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Opinion: Looking out for state's wildlife isn't a bad thing

My dad had a deep affection for the land and the wildlife of South Dakota. He loved hunting, didn't mind fishing, paused to watch a hawk circle or listen to a meadowlark's song and breathed deeper whenever he stopped the truck on a high spot in the pasture and took in the Lyman County countryside spread out below him.

My dad also had, with his big brother Frank, a 3,000-acre cattle and grain farm to operate. Sometimes, the farming and the love of wildlife didn't square with each other, much the way a new drive shaft on a 25-year-old pickup might not line up just right.

I was thinking about that as I read a recent news story about an attempt to re-introduce a hunting bird called the osprey to an area of the Missouri River near Yankton. I know nothing about osprey, but the photo I saw in the newspaper made one of them look as big as an eagle, and that's one big bird of prey. Apparently, the osprey once inhabited this part of the country but has become threatened, one of the categories used in the federal Endangered Species Act. That act sometimes raises conflicts between wildlife and land use.

The goal of the Endangered Species Act, I gather, is to try to preserve species of animals, fish and birds that are threatened with extinction. Sometimes the threat to the continued existence of a species is another species, a natural predator. Other times, it seems to be civilization and the way that has changed the natural world.

Back on the farm, my dad taught me to use care when mowing. If I came across a nest near the fencerow in a field, I was to lift the sickle bar and go around that spot. Even though I worked for a man who hated to see any uncut grass or alfalfa in a field, his desire for a clean cut was trumped by concern for young chicks in the wild.

That said, if that little patch of grass or weeds had been the difference between making it on the farm and losing the place, well, I think I know what the choice would have been.

The piping plover and least tern are threatened or endangered birds along the Missouri River in South Dakota. Their welfare plays a part in how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages river flows and rates of water released from the dams.

For six or seven years, I was editor of Pierre's daily newspaper, the Capital Journal. Now and then, I got to sit and talk with R.B. Hipple, who was publisher and editorial writer at the paper until he reached the age of 90. The old gentleman knew the Missouri River's history, laws and management plans. He could cite virtually every important date and action from the start of the Flood Control Act in 1944 until he retired, and he could recite whole passages of testimony from various river meetings and hearings.

He told me once that the management plan was created with a series of priority uses for the river, and the Endangered Species Act, when it came along three decades after the original law passed, sort of jumped line. Original priorities included flood control, hydropower, navigation and irrigation, he said. When the ESA barged into the list, it caused some reshuffling of other priorities.

That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, he said. It just created a bit more tension among river interests.

That's kind of what my dad probably would have thought, too.

Terry Woster's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays in The Daily Republic.