- Associated Press - Monday, September 16, 2019

Rapid City Journal, Sept. 13

Brood counts blow holes in predator bounty rationale

Initial results from the state’s Nest Predator Bounty Program appear less than promising.

The state spent nearly $1 million to distribute 16,000 live traps and an additional $500,000 on bounties to incentivize the killing of 54,000 pheasant predators - foxes, skunks, raccoons and others. Mostly raccoons. The state rewarded $10 for each of the first 50,000 tails submitted.

The outcome for pheasants? You decide.

South Dakota’s annual pheasant brood survey showed a 17% decrease in total pheasants from last year, due mainly to an abundance of snow and rain.

In Minnesota, which sponsored no bounty but endured the same snow and rain, pheasant numbers also declined 17% from 2018.

In North Dakota, which sponsored no bounty but is recovering from a serious drought that devastated broods, pheasant numbers increased 10 percent.

In South Dakota, only three of 13 local areas saw increased pheasant numbers over last year. Four areas saw minor declines and seven had double-digit drop-offs.

So what did $1.5 million buy? Apparently, nothing but a lot of tails, which is what wildlife experts predicted. Predators like foxes, skunks and raccoons have an innate ability to replenish their numbers against all but the most Herculean and expensive human interventions.

The three biggest factors affecting pheasant numbers are habitat, habitat and habitat, followed by weather and more weather.

South Dakota habitat trends demonstrate the connection. Over the past 20 years statewide nesting habitat available to pheasants has declined by roughly half. Meanwhile, total pheasant numbers statewide have fallen to a third of what they were a decade ago.

It’s likely impossible to scientifically judge the effectiveness of Gov. Kristi Noem’s predator control experiment. The state itself predicted as much: “In my opinion it’s going to be very difficult to ascertain the benefit of the program,” state wildlife damage specialist Keith Fisk said in March.

A multitude of variables can affect pheasant numbers over such broad areas. The means of collecting data are crude at best. The timeframe necessary to fully assess results complicates matters.

You can bet, however, that had results from the latest pheasant counts been positive, they would have been used to justify the expense. That didn’t happen.

The Game Fish & Parks Commission ramrodded approval of Noem’s predator control program last spring despite the questions raised about its effectiveness. The rationale quickly changed from increasing pheasant numbers to encouraging families to get outdoors.

Here again, program results raise concerns.

Trappers in urban Minnehaha County submitted the greatest number of tails out of South Dakota’s 66 counties, followed by Beadle, Yankton, Turner and Grant counties. A glance at the GF&P; predator control website confirms the program largely benefited East River. Meanwhile, Pennington, Custer, Lawrence and Meade counties altogether accounted for just 1.3 percent of submitted tails.

If the intent is to get kids and families outdoors, GF&P; should entertain something that benefits both halves of the state.

It’s unclear whether Noem and GF&P; will push for a bounty program next year. If they do, they will not need legislative approval because of recent administrative rule changes.

Based on program results, it would seem a bad idea to throw good money after bad. Unless further study demonstrates a benefit to pheasant numbers from the Nest Predator Bounty Program, the money would be better spent on habitat.

The statewide pheasant season begins Oct. 19 and runs through Jan. 5. The three-day resident only season is Oct. 12-14. The limit is three rooster pheasants per day with a possession limit of 15.

Good luck.


Madison Daily Leader, Sept. 12

Latest flood proves more needs to be done

Madison and the surrounding area is battling another flood, an occurrence that seems to be more frequent.

Whether it’s an anomaly, a global warming phenomenon or some other trend, we believe more needs to be done to minimize risk to people and to reduce risk of damage to property.

To be clear, a lot has been done in recent decades to improve the storm water drainage system. Creek bridges have been replaced, shorelines along both creeks and lakes have been stabilized with rock, and houses and businesses along creeks have been purchased and either moved or torn down.

While some observers think this flood event was caused by a rare wet summer followed by rare September deluge, we also thought the same thing about flooding across Highway 81 eighteen miles north of Madison in the twin lakes area. The high water there has have not subsided, but actually risen steadily over recent decades, causing that roadway to be raised substantially (more than 10 feet) twice.

So what more can be done in Lake County?

We believe further mitigation would include several things, but the whole watershed needs to be considered. Water flowing through Madison comes essentially from the entire northwest part of our county, through Lake Herman and other creeks, then through the city to Lake Madison, Round Lake and Brant Lake. We probably need to make improvements at all places in the watershed.

Flood buyout properties might be a potential solution. While the green spaces have been partially effective in gathering rainwater, we think many of those properties can be engineered to help even more. If they were shaped into detention ponds, the properties could perhaps reduce the flow through the city at peak times.

More bridges in Madison are scheduled to be replaced, which would prevent the blockage that often causes the worst problems. And more buildings may need to be removed from the flood plain.

We are grateful for the extraordinary response of all those who are helping those in need. We’d like to reduce the number of times those responders are needed in the future.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Sept. 12

Noem draws the line on hemp

It’s only September, but we already have a major showdown lined up for this winter’s South Dakota legislative session.

The question is, why?

Why has Gov. Kristi Noem already announced that she intends to shoot down any industrial hemp legislation that makes it to her desk next session?

Frankly, it’s a big gamble on her part.

Noem successfully thwarted the passage of hemp legislation last session after a lot of support was displayed in Pierre for this potential new cash crop. The governor vetoed the bill that came from lawmakers, who then fell just short of overriding her veto.

Supporters of industrial hemp immediately set a goal of developing a new package for the 2020 session. There was also a summer study legislative group formed that is examining the issue to determine the best way forward. One member of the group noted that Noem recently sent 315 questions to them to be answered.

But now, the governor has already given HER answer. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece this week, she declared she will veto any hemp measure.

This sets up what will likely be one of the most intensely watched and fiercely waged legislative battles this winter.

It also creates an inexplicable war of political wills.

Industrial hemp was illegal in this country for decades after it was caught up in the anti-marijuana crusades of the 1930s. Hemp’s biggest crime is that it looks like the marijuana that is consumed to get high; hemp lacks enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for that to happen.

But industrial hemp finally got the green light for production in the 2018 Farm Bill - which Noem, then a representative in Congress, supported.

Now, as governor, she wants nothing to do with hemp because, she asserts, it could compromise law enforcement’s fight against marijuana. She pointed to problems in telling hemp apart from pot, as well as determining the THC levels in suspect substances. In fact, she and her office are tying hemp and marijuana together at most every opportunity, which reflects the unfortunate mindset that handcuffed hemp production in this country for decades - and which, while in Congress, she voted to undo.

Meanwhile, 47 states have now embraced industrial hemp production, either through full-scale cultivation or limited testing. South Dakota, Montana and Idaho are the only holdouts. Which means they are behind the curve already in hemp development

Are there legitimate concerns? Probably.

But should they be deal breakers?

Forty-seven states don’t think so. In all likelihood, they know there are some gray areas of overlap, but those issues can be dealt with as those states work to develop a crop that could boost their agricultural economies and help this nation catch up with other hemp-growing countries, who are years ahead of us already.

Noem argues that hemp isn’t an economic “savior” for farmers, but even pro-hemp advocates aren’t saying it is. Instead, it’s a new possibility for revenue and for diversification at a time when the farming economy could really use a boost.

But again, the real intrigue may be why the governor has picked this issue to flex her political muscle.

She was able to scuttle the hemp drive last winter when it looked like the issue was going to roll through the statehouse, but the executive resistance came with some odd mechanics. In particular, there was a vote taken in the Senate which lawmakers supporting hemp thought they had won handily, only to learn that the motion had failed because it had been discreetly reclassified as revenue legislation that required a two-thirds super-majority to pass. Lesson learned, these lawmakers won’t let their guard down again this winter on such housekeeping matters.

So, Noem is picking a fight with a large majority of lawmakers who are regrouping and recruiting after last winter’s tough legislative loss to push the issue home.

And she’s picking it awfully early, even while an industrial hemp task force is still researching the matter.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Republican from Platte who is a staunch supporter of hemp, responded to Noem’s Journal declaration by saying he was “surprised she drew the line in the sand this early on.”

But he’s not backing down. “I don’t think we should wait any longer,” he said. “I think we need to get this on the books.”

Noem’s early opposition does indeed draw a line, but make no mistake, hemp advocates are going to be better prepared for the next round.

This will be a fascinating war to watch, with a lot at stake.

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