Thursday, January 24, 2008

SOUTH DAKOTA OPINION: Bill Would Give Landowners Extra Deer Tags

Two things are quite certain in the rural sections of South Dakota: The deer population is too high, and their constant depredation is tough on farmers, ranchers and landowners.
South Dakota’s landscape is crawling with deer. They’re everywhere — whether it’s along the roadsides at night or in a farmer’s stores of silage at sunup.

Anybody who has a new plan to cut the deer population should speak up. We’re listening.

State Sen. Julie Bartling, D-Burke, has done so.

Earlier this week, she told the Legislature about her plan to allow landowners and lease-holders an additional deer license to be used on their land. The extra tag can be used at the landowner/lessee’s discretion and given to resident or nonresident hunters. The tags would only be valid on the landowner/lessee’s land and can only be issued to those with at least 320 acres of agriculture, grazing or timber land.

Bartling’s plan is backed by the state’s two largest livestock organizations: the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and the South Dakota Cattleman’s Association.

The state Department of Game, Fish and Parks is trying to cull the herd, and has been for several years now. The agency has increased the number of tags regularly in the past several years, and that has correlated to a much larger harvest. For instance, hunters killed 51,666 deer in South Dakota in 2000; in 2006, the number was 86,806 — an increase of 56 percent.

We need those kinds of harvest increases in South Dakota because the same conditions that have allowed our pheasant population to soar past 10 million have been equally kind to the wild, hooved quadrupeds of our state.

All of those foodplots, trees and switchgrass fields that have been planted to aid pheasants have, in some eyes, backfired when it comes to deer numbers. Several straight years of moderate winters haven’t helped, either.

And as we have said many times before: If you want proof of the state’s growing deer numbers, simply take a drive along a rural highway late at night. They’re everywhere, and they’re a danger to the lives of motorists.

The GF&P does not back Bartling’s second-license plan. The worry is that nonresident hunters would be able to compete more directly in seeking the limited pool of buck licenses during the East River season.

Would this program take a large bite out of the deer herd? Probably not, but we feel that anything to promote more deer hunting in South Dakota is a good idea.

For years, landowners have been dealing with depredation to their valuable crops and stored feed as the deer population grows. We don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed a chance to harvest more of those troublesome pests.


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