The South Dakota Game Fish & Parks commission voted Thursday to extend a controversial trapping program, approving an amended regulation allowing the use of live traps on public lands and improved road right-of-ways through Aug. 31.
The regulation, initially approved by the commission in April, allows the use of all traps — including snares, leg hold and body traps, and live traps — through the end of August, four months after the original deadline of May 1 for removal of all traps.
The issue has drawn sharp public outcry across South Dakota and beyond the state’s borders after Gov. Kristi Noem proposed a live-trap giveaway and a nest-predator bounty program as part of her Second Century Initiatives.
The aim of the initiatives includes increasing youth participation in trapping as well as improving pheasant habitat by reducing the number of raccoons, opossums, skunks, badgers and red fox that feed on game bird nests.
Thursday’s special meeting of the GF&P commission to reconsider the regulation is allowed by state statute that allows such meetings to occur without a public hearing, but public comments were taken Thursday from four locations in the state during the teleconference meeting.
Opponents said the governor and the Game, Fish & Parks Department have sidestepped the public process in initiating the trap giveaway and bounty program. They say the program promotes cruelty to animals and are ineffective in improving pheasant habitat.
“All of the wishful thinking won’t improve the real issue, which is loss of habitat,” said Jamie Al-Haj of Rapid City.
Al-Haj quoted a state bounty program website that said as of May 22, 18,218 animals had been killed for the bounty program, which offers $10 for the tails of five species trapped by participating residents within the state’s borders.
Al-Haj said the list included 13,400 raccoons, 1,500 opossums, 3,000 skunks, 150 red foxes and 123 badgers.
She said adding in the collateral impact of losing the offspring of those animals means the total loss of wildlife likely exceeds 45,000 animals.
“We’re teaching a generation of young South Dakotans that trapping and killing native species, cutting their tails off and literally throwing the body away is OK,” she said.
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However, GF&P Deputy Secretary Kevin Robling told commissioners that the program has had little biological impact on nest predator populations and has been successful in getting youth involved in the outdoors, with 1,600 participants in the free trap giveaway and bounty program
“Public lands hold some of the best nesting habitat in the state, and we’d like to have that opportunity available to those trappers to use those public lands, remove those nesting predators and get those families out there,” Robling said.
Robling said the more than 13,000 raccoon bounties paid thus far represents less than half of one raccoon per 640 acres in the state.
“There is no biological impact on that raccoon density,” he said.
Commissioners then approved an amendment extending the use of live cage traps on public lands and road right-of-ways through the end of August, with other types of traps no longer allowed after May 1.
The amended regulation passed 7-1, with commissioner Scott Phillips, of New Underwood, casting the lone dissenting vote.
“A majority of the people of South Dakota are opposed to the concept of a nest predator bounty program,” said Phillips. “We need to respect their views.”
The commission also approved exemptions allowing enrolled Crow Creek tribal members and their families to use West Bend Recreation Area east of Pierre without purchasing a park entrance license.
Also approved was the commission proposal to create one license for Custer State Park trophy bison hunt and three license packages, including tags for one deer, elk and antelope. The “Hunt for Habitat" packages would be available for residents and non-residents through an application and raffle process.
The measures will now be considered by the state Legislative Research Council’s Interim Rules Review Committee on June 3 and, if approved, go into effect 20 days after being filed with the Secretary of State’s office, said GF&P attorney Jon Kotilnek.