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South Dakota GF&P considering plan to sell six tracts of game production land

Game production areas no longer efficient for public, habitat use

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South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is considering selling six tracts of land in eastern South Dakota after determining the properties are no longer efficient at providing wildlife habitat support or public hunting and recreational opportunities. Pictured is the entrance to the the Schartner Ditch Game Production Area west of Marion near Silver Lake, one of the tracts the agency is considering selling. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

PIERRE — In the market for some used game production area land? South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks may have a deal for you.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks commission is considering a plan to sell six tracts of land in eastern South Dakota after an audit of the department’s properties revealed several to no longer be efficient in developing wildlife or providing the public with hunting and outdoors opportunities. The commission is expected to revisit the issue at its next meeting in July.

Paul Coughlin, a habitat supervisor with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, said the notion of selling some GF&P properties came up when the commission decided to conduct an evaluation of its land holdings to see which properties were fulfilling their goals and which ones were not.

“This really got going when we, as an agency, decided to do an evaluation of our game production areas to figure out what we need to do to improve the habitat and public use opportunities,” Coughlin told the Mitchell Republic recently. “It helped us recognize that there are some areas out there, for whatever reason, that no longer meet the need of the public or agency for providing the public hunting opportunity and habitat.”

The review boiled the various properties the GF&P maintains in South Dakota, which totals about 283,000 acres’ worth of land, down to six locations that the agency would, in theory, be willing to part with. Those six areas include:

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  • West Lake Poinsett GPA; 40 acres; four miles southeast of Lake Norden in Hamlin County; appraised value: $100,000.

  • South Buffalo Lake East GPA; 60 acres; 7.5 miles east of Eden in Marshall County; appraised value: $48,000.

  • Mondry Portion of Pickerel Lake GPA; 9 acres; 6 miles east of Grenville in Day County; appraised value: $112,500.

  • Mallard Slough GPA; about 80 acres; 14 miles northeast of Huron in Beadle County; appraised value: $56,000.

  • North Sanborn GPA; about 51 acres; 9 miles northeast of Woonsocket in Sanborn County; appraised value: $137,000.

  • Schartner Ditch GPA; about 15 acres; 7 miles northwest of Marion in Turner County; appraised value: $30,000.

Land All Properties GPA by Erik Kaufman on Scribd

The six properties, scattered across locations in separate East River counties, encompass about 250 acres total and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Coughlin said the reasoning behind considering these six properties was that the GF&P was not getting its money’s worth in maintaining the property for public habitat and use, and that the proceeds of the sale of those properties could go toward acquisition of new lands that could better meet wildlife and public needs.

The review went over GF&P land holdings and the long list was eventually whittled down to the six candidate properties.

“These properties were ones that we felt that we spent a lot of money on and did not improve anything. The decision was made to look at these and propose to get rid of a few of them that are further down on the list in terms of value. Let’s take some of those and go through the process of disposing of them. It allows us to focus efforts to acquire properties where we have those opportunities,” Coughlin said.

The six properties ended up on the short list for a number of reasons. In some cases, the land has poor accessibility, being landlocked or accessible only through a section line that lies underwater, making it difficult for the public to get on to the land. Some are small or oddly shaped, which doesn’t lend to effective habitat management. In other cases, the property just didn’t realize its potential as a game production area, despite the best efforts of the GF&P.

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Schartner Ditch Game Production Area, located about 7 miles west of Marion near Silver Lake, is one of six properties the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is considering selling. The SDGFP commission will revisit the proposal at its July meeting. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

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For others, the land around the property has changed in the years since GF&P acquired it, with homes and cabins being constructed nearby or on adjacent property.

“One thing that has changed over the years, for instance, at Pickerel Lake or Lake Poinsett, it was much less developed around those properties. Our neighbors have changed. We see development next to these, and that detracts from their value as a wildlife habitat and for public use,” Coughlin said.

Part of the review involved tracing the properties’ history with the GF&P. Coughlin said the land tracts in question have likely been in the state system for 30 years or longer, and uncovering the motivation the agency may have had back then to acquire some of these properties has been elusive.

“One of the things we tried as we went through the process and did the research was to figure out when we bought it and under what conditions we bought it,” Coughlin said. “Some of these go back decades from when we bought it, and we scratched our heads because we didn’t understand why we bought this property.”

If the sale is approved by the South Dakota GF&P Commission, the land would be surplused and then given an official evaluation before being offered for sale at auction. The valuation of the property would serve as a reserve bid on the property, meaning those bidding on the property would have to at least offer as much as the valuation in order for the sale to go through.

Though the properties may have come to the end of their usefulness for the GF&P, they may be of use or interest to members of the public, Coughlin said.

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South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is considering selling six tracts of land in eastern South Dakota after determining the properties are no longer efficient at providing wildlife habitat support or public hunting and recreational opportunities. Pictured is the entrance to the the Schartner Ditch Game Production Area west of Marion near Silver Lake, one of the tracts the agency is considering selling. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

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“Who would have interest in these properties? It could be a local farmer or rancher. It could be someone interested in recreational opportunities or possible development,” Coughlin said.

Ryan Wieman, a third-generation land broker and auctioneer with Wieman Land and Auction in Marion, said actual government real estate sold through surplus and at auction is fairly rare. He said the state was fairly aggressive in purchasing land in the 1980s when prices were considerably lower than they are now.

“Back when I was younger when land was cheap, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a couple of hundred bucks an acre. Maybe $300 or $400. And it made sense to buy. And then it went up in price,” Wieman said. “Then they backed away from buying.”

Wieman could not recall the last time his business, which has been operating since 1949, sold surplus government land at auction, though they occasionally have sold property that was claimed for taxes and then sold.


“Who would have interest in these properties? It could be a local farmer or rancher. It could be someone interested in recreational opportunities or possible development."

— Paul Coughlin, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Habitat Supervisor


But he does know there should be a wide range of interest if the commission elects to sell.

“Everybody out there is looking for their own little piece of hunting ground or paradise,” Wieman said.

For the state, proceeds from a sale of the land could go toward other purchases to serve game production areas more efficiently. In other cases, the funds could go toward expanding more productive game production areas.

“Taking some of those and going through the disposal process allows us to focus efforts on acquiring properties where we have those opportunities. In particular, (newly purchased land) might adjoin with something that we already own,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin said he expected the proposal to be on the agenda for the July 8-9 virtual meeting of the commission. It may elect to move forward with the sale at that time, but for the moment, the agency is taking public input on the matter, inviting interested parties to contact them with questions and to review details of the property.

“It’s a proposal in front of the commission. There is a printout of the properties and their size and location and appraised value, but also maps,” Coughlin said. “We’re looking for public input for folks to let us know if this is the route we should go or what we should consider.”

Inquiries can be sent to wildinfo@state.sd.us or by calling the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks at 605-223-7660.

Related Topics: REAL ESTATE
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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