Opinion: Wildlife damage bill would have helped farmers with depredation issues

Farm Forum

House Bill 1160 in South Dakota was written to fix the landowner clause of 41-1-5.1. Under that law, a landowner was protected from being charged with civil damages if he or she had notified the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department by certified mail and waited the 48-hour waiting period if the landowner was protecting personal property from being destroyed by wildlife.

HB1160 would have prevented a landowner from being criminally charged if he or she had followed the rules of certification. As it stands now, it would make no sense for any landowner to follow the landowner clause of 41-1-5.1 if he or she will be charged with a crime for doing so. I bet most landowners do not even know there is such a clause.

Most wildlife that is shot by landowners for damaging their personal property is done under the shoot, shovel and shut up method and because of the past actions of the GFP, it is left out of the picture.

The passage of HB1160 should have reduced the amount of wildlife shot by landowners because it would pressure GFP to answer wildlife damage complaints in a timely fashion and stop the excessive damage these animals are causing. Then, if the landowner were protected from prosecution, in theory, more landowners should feel comfortable informing GFP of wildlife damage, rather than just handling the problem themselves.

Program problems

I know of a case where a farmer had 500 deer in his yard during one of the deep snow winters. The deer were on top of his corn pile and were totally destroying it. The farmer told me it took GFP three weeks to show up to his farm after he called the department, and when officials arrived, they had one rotten bale the deer would not even eat. The department used that rotten bale in its short stop feeding program. Of course, that short stop feeding program failed like it always does, because officials do not feed these starving animals enough or often enough to keep them out of farmers’ yards.

Anyone with a cat knows you cannot feed a cat once a week and then expect that the cat will be happy and not go looking for something to eat.

GFP asked the farmer to put up panels around his corn pile after the short stop feeding program failed. The farmer told the GFP warden that the panels would not work and asked what the department would do if the deer crawled through the panels or jumped over them. The warden said, “Shoot them.”

The panels did not work and the farmer ended up shooting 50 deer that got inside the panels. A week later, the GFP warden called and asked the farmer how the panels were working. The farmer said, “Well, the dead ones will not get out.” Did the farmer want to shoot these deer to stop them from destroying his corn pile? Of course not. He just wanted the damage to be stopped.

This incident proves two things: the GFP programs do not work, and if the department had done its job, no deer would have been shot. The farmer said it took three weeks for officials to respond the first time, and 1 1/2 hours was all it took when it looked like they could hand out a hefty fine.

The only place I have seen the GFP wildlife damage programs being described as successful is when the GFP is talking to the media or members of the legislature. The farmer with the 500 deer saw first-hand the programs did not work, and he never will make the mistake of calling GFP again if he has a wildlife damage problem. A lot of us have shared the same bad experiences with GFP and HB1160 was an attempt to change that. We would like a wildlife agency that we can work with, but instead we got GFP.