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Print

Public may feel left out of SD big-game management

May 21, 2013 at 10:52 PM

The Associated Press


PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The half dozen people who attended a meeting on big-game management suggested Wednesday that many South Dakota hunters and landowners feel their views are not taken into consideration in the management of deer, elk, antelope and mountain lions in the state.

The meeting was held by a consulting firm hired by the state to evaluate how the Game, Fish and Parks Department manages big game. The Wildlife Management Institute will issue a report by the end of September to recommend ways the department can improve its management systems.

Wednesday evening's meeting in Pierre consisted of two members of the Game, Fish and Parks Commission, an appointed board that makes decisions on hunting, fishing and state parks; two state lawmakers; a former Game, Fish and Parks manager; and one hunter. A similar meeting was held Tuesday in Brookings. A third is set for Thursday in Rapid City, where a larger crowd is expected because of the controversy surrounding management of mountain lions in the Black Hills.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard called for the review after persistent complaints about big-game management, particularly in the Black Hills. Many hunters want more mountain lions killed because they believe the lions are reducing the deer and elk populations, while others believe the commission is putting the mountain lion population at risk by issuing too many lion hunting licenses.

Francis Taft, a hunter from Pierre, said the lack of other hunters at the meeting indicates how they feel about the way hunting seasons are set.

"I think there's kind of a prevailing attitude among hunters I've talked to that their opinion really doesn't count," Taft said.

Susie Knippling, a member of the Game, Fish and Parks Commission, said public input doesn't seem to play a very big role in big-game management.

"From being on the commission, I don't know that there is any public input in the process. I think that's where landowner's feel upset," she said.

Knippling said some meetings are held to get public input on game management, but that input doesn't necessarily make it into setting policy.

George Vandel, a former manager in the department's Wildlife Division, said South Dakota's big-game management has always been driven by how many deer and elk farmers and ranchers would tolerate on their land. When feed is plentiful, landowners put up with a lot of deer, but they don't want many deer when drought or a bad winter reduces the supply of hay and other feed, he said.

"In South Dakota, we manage big-game populations at landowner tolerance levels," Vandel said.

Game wardens spend a lot of time talking with farmers and ranchers to gather input that is used when the department staff makes recommendations to the commission, which has the final say on hunting seasons, he said.

Rep. Mary Duvall, R-Pierre, said she grew up in the Black Hills, where it seemed all landowners opposed everything the Game, Fish and Parks Department did. She said landowners would complain about damage caused by big game, but then would not let hunters on their land to kill deer because they were mad at the department.

Knippling said the Game, Fish and Parks Department deserves credit for improving its communication with the public. A system that uses email to give hunters notice about commission meetings and proposals has helped, she said.

"They are getting better about letting people know about different things that are going on," Knippling said.

People who do not attend the meetings held by the consulting firm can submit written comments by email to SDcomments(at)wildlifemgt.org or by mail to Wildlife Management Institute, 1440 Upper Bermudian Road, Gardners, PA, 17324.

___

Follow Chet Brokaw on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/chetbrokaw


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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