Noem’s bills limiting conservation officers hit resistance

Noem’s bills limiting conservation officers hit resistance

The debate in the Senate Judiciary committee pitched a former Secretary of Game, Fish and Parks, John Cooper, against the current interim secretary, Kevin Robling, as well as Noem’s general counsel, Miller, against an all-Republican panel of senators.

Noem last month highlighted the bill addressing private property access, saying it was an “opportunity for us to continue to strengthen the relationships that our conservation officers have with landowners.”

The Department of Game, Fish and Parks currently has a policy of not allowing its officers to enter private property without permission, unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is happening. The practice was developed over a decade ago to smooth tensions between property owners and conservation officers, and Robling said he wanted that policy to be enshrined in law.

Larry Nelson, a property owner in Harding County, said the fact that conservation officers are allowed to access his land without permission has made him reconsider whether he wants to give hunters access on the land at all.

But environmental groups pointed out the proposal would make it harder for conservation officers to enforce illegal hunting and fishing.

“Pursuing game or fish is a privilege, it’s not a right in South Dakota,” said Zach Hunke, the president of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation. “This bill, quite frankly, only benefits poachers.”

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