CHAMBERLAIN -- Proposed changes to the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks trapping regulations sparked mixed emotions and tense debate Thursday during the GF&P Commissioners meeting in Chamberlain.

During the public forum portion of the meeting, a handful of state residents shared their thoughts on the proposed trapping changes. Modifying the allotted time the GF&P currently allows for East and West River trappers, and euthanizing policies, were among the most significant proposal changes requested by some South Dakota residents.

Each individual who spoke to the commission was allowed a time limit of 3 minutes, which was contested early on in the public forum. After hearing a substantial amount of feedback during the public forum, the GF&P Commissioners unanimously voted to deny making any of the requested changes to the trapping regulations.

Nancy Hilding, a representative with the Prairie Hills Audubon Society in Black Hawk, voiced her opposition to the GF&P’s current regulations, citing animal cruelty as the main concern.

“Under state statute, anything the GF&P approves is not considered animal cruelty. And leaving the animals in those traps for three whole days is animal cruelty,” Hilding said. “I understand you listen to the trappers, but you have to listen to the voices of animals that can’t talk.”

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In addition, Hilding expressed her concerns regarding the time span that animals are held in the trappers’ snares -- which are the traps used to catch animals.

“A friendly amendment to our trapper rules would be to allow for the GF&P to release the animal, euthanize it or rehabilitate it,” Hilding said. “What we really want is to have a daily checking of the trap. Leaving the animals in those traps for three whole days is animal cruelty.”

Under the current trapping regulations, East River trappers have two days (48-hours) to check their snares for any caught animals, while West River trappers have three days (72-hours). According to the GF&P, there are roughly 30 animal species that can be trapped.

Another proposed change to the trapping regulations requested the GF&P create a new administrative rule that would allow anyone who received the GF&P’s permission to release or euthanize an animal that was trapped in a snare for a period of longer than 24-hours.

With the relatively new Second Century Initiative that Gov. Kristi Noem helped enact in January -- which includes bounty and trapping programs that are largely aimed towards helping conserve pheasant and duck populations, along with habitat management and crowdsourcing -- the overall sentiment from those who spoke on behalf of the trapping changes favored to keep the regulations as is.

Finn Sacrison, vice president of the Western South Dakota Fur Harvesters Association, is an avid trapper who spoke in support of the GF&P’s existing trapping rules and regulations. He emphasized how vital trapping is for the ranchers who pay the West River trapper for his services.

“The people I trap for are all cattle producers who rely on me to remove coyotes from their place every fall,” Sacrison said during his 3-minute input. “This helps manage the numbers that they have to deal with in the spring when they have baby lambs and calves.”

By removing unwanted predators for ranchers and cattle producers, Sacrison said trapping significantly reduces harm to calves and cows. Sacrison highlighted how his passion for trapping is not a form of animal cruelty.

Sacrison suggested the GF&P focus on educating the youth on how ethical trappers go about their trade.

“I work hard with the landowners, and I don’t make much of any profit from trapping. We need to spend more time educating people about trapping, and there is no reason for a 24-hour time change,” Sacrison said.

Following the lengthy discussion, Commissioner Doug Sharp said he was pleased with the healthy discussions regarding the trapping regulations. While Sharp said he shares a similar passion for animals with the people who opposed the existing regulations, the 24-hour time change was too extreme for him to approve.

“In many areas of West River South Dakota you really can’t get to a lot of places in a short time span due to the land layout, roads and hilly terrain. And all of a sudden, a 24-hour check time being implemented for trappers out there would be a tough change,” Sharp said. “Nobody loves animals more than me, and I admire the compassion for animals. But things are working East River and West River.”

Bounty program update

Kevin Robling, GF&P deputy secretary, provided an update on the newly implemented bounty program, which concluded Aug. 13.

To boost the number of pheasants, Gov. Noem created the bounty program on Jan. 8. The program pays hunters and trappers $10 for the tail of every mammal defined as a pheasant nest predator, including raccoons, striped skunks, possums, badgers and red foxes. According to Robling, there have been 54,000 tails turned in, and a vast majority of those tails were raccoon tails. In addition, the tails overwhelmingly came from the eastern side of the state.

“Some of the things we’re going to be looking at with the bounty program is sending participants and non-participants a scientific survey to gauge the success of the program,” Robling said to the GF&P Commission. “We’re seeing that the program is helping get families outdoors, and it’s been a success thus far.”

Robling also provided details on the live trap giveaway program, which was another program the GF&P implemented to increase pheasant and duck populations through reducing localized nest predators like the five animals listed in the bounty program. The program is tailored to encourage trapping for all ages.

Robling said all of the live traps have been produced, noting roughly 16,000 live traps have been distributed to participating individuals. The primary nesting season for trapping spans from April 1 to Aug. 31, but trapping season for the five nest predators is open year-round, according to the program’s regulations.

“By the end of this month, all of our live traps will be distributed and the program will come to an end,” Robling said.

With the wet year much of South Dakota experienced this year, Robling informed the GF&P Commissioners that the amount of non-meandered waters has increased. According to Robling, the flooding has played a role in the amount of non-meandered waters. As of now, Robling said there are roughly 3,700 acres of closed non-meandered waters throughout the state.

In 2017, former Gov. Dennis Daugaard passed a bill that reopened more than two dozen bodies of water to the public while also providing landowners the ability to close certain areas of non-meandered waters.

“There used to be 244,000 acres of non-meandered waters that are publicly accessible to recreational users in the state, and I’m sure that number has increased substantially,” Robling said. “We haven’t quantified that number yet, but I know it has grown.”