- Associated Press - Friday, January 8, 2016

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Aberdeen American News, Aberdeen, Jan. 6, 2016

All indications point to a solid, if not successful, pheasant hunting season in South Dakota.

The season closed Sunday, Jan. 3.

However, the news wasn’t all good. And of course, it never is.

We flushed out some of the good and bad as reflected on the season:

Coming into the season, brood counts in 2015 found an estimated 42 percent jump in the number of birds for the season. That 2015 index was similar to 2011, when hunters bagged an estimated 1.56 million birds.

Last year, hunters bagged 1.23 million birds. While Game, Fish and Parks Department officials won’t have full numbers until April or May, all indications point to a more productive season than in 2014.

Pheasant hunting dollars are important to the state, especially prime pheasant hunting areas, such as Brown and neighboring counties. Last year statewide, pheasant hunters spent an estimated $154.5 million - $127 million by nonresident hunters.

Millions were spent last season in counties such as Brown ($10.6 million), Spink ($7.4 million), Faulk ($5.4 million), Edmunds ($4.4 million), Potter ($3.9 million) and Walworth ($3.8 million).

Just a few years ago, those numbers were much higher. In 2010, hunters spent an estimated $231 million (statewide) and $17 million (Brown County).

There are plenty of people fighting back:

- National conservation group Pheasants Forever in 2014 opened a regional headquarters office in South Dakota (Brookings) in response to a sharp drop in bird numbers and habitat.

- South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard created a statewide pheasant task force in 2013 for the same reason.

- Also created was the Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition. It is paying incentives to Brown County landowners who enroll land in CRP and in the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks walk-in area program, which means the land will be open for public hunting.

- Tim Kessler of Aberdeen last fall received the inaugural Distinguished Conservation Service Award for his work in helping to protect the state’s outdoor heritage.

South Dakota also is fighting the battle to sustain a healthy pheasant population on several fronts:

- Good pheasant numbers are directly tied to good habitat and programs that maintain that habitat, such as the CRP. The state had about 1.5 million acres enrolled in CRP in 2007 and about 880,000 acres in fall 2014.

- South Dakota’s harsh weather can play an important role in creating tremendous, average or poor crops of pheasants.

- Commercialized pheasant hunting is a growing concern. Will South Dakota price itself out of the market? Also, pheasant hunting operations most likely are causing more and more landowners to question whether they should continue to allow free hunting access to their land.

- While the state has continued to look for opportunities to grow its public-access acres, it has become tougher for hunters to find private land on which to hunt.

We wonder what the future will bring in our state regarding pheasants? We hope for the best.

But we know that a productive future for pheasants means that the work on it needs to be ongoing, efficient and organized.


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Jan. 7, 2016

State government officials like to tout their frugal ways. How many times have we heard, for example, that tough choices need to be made to balance the state’s budget? You can expect to hear that common refrain often in the next few weeks when the Legislature considers Medicaid expansion, teacher pay and a tuition freeze for college students.

It’s a legitimate conversation to have during a budget debate, but it is also important for state government to live up to the expectations its own discussions create, which was not the case when the South Dakota Department of Tourism decided to spend nearly $260,000 on a float for the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, and to send four state employees along for what must have been a nice ride.

An expenditure of that amount in the hope that those watching the parade on television or online will stop what they are doing after seeing one of the scores of floats to make or change vacation plans is pure speculation, which should not be the business of those we trust with our tax dollars.

The state funds were used to hire the Phoenix Decorating Company of Southern California to build a 21-foot high and 55-foot long float called “The Great Faces & Places of South Dakota,” which naturally featured Mount Rushmore. It cost $250,000 for the float and another $9,000 to cover the travel costs of Secretary of Tourism Jim Hagen and three of his employees, who spent four nights in Southern California, according to published reports.

The expenditure represents a significant portion of the department’s $8 million annual budget, which means Hagen should have to justify the expense by at least providing a reasonable estimate on the rate of return for this endeavor.

When asked about that, Hagen said the Department of Tourism will need to watch its website to see if there is a bump in traffic after the parade, which seems like a rather passive approach when weighing the success or failure of a one-day $260,000 marketing campaign.

Hagen, however, was able to pull some figures out of his hat in a bid to justify the float and travel expenses.

Even though the float never appeared on ABC’s broadcast of the Jan. 1 parade, Hagen estimates that 120 million people from around the world saw the float either online or on one of the two cable stations that broadcast the parade. He also claims that pre-parade coverage of the parade and float was equivalent to $134,000 in advertising costs.

Of course, it is impossible to verify any of those numbers and it’s doubtful that the majority of the state’s taxpayers will derive any benefit from this expenditure.

Considering the expense and the apparent inability to accurately measure tangible results, it should come as no surprise that South Dakota was the only state to have a float in the parade.

Another common refrain we often hear is the need to run government like a business. If that is what we truly desire in South Dakota, it’s time to stop throwing money at the Rose Parade and either find a more efficient and effective way to market the state or cut the tourism department’s budget and redirect the money to more useful purposes.


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Jan. 6, 2016

South Dakota’s Congressional delegation on Tuesday wasn’t impressed with President Barack Obama’s proposals to limit gun violence.

Obama, during an emotional speech, laid out executive action he is taking to require more gun sellers to get licenses and more gun buyers to undergo background checks.

After Obama spoke to curb gun violence, which he said is responsible for more than 30,000 deaths in America each year, South Dakota’s three Republican elected officials shared similar responses to the president’s actions.

The delegation made excuses against Obama’s proposals and did little to offer a solution to fix what is undoubtedly a problem in the United States, that too many people are murdering others in gun-related deaths.

We’re not impressed with Rep. Kristi Noem or Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds on this one.

To be clear, we’re certainly backers of the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. In fact, at least two members of this editorial board have been hunting in the past two months and all three members have shot a firearm. We’re all law-abiding citizens.

Rounds, South Dakota’s former governor, on Tuesday said, “The executive actions the president announced will make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to legally obtain firearms and do nothing to fix the problem of gun violence. Criminals and terrorists aren’t going to obey the law anyway.”

As law-abiding citizens who own and use guns, we’re OK with a little extra work for a background check to purchase a firearm. Owning a gun is a privilege. Most anyone convicted of a felony, especially if the felony is a violent crime, loses the right to own a firearm.

Law-abiding citizens should be happy to undergo a little extra effort to help weed out the law-breakers. If it helps stop mass shootings and senseless acts of violence, why not?

Don’t we all drive a little slower in school zones to avoid hitting students and parents?

Obama has vowed to make an effort to stop gun violence. And though we’re not thrilled he’s used executive power - which means he’s bypassing Congress’ approval on the actions - we at least appreciate his work. The decision to use executive power came because too little has been done in the past. Democrats and Republicans simply cannot work together to fix this issue, and with tragedy after tragedy, something needed to be done.

Rather than complaining and making excuses about the president’s proposals, our state’s delegation should be working with other lawmakers to continue addressing gun violence in America.

We needed this change to at least attempt to fix the problem. This was a start.

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