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Legislative Update Week 3: January 23-29, 2011

January 30, 2011

submitted by Edward Raventon
lobbyist for the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club

Senate Bill 55 (SB 55), a bill to allow the shooting of coyotes from a snowmobile was amended a good deal before it passed the Senate Ag & Natural Resource Committee. Amendments specified that the shooter must be the landowner or land lessee and at least 18 years of age, that the snowmobile must be stationary at the time of the shooting, and that any firearm may be used. The arguments against the bill were made by sportsmen and SD Game Fish & Parks who view coyote hunting as an extension of fair chase game laws vs. landowners who perceive coyotes as livestock predators. Solid arguments were made by both sides. The final most telling argument came in the form of an anecdote. One of the Senators asked a West River rancher what he thought of the proposed bill. The rancher said, “I do it (hunt coyotes all the time from a snow machine). I didn’t know it was illegal.” If this bill becomes law it will simply legitimize a common de facto practice. It goes to the full Senate next.

HB 1086 is a piece of legislation that sought to “require the Department of Game, Fish and Parks to receive the approval of the Senate before acquiring certain land”. This bill was an attempt to slow the process of public land acquisition by GF&P and/or siphon off their funds for other purposes. This bill died quickly when it was pointed out by Sec. Vonk that GF&P acquires all of its revenue from the sales of state hunting and fishing licenses and Federal Excise taxes on the sale of hunting and fishing sporting equipment. All of these funds are restricted by both state and federal statute specifically for the use of developing fish and wildlife resources.

HB 1001 and 1002‘s intent which I defined last week is to standardize agricultural land value for taxation by creating a statistical database for value assessment based on uses, income and land variability. There was another bill added to these two as promised by Rep. Dennert: HB 1097 “that provides for the assessment of certain agricultural land as non-cropland”. HB 1097 will provide a lower property tax incentive for owners who choose to create easements and/or maintain land in non-cropland (i.e. grass, wetlands, etc.) and will I believe be great for wildlife and conservation. Dennert is confident they will get a “do pass” next week and Rep. Street, another co-sponsor, described them to me as a “slam-dunk”. I hope they are right.

HB 1195 is an act “to restrict, under certain circumstances, the creation and transfer of conservation easements”. This bill is an insidious attempt to undermine and/or nullify every conservation easement attached to a piece of property sold in the state. HB 1195 needs to be opposed vigorously by all people interested in maintaining and protecting the integrity of conservation easements. It will eventually be heard in the House Judiciary and I will put out an alert to contact members of this committee and your district representatives when it comes up for a hearing sometime in February.

In ancillary news, both the House and Senate Ag & Nat. Res. committees were briefed by Mr. Walt Bones, the SD Sec. of Agriculture on their work and services. Following is a brief summation of the status of some of their activities that I found relevant to conservation and interesting.

Mr. Bones started out by saying that one third of the state’s “economic engine” is driven by agriculture, and ag producers are major players in land use, pest control, animal husbandry and land and water conservation practices.

The Forestry Division reported a 50% reduction in the spread of Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) tree attacks in the 73,000 acres of Custer State Park however, the bad news is that private forest land in the Black Hills has seen a dramatic increase in infestation up from 2,000 infected pines in 2009 to over 32,000 in 2010 with numbers still rising. This infestation began in the late 1990s and occurred primarily on National Forest land. It shows no sign of abating in large part due to global climate change that has resulted in a succession of relatively, mild winters in the Black Hills. Ray Sowers, State Forestry Director, noted that ground snow cover now comes later in the fall and leaves earlier in the spring. He added that it takes a severe, cold winter snap to kill beetles that overwinter under the bark of pines to slow the spread of these insects. This has not happened in over a dozen years.

The second serious pest, which may prove more devastating than MPB, is the Emerald Ash Borer. This is an Asian invader that in the last 8 years has devastated tens of millions of deciduous trees in 14 northeastern and Midwestern states. It is now in eastern Minnesota, poised to enter South Dakota. Borers are typically spread by people bringing infected ash firewood into campgrounds where insect larvae can emerge and lay their eggs in other trees. Emerald Ash borers have the potential to do to Ash trees what the Dutch Elm Bark beetles did to elms a few decades ago. At this point, with no known treatment, the Emerald Ash borer appears to be a nasty, virulent pest.

Salt Cedar or Tamarisk, an Asian tree brought to the US decades ago as an ornamental, is now well established on riparian waterways in the American Southwest. One tree is capable of absorbing 200 gallons of water/day and choking streams down appreciably. A scourge in the Southwest, it is now established in all the major river ecosystems in the South Dakota. Kevin Fridley, Dir. of Ag Services, urges everyone to report sightings of this plant to the state Ag Dept. wherever they encounter it in the wild or in yards across the state. He can be contacted at 605.773.3724 or Kevin.Fridley@state.sd.us.

Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, state veterinarian with the Animal Industry Board, presented some interesting statistics on livestock in the state. He noted that 7.2 million animals, including cattle, sheep, horses, swine, poultry, dogs and cats, entered the state last year and were monitored for disease. Presently 3.5 million cows call SD home, a number that in comparison dwarfs the number of human primates that live here.

Oedekoven noted that during the last several years, there have been no reports in captive cervid (deer/elk) herds in the state of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) but it still remains present in wild cervids in the Black Hills.

State Fair Park in Huron has seen an increase both in events and in revenue. The railroad deeded 85 acres as a state fair ground in 1905 and it has since grown to 170 acres comprising 90 buildings with an annual operating budget of $2 million. Attendance has also increased markedly from 136,000 in 2006 to 178,000 in 2010. Events have also significantly increased to 86 in 2010. The State Fair experience appears to be making a comeback.

One final note, after listening to members of the Senate Ag & Nat. Res. committee discuss “carbon footprints” and atmospheric CO2, it is still evident that many either don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge the difference between “weather” and “climate”. This is unfortunate as CO2 continues to increase and accumulate in the atmosphere with devastating consequences for more turbulent “weather”. Last year South Dakota experienced 12 major weather events that qualified for disaster assistance—a record.

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