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South Dakotans report more than 50,000 acres of inaccessible federal land through new online portal

Google Earth
At left, 1,547 acres of reportedly inaccessible public land just west of Pierre. At right, 11,650 acres of reportedly inaccessible public land just north of Belle Fourche.

The federal government manages more than 2 million acres of land in South Dakota, but a significant portion of that reportedly lacks public access.

Now people have a tool to report inaccessible federal land parcels.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has published a new online portal to receive reports of inaccessible acres. The portal is a response to a bill passed by Congress that requires the bureau to work with the public to improve access.

The legislation followed a report published by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which says there are nearly 200,000 acres of inaccessible federal land in South Dakota. The report does not address state-owned land.

The inaccessible parcels of federal land are surrounded by private land and do not have an access road.

Zachery Hunke, president of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the lands are essentially closed to hunters, anglers and other recreational users.

"When the public can't access it, private individuals may view it as their own," Hunke said. "Which is unfortunate, because I think habitat and access should be our primary focus in the state of South Dakota."

The report from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership was an estimate. The new Bureau of Land Management portal is intended to gather more data from people with direct knowledge of inaccessible parcels. So far, about 51,500 acres, or about 80 square miles, of South Dakota land has been reported as inaccessible via the portal.

The largest parcel reported so far is 7,300 acres north of Belle Fourche.

To be reported as inaccessible, parcels must be owned by the Bureau of Land Management and must be more than 640 acres, or one section.

Nominations will be reviewed over the next year and the bureau will submit the top candidates for improved access to Congress.

Lori “Chip” Kimball, a Bureau of Land Management field manager for South Dakota, said the department has a number of different options for acquiring access to a piece of property.

“First would be an easement, potentially, where we would approach a surrounding landowner and say, 'Would you be willing to sell us an access easement through your property?'” Kimball said. "Another option would be the purchase of property that's openly available for public sale. The third option that we have available to us is an exchange of property.”

Kimball said landowners' voices will be heard.

“This is not something that the government's going to come in and take property. This is a wish list, if you will, of lands, that because of their size or their value recreationally or otherwise, that we would want to gain access to.”

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.