“I Dennis Daugaard, do solemnly swear that I will support the constitution and the laws of the United States and the constitution and the laws of the state of South Dakota and that I will faithfully perform the duties of governor of the state of South Dakota. So help me God.”
The Governor and I disagreed on the Open Fields Doctrine. It is a legal precedent that allows law enforcement to enter private lands in the conduct of their duties. The Governor has mandated that South Dakota game wardens may no longer use this power without the permission of private landowners for compliance checks. Approximately 400 people each season are cited for game violations. The Division of Wildlife has previously stated, that without compliance checks, violations would likely skyrocket. The Governor’s change is akin to telling police officers to only check for traffic violations at stop lights or in parking lots.
Twice the Supreme Court has ruled that open fields is the law of the land and that privacy in open fields is not an expectation that “‘society recognizes as reasonable.” Just nine months ago the Game and Fish published information regarding open fields. State officials explained why conservation officers could not ensure compliance by only checking on public roads after hunters leave private lands, yet this is exactly what the Governor now dictates as policy.
Politically, the new policy has supporters. Nearly every landowner I’ve interviewed has been in favor of the new restrictions. A historical perspective helps to explain today’s situation.
Fifty years ago, South Dakota wildlife criminals were blatant and numerous. Trespass and shooting from roadways was particularly rampant in the Black Hills and widespread along the section lines of pheasant country. Many rural homes were ventilated with bullet holes. Poachers would be run off in the morning and be back the very next day. Criminal penalties were minimal. Landowners demanded that the state provide aggressive enforcement. The culture of criminality demanded an equally aggressive group of wardens. Thirty years ago I met a few. They did their jobs and made little attempt at promoting tourism or economic development. They were invariable professional; a few were aggressive, but each was a great steward of the state’s resources.
Ranchers have long memories. Several I spoke with had a single family tale of finding a warden driving unexpectedly on their ranches. Invariably, the ground was too wet or the grass too dry. Another had never met a single warden on his ranch. After hunting and guiding for thirty years, the only wardens I have ever encountered have been on public roads. After I listened to all of the anecdotes, I came to the conclusion that a good warden was one who arrested someone else’s kid and a bad warden was the one who caught yours. Inevitably, the “Bad Warden” was a thirty year-old memory while today’s wardens were salt of the earth.
“Our current warden has done more for us in the last ten years than all the previous wardens combined. “ Two ranchers with different wardens voiced the same sentiments. The governor’s new policy is a band-aid for an old scar.
Current wardens have made tremendous improvements in landowner relations. The new policy is a slap in the face to that effort. Reportedly, no member of the Governor’s own Game, Fish, and Parks commission was allowed input or notified of the action prior to the announcement. The fact that our own elected representatives have repeatedly rejected similar restrictions undermines the rule of law and cries out for a legislative protest.
In a time of harsh budget cutting, it is an incredible burden to lead this state and I admire the Governor for stepping up to the task. At the same time, I can only wonder at the process that leads to the decision as to which of the state’s laws are “supported” and which is suspended.