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OPEN LETTER TO GOV: Heed your own words, end ban on GF&P land buys

Chris Hesla

An open letter to Gov. Daugaard:

Dear Sir,

Last month you issued an executive proclamation dedicating Oct. 20 as Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Day in South Dakota -- a meaningful gesture on your part in support of perhaps the most important conservation legislation to ever pass from the halls of Congress.

You stated, "South Dakota has some of the finest hunting and fishing found in the United States and throughout our state's history, hunters and anglers have provided most all of the funds that support management of our state's fish and wildlife resources."

This was an astute but highly ironic observation from someone who less than two years ago took action to all but eliminate perhaps the most important tool available to South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks -- purchasing lands for wildlife habitat conservation and public hunting and fishing access opportunities.

If you truly care about South Dakota's wildlife and fisheries resources -- and the hunters and anglers who live here and visit here -- you would know these same hunters and anglers also passionately support Game, Fish & Parks' efforts to purchase lands for public use.

Perhaps the most telling gesture is when local conservation clubs step forward with extra money to support purchases. It's time for you to do the right thing and end the unnecessary and ill-advised land purchase moratorium.

The GF&P and other agencies must continue to purchase lands for the public's use. A critical function of government is to promote public resource acquisition and management of those lands.

The purchase of marginally productive agricultural land from willing sellers for wildlife production, public hunting and fishing access benefits all involved parties. Thoughtful, thorough and very public consideration is given to all purchase proposals.

Larger farms and ranches and more land unavailable because of commercial hunting mean the hard working men and women of South Dakota have fewer places to hunt. The average South Dakota hunter truly believes we need more quality areas to hunt and is willing to pay his or her fair share to purchase more public lands.

Please remember:

• Larger farms and ranches and more land unavailable because of commercial hunting mean the hard working citizens of South Dakota have fewer places to go.

• The GF&P does not use any general fund tax dollars to purchase wildlife lands.

• All monies used are license dollars and matching federal funds from taxes paid by sportsmen and women when buying sporting goods.

• All property taxes are paid at the same rate as the neighboring private lands.

• GF&P can only pay the appraised value of the land, and most lands are not considered prime locations for agriculture productions.

• There is also an individual property rights issue: It is a basic right of landowners to sell their land to whomever they choose, including the GF&P.

Gov. Daugaard, please do the right thing. Sportsmen and women also vote and deserve your consideration.