- Associated Press - Friday, June 2, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota legislative panel endorsed a set of rules Friday for outdoor enthusiasts who want to use lakes on private land for recreation, teeing up a special legislative session on the issue as early as this month.

Lawmakers on the study committee voted 13-2 for a draft bill that restores access to nearly 30 lakes for public recreation hampered after a recent state Supreme Court decision on publicly-owned bodies of water over privately-owned land. The longstanding issue has vexed landowners and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

The study was in response to a high court ruling that said the Legislature must determine if and how the public can use so-called nonmeandered waters for recreation. Since the decision, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks has limited access to infrastructure on more than 20 lakes in the state.

It came after Day County landowners filed a lawsuit seeking to secure injunctions against hunters and anglers and the department that would prevent public use of lakes on their property.

All waters in South Dakota are public property. Nonmeandered waters are bodies of water - usually smaller in size - that weren’t specially designated during government surveys in the late 1800s.

Bodies of water have since formed on flooded private property and created good fishing, but it’s come at the cost of productive land that agriculture producers have lost.

Republican Sen. Brock Greenfield, the panel’s vice chairman, said the committee tried to recognize the interests of the state, sportsmen, landowners and “main street South Dakota.”

“Our state needs clarity on this issue, and frankly we can’t afford to go a whole summer without the kind of recreation that we’ve currently lost to surrounding states,” Greenfield said.

The bill specifies that lakes on private property are open for recreational use unless a landowner installs signs saying an area is closed. Property owners could grant permission to use the water, but the measure would bar them from getting compensation in exchange for allowing fishing on a lake over their land.

Officials hope to hold a special legislative session soon to consider the proposal, which would sunset in 2021. Gov. Dennis Daugaard in a statement encouraged the Legislature to work together to find a solution to the long-standing issue.

“This bill is a good compromise that balances the rights of landowners with the ability for sportsmen to use public waters for recreation,” Daugaard said.


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