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GF & P Secretary To Address Legislature On Open Waters Compromise

Lee Strubinger

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks officials are optimistic about the rules put in place for public access to water situated over private land.

Over the summer, the legislature prompted the state GF & P to draft rules that open those bodies of water for recreation, unless a landowner deems otherwise. Those rules expire in June.

The governor wants the legislature to extend those rules to 2021.

The rules put in place were meant to please both landowners and recreationists in the prairie pothole region in the northeastern part of the state.

Secretary of Game, Fish and Parks, Kelly Hepler, will deliver a report to the legislature on Thursday, with a detailed report on how implementation of those rules have gone so far.

From Hepler’s standpoint, he says implementing rules has gone well.

“The idea is to really talk to each other and ask before you access land,” Helper says. “I think, the more and more that happens, some of the tension we’ve had in the past that maybe led to some of this, I think will be ameliorated to the point where maybe it’s not as concerning. Not that [much] land has been marked so far, and they could’ve. There’s been a very small percentage. So, my general two words has been very positive so far.”

The state holds water in public trust and stocked many of these lakes that cropped up in the 90's with fish.

The rules are meant to settle a decades long rift between sportsmen who want access to these non-menadering lakes, and landowners who want control of their land back.

State Senator Jason Frerichs represents District 1, where many of these lakes formed.

“For the most part I’ve talked to land owners that—they’re happy that they have that option, but have they exercised the option to close? No,” Frerichs says. “To those that have posted, I don’t think any less of them, or belittle them, that was in their power to do that. But I do hope that they listen to the needs of sportsmen and sportswomen and Game Fish and Parks should there be an interest to open up those bodies of water.”

Frerichs says he supports extending the rules to 2021 for GF & P to gather more data. He says he supports keeping the rules in place permanently.

Some landowners say water in several non-meandering lakes are down about a foot. If 2018 is as dry as last year, they say they’re hoping to regain more of their farm ground back.