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Bill Requires Permission For Conservation Officers To Enter Private Land


The state House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would restrict the ability of conservation officers to enter private land.

Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration introduced the bill. It says officers from the Department of Game, Fish & Parks would need permission to go on private property.  

There are exceptions in the bill. They would allow conservation officers to enter private land without permission if they suspect criminal activity, observe a crippled or distressed animal, or are responding to an emergency or accident.

Republican Rep. Liz May of Kyle supports the bill. She said some landowners are tired of officers entering their property without permission.

“The landowners, that’s all they’ve ever really wanted, is just some respect," Kyle said during Wednesday's House floor debate.

The bill's language would place new restrictions on a decades-old legal principle called the “open fields doctrine.” The doctrine is based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision. It says law-enforcement officers may enter open fields without permission or a warrant in pursuit of their duties.

Critics of the South Dakota legislation say it opens the door to poaching and other hunting and fishing violations on private land.

Republican Rep. David Anderson of Hudson opposes the legislation. He said conservation officers help him keep trespassing hunters off his property.

“I’m in favor of the conservation officer looking out for me," Anderson said during the House debate. "He’s the one that could rightly go on and ask to see licenses, ask if there’s permission. I’m not there all the time.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Seth supervises SDPB's beat reporters and newscast team. He works at SDPB's Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.
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