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Conservation can unite hunters and hikers

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Public Domain

In South Dakota, wildlife resources are a public trust resource. That means they should be managed by and for the public.

However, some outdoor enthusiasts worry private interest groups that make money off of the wildlife and habitat are getting too much say in how they are managed.

Lifelong outdoorsman Sam Kezar said the public should play a more important role.

"I think that's really what it comes down to, is that it seems to me that the [GFP] Commission is losing sight of the wildlife and that the public lands are out there for the public interest," Kezar said. "And yes, they should listen to the other user groups, but they have to take that with a grain of salt and be like, 'we need to manage the wildlife as the public's resource.' Making money off of it needs to be more secondary."

Many South Dakotans appreciate the state's wildlife and natural habitats, and they tend to share their outdoor experience as hunters or hikers.

An avid hunter, Jesse Kurtenbach, is involved in a number of politically active conservation groups. He said those groups, hunters and hikers, should come together to ensure the public's voice is heard in Pierre.

"The biologists might recommend one thing and the [GFP] Commission does something else because they're getting pulled at by different groups. They have to weigh private and public stakeholders, but it just seems like the public doesn't get as much weight," Kurtenbach said.

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For many South Dakotans, pitching a tent or pulling up a camper on one of South Dakota's public campgrounds is a lifesyle.

However, uniting hunters and hikers will be difficult, according to lifelong outdoorsman Ross Swedeen.

"I don't know how you unite hunters, let alone hunters and hikers. Unless people can put aside those small differences and think of the greater good, the end result," Swedeen said.

Swedeen said as long as outdoors enthusiasts present divided priorities, private interests will continue to be more organized, funded, and powerful.

Luke Kretschmar, president of the Black Hills Rock Climbers Coalition, is optimistic about uniting hikers and hunters. He said there's a lot of overlap between the two groups.

"A lot of my friends, when they're not climbing, they're fly fishing. So, I think we have a lot in common. Almost half of my rock climber friends are avid hunters," Kretschmar said. "Working together with another user group with a common interest, and having a seat at the table, and having a voice on how we manage public lands, I think that's really important. I think that's a great idea."

According to retired Game, Fish and Parks chief biologist George Vandel, getting involved in lobbying for the public's interest is the best way to reverse the trend.

"I think there's an overall trend toward commercialization, but I don't know if you can blame that on any one administration," Vandel said. "If there's any blame to put on anybody, it's the lack of the sportsmen getting involved in the legislative process and actually developing clout. The only organization, that I'm aware of, that lobbies every year, every year in the legislature, is the South Dakota Wildlife Federation."

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.