PIERRE, S.D. -- In their latest hang-up with Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's pheasant habitat conservation mission, legislators on Monday, May 6, rejected proposed rule changes to allow certain aspects of the governor's program.
Pheasant habitat conservation has been a major talking point of Noem's since she took office and proposed her Second Century Habitat Initiative, a plan to allocate state resources toward pheasant population protection. Noem has said that pheasant season is a major revenue source for the state, bringing in 81,000 out-of-state hunters who spend $156 million in the state every year.
On Monday, the Legislature's Rules Review Committee reverted a rules change proposed by the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission pertaining to the initiative. Part of Noem's plan to engage the public was to award free state park admission passes or small game hunting licenses to residents who submit a conservation idea "deemed worthy by the Secretary (of Game, Fish and Parks).
But legislators questioned the authority of the Second Century Habitat Initiative, saying it has little state government oversight and should not have the power to allocate free admissions and hunting licenses.
Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton, said he was "really troubled by the idea that we're all of a sudden going to create this free-floating enterprise that's going to be given the authority to spend state money."
"I think an organization that's going to have the authority to deal with state assets, state resources, should answer to somebody," Kennedy said. "And at this point, they aren't answering to, to my knowledge, either the Game, Fish and Parks Commission or to the state Legislature."
The program has been a sticking point between Noem's office and the Legislature from the start. Legislators held numerous votes on Noem's Senate Bill 176, which allocates $1 million to the program, before finally passing it late March 12 during prolonged budget negotiations which ran late into the night.
The issue reared its head again weeks later when legislators questioned the constitutionality of Noem's style and form veto of the bill, which changed when the bill would take effect. They ultimately voted to approve the change.
Legislators also questioned the authority of the Game, Fish and Parks department to begin its nest predator bounty program, and rejected its proposed rules to regulate it.
The program, also introduced by Noem, awards bounties of $10 to residents who trap pheasant predators like fox, skunks, raccoons and opossums. The program will allocate a maximum of $500,000 in bounties. So far, over 11,000 tails have been submitted, according to the department.
Director of the Wildlife Division Tony Leif said the department does have the authority to "create programs to reduce injurious impacts of predators."
The rules now revert back to the Game, Fish and Parks Department.