GF&P hunts for better landowner relations
(Note: SD's governor courts language deception, making it appear that landowners just don't understand. "If you eliminated open fields, the guy who has a large parcel of land is free to do what he wants to," sez he -- and that's exactly the point. Property owners SHOULD be free to do as they wish with their property, no matter what the size of their property. Who determines what defines a "large parcel of land," and why would the "large" landowners suffer the jaundiced view painted of them by Rounds & Co., which implies that "large" landowners might be doing something criminal and be trying to hide such activity? Using hunting as a ruse to access private property by Game, Fish & Parks -- or ANY such agent -- is trespass, pure and simple. A growing number of hunters are realizing that and respecting the SD Lockout -- in states across the nation. explains further why almost four million acres are in the Lockout. Seeking to impinge upon "large" landowners by likening them to criminals is a huge mistake.)
May 7, 2005
By Kevin Woster, Journal staff writer or 605-394-8413
The Rapid City Journal
Rapid City, South Dakota
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The embattled Game, Fish & Parks Department will begin a public campaign to improve relations with farmers and ranchers later this month when it forms a panel to answer complaints and begins publishing a newsletter for landowners.

Agency Secretary John Cooper told the GF&P Commission Friday that the Wildlife Issues Panel would hold its first meeting near the end of the month. GF&P will also soon begin sending out a quarterly "Landowner Matters" newsletter to thousands of South Dakota landowners, Cooper said.

The panel and newsletter are the result of a legislative resolution urging the GF&P to establish a panel to answer grievances against the wildlife agency. The panel will include GF&P commissioners, legislators, rural landowners and urban sportsmen.

"This is the start of something that hopefully will help," Cooper told the commission during a meeting in Custer State Park.

The public relations work comes at a time when landowners angry with GF&P policies claim to have locked hunters out of 4 million acres of private land, most of it west of the Missouri River. Landowner anger centers on GF&P's so-called "open fields" policy, where officers enter private land without permission to check hunters.

During the past two legislative sessions, opponents of that policy have tried unsuccessfully to win legislative approval of bills restricting open fields.

Organizers of the South Dakota lockout say the list of closed land continues to grow, although they are unable to provide a county-by-county list of landowners and the acres they have shut down.

Joe Logue of Oelrichs, a small-scale rancher who has persuaded several dozen landowners with property totaling more than 120,000 acres to join the lockout, said the issues panel and newsletter wouldn't solve the problem.

"I can't speak for everybody, but I fully believe the open-fields policy is going to have to change before the lockout ends," Logue said. "We're going to continue with the lockout, and we'll probably be back to the Legislature with another bill."

Of the 60 people who signed Logue's lockout sheet, about two dozen were urban residents who support private property rights for rural landowners, Logue said.

Governor Mike Rounds said during a telephone interview Friday that he was optimistic that good things would come from the issues panel and landowners newsletter. And a renewed commitment by Cooper to make GF&P more sensitive to landowners' concerns also should help, he said.

"Naturally, we want to do whatever we can to address any concerns that people might have," he said. "I'm a realist, and I do know that there are some folks on either side who can't change and find little room for negotiation."

Rounds said he wouldn't direct GF&P to change its open-fields policy. The agency simply uses a set of established legal principles to enforce wildlife laws, he said. Those who compare officers entering fields to check hunters with officers entering private homes without a warrant or probable cause don't understand open fields, he said.

"I think a lot of people have expressed it as being similar to being able to walk in your home, and clearly there's a difference between a warden checking somebody who's obviously hunting and one walking into your home," Rounds said. "I think about 90 percent of the people in South Dakota understand that.

"If you eliminated open fields, the guy who has a large parcel of land is free to do what he wants to," he said.

Logue disagrees. Like others in the lockout movement, he believes open fields is a clear violation of private property rights. The lockout won't likely end until those rights are honored, he said.

Rounds has felt the effects of the lockout in his personal hunting. GF&P commissioner Mert Clarkson, a rancher from Harding County, has closed his land to hunting. And Clarkson's wife, Susan, helps coordinate the lockout effort and keeps track of acreage totals.

Rounds and members of his family had hunted big game on Clarkson's land for several years before the lockout. They haven't hunted there since. Clarkson offered to host Rounds last year and show him public land nearby that was open to hunting, Rounds said.

"I told Mert I appreciated it, but I didn't want our presence up there to put pressure on Mert and his family," Rounds said. "And I didn't want to take a chance that my sons or I would get in the wrong area."

Instead, Rounds hunted near Ardmore on land not included in the lockout.

Copyright 2005, The Rapid City Journal.