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House nixes 30-year limit on conservation easements

PIERRE -- The state House of Representatives argued a long time Wednesday about perpetuity.

Specifically, House members debated whether landowners in South Dakota should continue to be allowed to engage in perpetual conservation easements on their properties with the federal government.

More than a dozen lawmakers spoke. In the end, the House voted against limiting conservation easements to a maximum of 30 years. The vote was 22 in favor and 45 against.

The legislation, House Bill 1087, was brought by Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City. She said that a perpetual easement means the current landowner as well as every future landowner loses the choice of how to use the land.

"Just bear that in mind. This is a protection of property rights," Olson said. She added, "Times change. People change. Land use changes."

Rep. David Sigdestad, D-Pierpont, supported her position. He said the easement issue "is very close to my heart." He said he is a conservationist and a hunter, but he ran into difficulties farming land that his mother-in-law put into easements.

Sigdestad said the landowner gets a payment and taxes must still be paid on the land.

"But what do the succeeding generations get? Nothing," he said.

Rep. Dennis Feickert, D-Aberdeen, said he has land under perpetual grass easement. He said he knew what he was doing when he signed the deal.

"I have a hard time voting in favor of this," he said.

Two instances that need to be considered are the permanent impacts from the loss of natural wetlands and a loss of private interest in protecting areas that have wildlife, said Rep. Charles Hoffman, R-Eureka. He called for the bill's defeat.

Hoffman said he could have considered supporting a 99-year limit.

"But 30 years is a drop of a hat. It is a heartbeat," he said.

The 30-year limit is an infringement on private property rights, according to Rep. Mike Verchio, R-Hill City.

"The individual landowner ought to have that choice. Nobody is forcing those people to do this," he said.