasant habitat

Shaley Lensegrav
for Tri-State Livestock News

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed legislation SB176 into law on March 29th, 2019 and the bill went into effect on June 28th of 2019. The bill gave $1 million dollars from the state’s general fund to Second Century Habitat Initiative, a new foundation that replaces the South Dakota Habitat Foundation.

Noem announced her Second Century Initiative vision in her State of the State address and pledged to increase resources for pheasant hunting “to ensure that the second century of pheasant hunting will be as great as the first.”

While SB176 was readily approved in the Senate, it faced opposition and turmoil in the House of Representatives.

The House voted against the bill the first time it was read, but because the number of votes was over half but less than 2/3rds majority it was automatically reconsidered. Again, the House did not pass SB176.

In a gray and debated decision, the bill was allowed to be reconsidered again on the basis that the original reconsideration was automatic and the additional reconsideration could be possible if there was a formal motion to reconsider.

From there the bill was repeatedly amended, reconsidered, formally voted on a total of five times and eventually passed through the House and Senate Conference Committee.

In the heat of SB176’s residency on the House floor, Representative Taffy Howard, from District 33, said “I’ve never seen this turmoil and chaos because these people didn’t get their bill passed.”

After arriving on Governor Noem’s desk, she vetoed the bill for “style and form” demanding that the bill go into effect in June of 2019 and that the funds be allocated for fiscal year 2019.

This decision was later approved by both the Senate and House.

Representative Tom Brunner, from district 29, questioned Noem’s “style and form” veto and viewed it as a “manipulation of the law.”

He explained that typically a veto in style and form is due to a change in punctuation of tense of a word within the bill. Changing the date that the bill would go into effect is a much larger change that in this case, resulted in the funds coming from the 2019 fiscal year rather than the 2020 fiscal year, which would have begun on July 1st.

Former House Representative Elizabeth May commented that “the process [to get SB176 passed] was absolutely unconstitutional” as the House repeatedly killed the bill on the floor.

Representative Howard argued that SB176 was “not something general funds should be used for.”

More specifically, she stated that she was “opposed to using tax payer dollars and giving them to a private foundation that we [the state government] lose all control over.”

Brunner echoed her sentiments and said he “didn’t agree with using taxpayer dollars to fund private industry.”

The money allocated in SB176 is controlled by the habitat board who then decides how to use the state’s money along with private donations. Since the creation of Second Century Habitat Initiative, there have been several suggested resignations and replacements on the existing habitat board.

While it is not unusual for a governor to push to designate funds for programs that they personally believe in, typically these funds come from other sources—future funds, fundraising, etc.—rather than the taxpayer supported general fund.

In December, previous Governor, Dennis Daugaard, gave $1.1 million dollars out of Future Funds to the SD Habitat Foundation which was then used for research through SDSU and SDSU Extension.

The difference this year is that Noem insisted that the funds for Second Century Habitat Initiative come from the general fund, rather than use another source.

Howard explained that not only could other funds be used, but the Game, Fish, and Parks department has money that could be used for pheasant habitat. In short there was “no reason to take taxpayer dollars.”

“Taxpayer dollars should be used on taxpayers across the state,” Brunner stated.

Second Century Habitat Initiative established a program that provides seed and compensation to land owners who voluntarily sign up for the program.

Matt Morlock, South Dakota State Coordinator for Pheasants Forever, explained that to sign up, landowners must make a 5-year commitment to the program. They then receive free seed to restore forage to wetlands or other low soil quality areas. Along with free seed, landowners receive a one-time compensation of $150 per acre enrolled in the program.

All participation in the program is voluntary. Board members do not seek out land owners, rather the landowners must contact the program.

“[Second Century] fills a niche that federal programs can’t…producers can build habitat into their production,” Morlock stated. Land owners are also able to use the forage.

Pheasants Forever, along with the Game Fish and Parks and other organizations and private donors, are partnering and working with Second Century Initiative.

Morlock said that the pheasant population in South Dakota peaked around 2009 and has since “dropped in half.”

Supporters for Second Century Initiative hope that the program will increase economic revenue through out of state hunters as well as improve pheasant numbers.

“Each year, 91,000 non-resident hunters come to our state for hunting season and spend more than $310 million in our restaurant’s, gear shops, hotels, gift shops, and gas stations,” stated Governor Noem’s press secretary, Kristin Wileman. “That money makes a real difference for families and small businesses.”

As for the impact on pheasant population, Wileman said, “the overall impact on the pheasant population has yet to be determined. Game, Fish, and Parks is conducting the brood survey report right not, so we’ll have a better idea of the population in a few weeks.”