South Dakota flooded lands access still unresolved

Farm Forum

FORT PIERRE — The state Game, Fish and Parks Department is in the middle of negotiations between landowners and sportsmen over public access to water over flooded private lands, but GFP won’t be introducing any legislation on the issue this year, several of the department’s top officials said on Jan. 9.

The various sides have gone through 10 revised versions of proposals in recent weeks, according to Tony Leif, director for the state Wildlife Division. He briefed members of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission on the latest round of what’s been an unresolved legal impasse for more than a decade.

Leif said they are working on a concept that would allow landowners to post no-trespassing signs on any water body smaller than 40 acres that is over private land, even if there is public access, such as a roadway, along it.

The 40 acres is based on the directions given to the original surveyors of Dakota Territory in 1868.

Surveyors were told that water bodies 40 acres and larger were to be designated as meandered — meaning they were permanent with defined boundaries — while the surveyors were instructed to go straight through waters smaller than 40 acres.

Leif described the 40-acre designation as “a definable measure” that could be used in the current deadlock.

He said the latest proposal for flooded private lands would prohibit the public from wading, walking or standing on private ground under water.

The question of ice remains unresolved.

“That’s certainly going to be a point of great discussion when we get to legislative session,” Leif said.

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk said the proposal would allow landowners to petition the commission for safety buffer zones on larger waters that have public access.

The Legislature took up the issue last year, but didn’t reach a resolution. Pushing for a settlement is Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, on behalf of landowners. Resisting the loss of any access are members of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation.

Leif said any 2014 proposal will need to be sponsored by an individual lawmaker.

“We don’t have any intentions of introducing the legislation,” he said.

Vonk said the legislation “potentially could evolve” to a governor-backed proposal but “more likely” will come from legislators. He said nobody seems to support the current version.

“It’s still a quickly moving target,” Vonk said.