Legislative Information Sheet

Legislative Issues of Critical Importance to Sportsmen

Courtesy of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation Camo Coalition, updated December 1, 2012


For current information on issues, please visit our website at http://www.sdwfcamo.net/



Purchase of land by GF&P

The Game, Fish and Parks (GF&P) Commission gives careful and thoughtful consideration to all proposals made to purchase lands suitable for wildlife production and for public hunting and fishing access opportunities. Lands purchased by the Department are offered by willing sellers and are generally marginally-productive agricultural properties.


  • Subjecting private landowners who desire to sell their property to GF&P to a legislative debate or unnecessary delays is at the very least unfair and unreasonable. 


  • Prohibiting a landowner from selling their property to another landowner or government entity of their choosing is a violation of private property rights.  In many cases, GF&P may be the only entity interested in purchasing flooded property, wetlands or other marginal lands at a fair and reasonable price. The GF&P pays full property taxes on all Game Production Areas.


  • All Wildlife Division land acquisition proposals are currently presented and discussed in an open public forum at a GF&P Commission meeting.  The statutory protocols and procedures in place at present allow for a timely yet thorough review and decision-making process before any lands are acquired.


  • Sportsmen consistently and strongly support having the GF&P buy more land with THEIR money. A common misperception is that the GF&P owns vast acreages of land. In fact, Game Production Areas comprise far less than 1% of the land in South Dakota.


Conservation Easements


The landscape is changing in SD, due in part to high commodity prices, loss of CRP, tiling and ditching to drain marginal land for ag production, native grassland destroyed in perpetuity by the plow, and in general, increased economic pressure put upon the landscape to produce and sell at all-time record high crop prices. Perpetual Conservation Easements must be one of the tools available to conservationists, including like-minded landowners, to use: 


  • All conservation easements are voluntary. 
  • Young ranchers view voluntary grassland conservation easements as a useful tool to begin or maintain a ranching operation in this era of rapidly disappearing grazing lands and declining cow herds.

�        Since 2001, South Dakota beef cow inventory has decreased by 200,000 head.  (Ag Statistics)

  • Since 2001, South Dakota beef cow inventory has decreased by 11%.  (Ag Statistics)
  • Conservation easement holders allow the implementation of grazing infrastructure such as fence, pipelines, water tanks, dugouts, etc. for improved grazing management.
  • More than 99% of permanent easements allow grazing with, the most popular form of conservation easement allowing unrestricted grazing.
  • Approximately 3.0% of South Dakota grassland is protected by permanent conservation easements. More needs to be set aside.  
  • To be eligible for IRS tax deductions related to gifting of conservation easements, the conservation easements must be perpetual.

Non-Resident Waterfowl Licenses

SDWF adamantly opposes the issuance of more non-resident waterfowl licenses.


  • Increasing the number of nonresident waterfowl licenses would blatantly promote the commercialization of our waterfowl resources. Upland game hunting, most notably for pheasants, has already been commercialized. Waterfowl hunting will follow suit.


  • Increasing the number of regular nonresident waterfowl licenses will not help reduce depredation caused by resident Canada geese in Northeast SD. The geese will have migrated south by the time these licenses are utilized. There are already 2000 non-resident licenses available for the early Canada goose season when the depredating geese are here, but almost 90% go unsold due to lack of interest.


  • In areas where nonresidents are allowed to hunt the early Canada goose seasons, access for resident hunters is lessened.


  • Any further increases will ultimately reduce the places the average sportsman can go, for residents and nonresidents alike.


�        Any further increases will reduce the quality of waterfowl hunting in SD for residents and nonresidents alike!


GF&P Budget


The GF&P Division of Wildlife is funded exclusively through the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses and with associated federal excise taxes generated by the sale of sporting equipment. No general funds are used.


  • The system of funding fish and wildlife management and conservation in our state works well and there have been no identified abuses. Federal funds, which comprise the majority of the GF&P budget, could be lost if the budget authority was transferred or compromised by allowing unauthorized uses of the monies.


  • GF&P Commissioners have proven themselves as responsive and responsible budget managers.


  • The Commission has been prudent with their fee-setting authority, only increasing fees to meet inflationary needs or direct additional dollars to improve public access and outdoor recreation facilities and opportunities.


  • The Wildlife Division provides an informational budget to the Legislature�s Appropriation Committee, and agency administrators appear before this Committee each year to answer questions to ensure adequate oversight.


  • The Legislature�s Interim Rules Review Committee provides an additional level of oversight over the GF&P Commission by requiring public meetings and reviewing proposed rules as per SDCL 1-26-14.3.


Management authority needs to be aligned with fee-setting and expenditure authority.


  • All hunting and fishing license fees are used to manage wildlife and fisheries and their associated habitats.  Park fees are used in a similar manner. (Continued next page.)


  • The GF&P Commission relies heavily on science-based fish and wildlife management, while balancing the needs of the state�s citizens.


  • There is minimal influence of political agendas at the GF&P Commission level.


  • The GF&P Commission has been very responsive to the needs of all constituents, including sportsmen, landowners and other interest groups.


  • The makeup of the GF&P Commission is established in statute to be bi-partisan and representative of sportsmen, business owners and landowners.


The time frame necessary for action on potential fee adjustments by the Legislature would present a serious problem under some circumstances.


  • GF&P Commission meets at least 10 times a year; the Legislature meets once a year.


  • GF&P Commission meetings are held throughout the state, allowing citizens a more convenient opportunity to speak with Commissioners.


  • Very much like legislators, GF&P Commissioners are on the job 24-7, but their sole focus is the management of our natural resources.


The GF&P Commission is independent from the Department.


  • The GF&P Commission holds numerous public hearings throughout the state.


  • At each of these meetings, an open microphone session allows the public to comment on any issue, not just those on the Commission�s regular agenda.


  • All rule changes are very well publicized not only in accordance with legal requirements, but also in general news releases issued by GF&P.


The people of South Dakota expect and receive self-sufficiency in the GF&P budgets.


  • The GF&P fiscal management process is an excellent example of a user-pay, user-supported system of government.



The private lands Walk-In-Area access program is a specific example of a new concept that came about due to the GF&P Commission�s ability to set fees and develop new and innovative programs. Back in 1987, South Dakota was the first state in the nation to implement a WIA program.  Since then many states have followed South Dakota�s lead and developed similar programs.

The Open Fields Doctrine


Bills which would prohibit state conservation officers (game wardens) from entering private property to conduct compliance checks unless they first witnessed a violation or obtained the landowner's permission have surfaced in many past sessions. Although the bills were killed, the intent of the Open Fields Doctrine has been severely weakened by changes to GF&P policy made by the Governor�s office. SDWF opposes any changes to the Open Fields Doctrine, either by legislation or by policy. We must provide protection to our fish and wildlife resources to ensure our children and their children can enjoy the outdoor opportunities in our state:


  • The law of the land clearly establishes the constitutionality of what is known as the �Open Fields Doctrine.� This doctrine provides legal guidance to ALL law enforcement agencies, not just GF&P.  The guidance offered by the US Supreme Court has been in place for over 80 years, and has served the citizens of our state and country well. It has been upheld on numerous occasions by other courts, including the SD Supreme Court, and is supported by the SD Attorney General.


�          The doctrine applies only to open fields where a person has no expectation of privacy. It does NOT apply to vehicles, homes, outbuildings or the curtilage (the area immediately surrounding the home and other structures).





�          Because approximately 80% of the land in South Dakota is privately owned and the vast majority

of hunting in South Dakota is done on private property, changes to the Doctrine would virtually end the practice of conservation officers conducting license and compliance checks, including checking bag limits to prevent the overharvest of game. This is a very substantial issue for sportsmen; most believe that prohibiting conservation officers from following the guidance of the US Supreme Court would constitute nothing more than a �Poacher Protection Act� in South Dakota.



�        Game, Fish and Parks conservation officers conduct checks of thousands of hunters, anglers and trappers in the field each year, both on public and private land. Compliance checks are integral to protecting the public�s wildlife resources by ensuring everyone has the proper licenses and are abiding by all laws and regulations while in the field. Without the Open Fields Doctrine, the only hunters, anglers, and trappers who would be subject to compliance checks would be those who hunt, fish, or trap on public lands or are on public road rights-of-way. This is not reasonable, nor do our citizens perceive it as fair application of the law.


  • Equal application under the law keeps the playing field level for all of our state�s citizens and visitors. Passage of any bill or policy contrary to the Open Fields Doctrine essentially creates two classes of citizens. Those people who recreate on public land would continue to be subject to state laws regulating outdoor recreation; those on private land would be nearly untouchable.


  • Many types of compliance checks must be done in the field to be effective. It is too late after the sportsmen have returned to the road to determine who was actually hunting, fishing or trapping, and if illegal methods were used.


  • Conservation officers work at all times of day and night, in all kinds of weather, and in areas they are unfamiliar with. It is simply impossible for a conservation officer or anyone else to determine who owns each parcel of land or to contact that person in a timely manner. Even landowners are not always sure exactly where property boundaries are. Changes in the system prevent our conservation officers from carrying out their sworn duty and from protecting OUR natural resources.


�          Again, the doctrine applies only to open fields where a person has no expectation of privacy. It does NOT apply to vehicles, homes, outbuildings or the curtilage (the area immediately surrounding the home and other structures).



Some opponents of the Open Fields Doctrine say it is a private property issue, it is their God-given right to know who is on their land, and it is why the Revolutionary War was fought. However, SDWF believes most landowners welcome checks by conservation officers. They know the only way to ensure proper enforcement of our laws and the protection of our natural resources is for everyone to be treated equally. They do not expect to be contacted every time a conservation officer is in the area.





Transferable Big Game Tags


�     Allowing landowners or any other hunter to transfer or sell their license is a philosophy the South Dakota Wildlife Federation (SDWF) strongly disagrees with. In South Dakota, all wildlife is held in the �Public Trust� which means the citizens of the state own the wildlife. No person, group or organization other than the State of SD should be allowed to distribute and sell licenses.


�         Landowners have every right to sell access to the public�s wildlife that live on their land, but

     should not be allowed to transfer or sell licenses to hunt on their property. If a bill allowing this is

     passed, only those who can afford to pay large fees will have access to hunt.


�        The average resident hunter will be the biggest loser in a scheme that allows the sale or

      transfer of licenses.  


Lifetime Hunting and Fishing Licenses


This concept is a budget buster for GF&P. The GF&P relies on license revenues and federal excise tax revenue to provide all of their services to sportsmen and landowners. Federal funding is calculated in part on how many licenses are sold each year. A one-time purchase of a lifetime license would mean decades of lost federal matching-fund revenue for the department. There are also many unanswered questions, such as would those persons who move away from SD still be allowed to maintain their life-time resident privileges? Would students who are only here for a short period of time be allowed to have resident privileges forever? What price would need to be charged to make up for lost revenue? 


While a nice idea, the cost would be prohibitive unless the initial license was so expensive only the rich could afford it. Even then the money, if placed in a trust fund to be used over the estimated lifetime of the license holder, would attract the attention of legislators and others who cannot stand to see unspent cash reserves.

Alternative Energy Resources and Mining


SDWF-Camo Coalition supports the development and use of alternative energy resources. However, unregulated mining (including fracking), ethanol production, and even wind power have the potential to do great harm to fragile environments. We must proceed cautiously with any development that may harm our ground and surface waters or our ecosystems in general. For example, wetland drainage by ditching and tiling and the breaking of native sod threaten the existence of our prairie pothole and grassland biome. SDWF-Camo Coalition agrees with the admonition given by Chief Seattle, leader of the Native American Suquamish Tribe, over 150 years ago:


Teach your children what we have taught ours, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.



SDWF-Camo Coalition urges everyone to contact their local legislators, the Governor�s office, and the SD GF&P on these and other issues of importance. Our leaders will listen to the sportsmen and other conservationists in this state if we speak with a strong and united voice. Find out more at http://www.sdwfcamo.net/