Bill to let landowners bag an elk every year gets grilled, dies in committee

Proponents say legislation would prevent land damage; opponents say it would disadvantage non-landowners

By: - February 2, 2023 12:28 pm
Dana Rogers, a spokesperson with South Dakota Bowhunters, testifies in a legislative committee on Jan. 2, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

Dana Rogers, a spokesperson with South Dakota Bowhunters, testifies in a legislative committee on Jan. 2, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

PIERRE – The elk population is a “two-sided coin,” according to Jeremiah Murphy, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.

“It’s a trophy and it’s trouble,” he told legislators Thursday at the Capitol.

A bill that tried to reconcile those two sides of the coin died in a legislative committee on an 11-1 vote.

The legislation would have allowed people who own more than 640 acres of land – whether they’re resident or absentee landowners – the opportunity to draw an elk hunting license every year.

Supporters of the bill said landowners should be given the opportunity to limit the damage caused by elk, which can break down fences and trample crops. 

The prime sponsor of the bill was Rep. Rocky Blare, R-Ideal. He said landowners are the caretakers of private habitat that supports the elk population for everyone.

“They’re a precious part of our resource management,” Blare said of landowners. “What this does is allow them to take an elk, if applied for, under the rules by the Game, Fish and Parks.”

Opponents said the bill would have a negative impact on the elk population and hunting opportunities for resident, non-landowning hunters. 

George Vandel is a retired Game, Fish and Parks chief biologist and lobbyist with the South Dakota Wildlife Federation.

This bill takes a really rare resource and allows a wealthy landowner to come in and buy land, capture an elk herd for themselves, and be able to hunt by themselves every year and shoot a bull elk,” Vandel told South Dakota Searchlight. “Maybe that’s something you can say comes with being wealthy, I don’t know, but it’s not going to help the average hunter one bit.”

The average non-landowning, resident hunter might get to harvest two elk in their lifetime, Vandel said. 

Elk in South Dakota are a two-sided coin. It's a trophy and it's trouble.

– Jeremiah Murphy, lobbyist for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association

To get an elk tag in South Dakota, residents apply during the application period, typically in June. If successful in the draw, they must then purchase the elk tag. The number of tags available annually is limited. Additionally, current policies already grant landowners half of all elk hunting permits each year.

The South Dakota Wildlife Federation and South Dakota Bowhunters, which represent resident and often non-landowning hunters, spoke out against the bill.

Dana Rogers, a spokesperson with South Dakota Bowhunters, said resident hunters sometimes wait over a decade to draw an elk tag. 

“This is not the avenue to manage a biological public trust resource,” Rogers said. “The avenue for that is through Game, Fish and Parks, with landowners and sportsmen working together.”

The Department of Game, Fish and Parks, which manages wildlife populations and hunting licenses, did not testify on the bill.

Opponents argued that if the bill was about damage to agricultural land, the bill’s backers would have been willing to compromise and limit the licenses to residents and female elk, not trophy bulls. 

“To allow what this bill allows is not something we can support,” said Mitch Richter, lobbyist with the South Dakota Wildlife Federation.

Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls, asked proponents if the bill would lead to people from out of state purchasing land, hunting elk, and going back to their state of residency.

A bill proponent, Lorin Pankratz, lobbyist with Landowners and Hunters Association for South Dakota, replied, “Absolutely, you can’t deny that.” But he said that’s not a new phenomenon. 

In the end, it may have been a question posed by Rep. Marty Overweg, R-New Holland, that drove the final stake in the bill. He asked proponents if farmers and ranchers who lease land would be eligible for the landowner privileges, in addition to the landowners.

That question resulted in conflicting answers from proponents, and confusion and concern among the committee.

“This bill is not ready,” said Rep. Randy Gross, R-Elkton. “There’s too much gray to just hand it over to an agency to draft the rules.”




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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.