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South Dakota works to open hunters' access to public land

PIERRE (AP) -- The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department is trying to improve hunter access to public land that is "landlocked" by private land.

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PIERRE (AP) - The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department is trying to improve hunter access to public land that is "landlocked" by private land.

The department is launching an effort to open or ease access to about 50,000 acres (20,235 hectares) of the 290,000 currently inaccessible acres (117,360 hectares), the Capital Journal reported.

Some of the landlocked pieces of land have been effectively closed to the public for decades.

Mike Cornelison works with the School and Public Lands' office, which manages about 197,000 acres of the state's inaccessible public land. He said section lines have been abandoned or weathered away, making it impossible to know the public right-of-way location. This has led to issues between landowners and hunters, he said.

The Game, Fish and Parks Department is negotiating with landowners to let hunters cross through their land.

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"We've never really attempted to do something like this before," said Kevin Robling, special projects coordinator.

The department is first working through the frustrations that landowners may have with hunters near their property.

"You wouldn't believe how often landowners talk about gates left open, people driving on muddy roads and littering," Robling said.

Department officials then negotiate legal avenues for property owners to allow hunters access to the land, such as a walk-in program lease or an easement agreement.

Nathan Baker is leading the project in central South Dakota. No landowners have agreed to the department's offers yet, he said.

"I think it's something that may take some time," said Baker, noting that the project is just getting started.

Robling agreed, saying that the work will take long-term relationship building.

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