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Public land use issues highlighted in governor's race

Joshua Haiar
Candidate Jamie Smith speaks with the South Dakota Wildlife Federation during their annual meeting.

The approach to public land use is highlighting some differences in the South Dakota governor's race. The Democratic candidate , state Rep. Jamie Smith, said science and public input would drive the state’s water, wildlife and habitat management decisions if he wins the November election.

Smith recently spoke with the South Dakota Wildlife Federation at an annual meeting at the Crow Creek Recreation Area.

The federation has more than 4,500 members who lobby in Pierre on behalf of the state's public outdoors enthusiasts.

Smith mentioned several resource management decisions Gov. Kristi Noem has made that he would revisit. That includes merging the departments of agriculture and environment, stopping conservation officers from enforcing the law on private land, canceling the pheasant brood count, and the new bounty program to reduce predator animals in the state.

“I don't have private land to hunt on. I have got to use public land. I didn't come from a family that owns half of South Dakota. I'm just a regular guy, my dad grew up ditch hunting," Smith said.

The governor declined an interview request but her campaign provided a written statement. "Gov. Noem has run a family farm and a hunting lodge — she gets the needs of these industries far better than Jamie Smith ever could," the statement said.

The governor's statement also defended the state department merger, boasted about pheasant hunting numbers from the 2020 season and identified conservative efforts to maintain wildlife habitat.

"Gov. Noem has prioritized streamlining government for ag producers while also making sure our Second Century of pheasant hunting is as great as the first," the statement continued.

Smith told the crowd of hunters at the wildlife federation's annual meeting that, despite the message from Noem’s campaign ads, he would protect the gun ownership rights of law-abiding citizens.

“They said I'm the tenth most liberal Democrat in Pierre. There are 11. I could change the language on that and say I'm the second most conservative Democrat in Pierre," Smith said.

Smith acknowledged his poor rating from the NRA, saying it involved positions he took on legislative proposals.

"My Frating with the NRA has to do with concealed carry permits and whether or not we needed to do those," he said. "89% of South Dakota agreed with us when we voted on that bill. The other one has to do with whether or not we should conceal carry in the Capitol. That was a pro-law enforcement vote that I took. The highway patrol that protects us didn't want lawmakers carrying guns in the capital."

The governor's written response included this statement.

"Jamie Smith is the most anti-Second Amendment candidate for governor in the history of South Dakota. If he had his way he would confiscate law-abiding citizens' guns and ensure that no one in the state would be able to hunt or defend themselves. Further, he has an F rating from the NRA, and Gov. Noem has their endorsement."

The wildlife federation’s annual meeting also featured speakers from Game, Fish and Park, including Director of Wildlife, Tom Kirschenmann.

Kirschenmann took some critical questions from the crowd of about 30 hunters and anglers. Some said they think the governor's office has managed the public resources to benefit tourism and industry over public use and the health of the ecosystem.

Joshua is the business and economics reporter with SDPB News.