MERCER: Governor’s office takes on a more direct role in GF&PIt is a matter of some intrigue that the Daugaard administration would start dispatching members of the governor’s senior staff to meetings of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.
It is a matter of some intrigue that the Daugaard administration would start dispatching members of the governor’s senior staff to meetings of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.
Wildlife management is at issue, specifically regarding mountain lions, elk, deer and antelope. The order has come down that an outside consultant will be contracted.
The purpose will be to review and advise the state Wildlife Division on methods for estimating the populations of big-game animals in South Dakota, and shaping those populations through hunting pressure.
For some reason, people on the state Capitol’s second floor now want to play God, too, rather than just letting that up to the Division of Wildlife’s trained biologists.
This situation has been building for several years. You catch only snippets, but over the months they have added up to a clear sense that at least some members of the commission, current and past, don’t agree with the biologists.
The Wildlife Division enjoyed loose reins for many years. There was sufficient support in the Legislature for the division to turn back attempts by some lawmakers to take tighter control.
That was especially so when John Cooper was the secretary of game, fish and parks in the Janklow and Rounds administrations, and Doug Hansen was director for the Wildlife Division.
People change, times change, and wildlife population changes, too.
The commission granted more and more opportunities for hunters to take elk and deer by expanding the types of seasons. When populations became too large, limits were expanded, too, for deer and antelope.
Mountain lions seem to be more numerous in the Black Hills than earlier thought. Lions are linked to troubles in the elk, deer, sheep and goat numbers.
With the move to a 100-lion harvest in the Black Hills for 2013, the commission looks to be on a path to continue raising the annual quota for lions, until that quota isn’t reached for the first time.
We are at a point where sides are taking shape and accusations of conspiracy have replaced trust.
GFP Secretary Jeff Vonk, a carryover from the Rounds administration, came to the job from outside South Dakota. He spent much of his career in the federal sector of professional resource management.
In that light, perhaps it isn’t surprising that the Daugaard administration now would consider seeking an outside consultant.
John Cooper remains involved deeply, as a member now of the commission. Most, and perhaps all, of the senior leaders in the Wildlife Division including director Tony Leif began their rise as members of the staff during the Cooper era.
Dating back to the Mickelson administration’s push to increase pheasants, the past 25 years have seen a steady push from the Wildlife Division to expand hunting opportunities in South Dakota.
The list of more is long.
Today we have too many Canada geese year-round, especially in the northeast, and too many turkeys for some folks in some places.
For many years we had too many elk coming down from the Black Hills. We have white-tailed deer moving west. Depending on the year and the place, we can have too many deer and too many antelope.
As a continent we have too many snow geese and Canada geese – so many that some of the most liberalized hunting seasons we’ll see in our lifetimes don’t seem to be making a dent.
Meanwhile we struggle against disease and predators to stabilize populations of sheep and goats in the mountains.
It’s “we” because wildlife belong to the people in South Dakota rather than to the landowners on whose properties they make their lives.
The Wildlife Division has been able to engage in this propagation of species and the expansion of public hunting opportunities because of the millions of dollars that flow into South Dakota annually from non-resident pheasant hunters.
It was a portion of these monies, set into reserve through the years, which paid for construction of the Outdoor Campus West facility in Rapid City.
That magnificent complex is symbolic of the freedom enjoyed by the Wildlife Division.
The state Division of Parks and Recreation budget comes under scrutiny and control by the Legislature. But the Wildlife Division doesn’t.
That is because of a case won by Gov. William J. Bulow in the 1920s, when the state Supreme Court took his side in a fight with the Legislature, over spending of fees collected for hunting and fishing licenses.
Bulow succeeded in turning back the Legislature’s attempt to use those fees for other purposes of state government.
The challenge for the Wildlife Division has been to use its freedom responsibly, and likewise for the commission.
Since the Daugaard administration took office in January 2011, the commission has drastically reduced its land purchases.
With the plans now to issue a request for proposals from consultants, a new approach from the governor is moving into place for big-game.
The RFP lists nine specific “questions of inquiry” to be answered by the project and nine areas of examination of the division’s processes, from budgets and seasons, to license allocations and harvests.
Also, interviews are to be conducted with GFP employees, commissioners, hunters and members of the general public regarding their perceptions about big-game management in South Dakota.
The governor’s office intends to have the proposals ready for the commission to see at the December meeting. The governor’s office will select the contractor.
We can only watch from outside and wonder where this new level of involvement might lead. Such is the nature of wildlife management.More from around the web