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MERCER: Uncertainty faces GFP Commission

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MERCER: Uncertainty faces GFP Commission
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- This summer a consulting firm is analyzing the process for setting seasons and allocating licenses for hunting deer, elk, antelope and mountain lion in South Dakota.

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The study is underway because Gov. Dennis Daugaard ordered it.

Months into the work, members of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission don't know what to expect -- other than their budget will pay a bill up to $131,050.

The governor's office chose the consultant, Wildlife Management Institute. The commission was directed to cover the cost.

Now the commissioners are waiting.

They talked for a while one morning last week about what to do with the results. They don't know if they will get a draft copy of the report, before the final version is delivered late this summer or early this fall. They don't know what the report will cover or how deep it will reach. They don't know if they should publicly respond to the findings and recommendations. They also don't know how the governor wants them proceed. There are no dummies among the seven men and women who comprise the commission. There's actually a lot of steel in their spines and a lot gray in most of their hair. All of them were appointed by either the previous governor, Mike Rounds, or by Gov. Daugaard. A seat on the commission means a lot of work. Yet it also is a privilege coveted by many.

The current seven -- Susie Knippling of Gann Valley, John Cooper of Pierre, Jim Spies of Watertown, Barry Jensen of White River, Cathy Peterson of Salem, Duane Sather of Sioux Falls and Gary Jensen of Rapid City -- take their responsibilities seriously.

That's why they're wondering what they should do when the final version of the study is released.

The commission by law should have eight members. But since Bill Cerny's resignation last meeting in November, the eighth seat has been empty.

Eight months have passed. The governor's staff can't find an acceptable person who meets the criteria -- a Democrat who is a rancher or farmer in western South Dakota -- for the vacancy.

As to why the governor decided the big-game study was needed, that's a mystery. If any commissioner knows for certain, it hasn't been said publicly.

The consultant is studying the strengths, weaknesses and possible improvements in the process used by the commission.

The consultant hasn't sent anyone to the commission's monthly meetings. Nor does the governor's office.

Here's the oddest part.

The governor's office doesn't know either, at least not yet, how the results will be handled.

"Once the review is completed, the report and its findings will be made public," said Nathan Sanderson, who's overseeing the study project for the governor's office. "Based on those findings, we'll develop a plan to implement any necessary changes."

He said the commission, the Game, Fish and Parks Department staff, and what he described as "other stakeholders" will be involved in that process.

Asked for further details, Sanderson replied: "We will begin to formulate a more specific plan once we get the results of WMI's review."

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