South Dakota's natural resources directly impact the economy, quality of life, health and heritage of our state. Conservation of these grassland and water resources depends on the diverse and sustainable ranches, farms, and communities of SD. The following list of questions presented to the three candidates for Governor reflects some of the most important conservation issues we face in South Dakota. Following each question are the responses we received from each of the candidates.
Hunting and fishing alone contribute $950 million per year to South Dakota's economy. Many are concerned that loss of habitat in SD is causing a decline in this income and that the state does not reinvest sufficient resources into this important component of our economy. Would you support the creation of a new source of state dollars to financially support the concepts of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat? If so, do you have suggestions/ideas as to where those dollars might come from?
Noem: Maintaining and improving habitat is essential to the future of hunting in South Dakota. We can invest in habitat management, and we can do so without raising taxes by broadening the base of support in a multitude of ways, including:
(1) Working with the Division of Motor Vehicles and Game, Fish and Parks to develop a specialty pheasant license plate program in which all proceeds would go directly toward habitat management.
(2) Directing Game, Fish and Parks to explore outside-the-box, voluntary funding solutions, such as an expanded Premium Guest Tag program, in which a limited number of non-resident tags would be reserved at premium pricing. Programs like this have proven exceptionally lucrative in neighboring states. All proceeds would again go directly to habitat.Sutton: It's exceedingly important that we find ways to make conservation a priority in South Dakota. It's the right thing to protect our land and our economy. Financing these efforts has to begin with increased state/federal partnerships. We have several well-constructed programs and funds in place; we need to work with all stakeholders and prioritize these long-term solutions instead of searching for quick fixes that don't protect our land and traditions for future generations. There are several opportunities for funding, including some programs that match state contributions with federal and private dollars, but we have to do our part as a state too. I would work within current programs to be more efficient in how we use existing funds, and I will fight for federal dollars for conservation to protect our natural resources so we can grow our hunting and fishing opportunities in our state. Preserving our land and heritage to hand down to the next generation must be a top priority for all South Dakotans, and together we can identify and develop options to make that affordable.Jackley:The loss of habitat for wildlife has enormous economic consequences for South Dakota and reduces our quality of life. More than 660,000 people spend hundreds of millions every year to access our wildlife in South Dakota, and from a moral perspective, I believe we are called to be good stewards of the land, air, and water God gave us. In particular, we need to rebuild the pheasant population in South Dakota. Improving our habitat practices will benefit all wildlife in our state, but given the unique impact of pheasant hunting on South Dakota, we need to prioritize the stability of the ringneck population.As set forth in my Pheasant Hunting Initiative, I will lead an unprecedented effort to raise private capital that will provide the funding to create critical habitat necessary to restore pheasant populations.We must take bold action now because South Dakota is rapidly losing habitat acres that have a direct impact on our pheasant population. South Dakota has already lost 61 percent of the acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) over the past decade. In 2007, South Dakota had just under 1.6 million acres enrolled in CRP. As of September 30, 2017, South Dakota had 976,938 acres enrolled in CRP. The contracts for over half of those acres, 531,201, are set to expire between 2018 and 2022, which means total CRP acres could drop to less than 600,000 acres by 2020.We simply cannot afford to lose this much habitat and expect to maintain our pheasant populations and we cannot rely on the federal government to fix our problems. We must take the initiative ourselves and work with our neighbors to improve habitat.Because so many hunters rely on public lands, I will work to provide year-round habitat on these lands. For pheasants to survive and thrive, food plots, good nesting cover with pollinator species, wetlands, and trees to provide winter cover and food sources are necessary. I support the expansion of the federal CRP program as outlined in the current version of the farm bill.At the South Dakota Tourism Conference I announced my plan to create voluntary funding sources for state conservation efforts. The ideas produced such positive feedback from sportsmen and women that I included them as pillars in my South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Initiative. My plan includes the creation of a $10 voluntary habitat stamp and a special sportsmen's license plate that will create new funding sources for conservation programs without straining the state budget.In 2018, South Dakota received $13,775,104 in wildlife funds from the Department of the Interior. These funds come from excise taxes paid by the hunting, shooting, boating and angling industries on firearms, bows and ammunition, sport fishing tackle, boat engines, and small engine fuel, which means aggressively maintaining hunting and fishing numbers is paramount to keeping this conservation funding. The number of licensed hunters in the state accounts for 50% of the grant distribution criteria, which underscores the importance of recruiting the next generation of hunters and anglers in South Dakota.South Dakota's new governor needs to expand voluntary funding sources, actively pursue grant revenue, and grow citizen participation in wildlife activities, and I have the plan and the leadership experience to achieve those goals.
Professional wildlife biologists agree that releasing pen-raised pheasants and conducting wide-spread predator control efforts to promote pheasant populations are not wise investments of limited public resources. Instead, public resources need to be focused on habitat. Do you agree with that statement and why?
Sutton: Yes, I agree with that statement. Pen-raising birds has been shown to be a very short-sided fix, especially since the birds don't live long in the wild once released. Studies show that predator control, while effective on a small-scale, is not the best bang for our buck. The Habitat Work Group of 2014 came up with the right ideas to address our declining pheasant population, and I think the focus needs to be on funding those researched and proven solutions rather than experimenting on unproven ideas with our limited resources. South Dakota is known for wild game in wild places, and a habitat focus maintains that reputation as the priority.Jackley: I agree that habitat should be the focus of our conservation efforts. This is a problem that needs to be aggressively addressed, which is why I put all options on the table in my SD Pheasant Hunting Initiative. My primary opponent has vowed not to allow private citizen task forces to address these issues. In contrast, we propose a collaborative approach where stakeholders-including wildlife biologists-are given a seat at the table to discuss how best to revive our pheasant population in South Dakota. Private funds should be used for any release programs and with guidance from wildlife biologists.Noem: I agree habitat is the most important area to focus public resources.GRASSLAND RESOURCES:
Conservationists are very concerned about grassland and wetland loss in South Dakota. An SDSU study estimated a loss of 1.8 million acres of grassland between 2006 and 2012. What role do you think the state should play in helping to reduce grassland and wetland loss in South Dakota?
Jackley:We need to be good stewards of the land and water God has given us. I believe in incentives, and to the extent that the state can incentivize the protection of our grassland and wetland areas, I will try to be a good steward. In the face of budget limitations, I will rely on conservation and sportsmen groups to help us prioritize the tools and strategies that work best.Noem: Maintaining and improving habitat is critical to wildlife preservation. I am proud to have prime hunting habitat on some of our family's land and have long participated in the CRP program as a means to preserve it. But as land values have increased, areas like this have begun to disappear, gravely impacting bird populations. For this reason, I fought for and won sodsaver protections in the 2014 Farm Bill, which help preserve our region's native grasslands. Additionally, I continue to push federal policymakers to enhance CRP through the Farm Bill. These are important programs I will fight to protect as governor too. Sutton: It's important to promote and properly fund the existing conservation programs GFP has in place. The Working Wetland and Grassland Program is a good example of an effort that, if funded reasonably and consistently, can work to preserve grasslands and wetlands in South Dakota. I also support a transition to actual use for property taxes to encourage landowners to preserve native grasslands.
Grassland soils and wetlands hold significant quantities of carbon which if converted to cropland become significant contributors of greenhouse gases. Would you support a landowner's ability to monetize these carbon resources by participating in private carbon trading markets?
Noem: I do not support carbon credits.Sutton: I would like to get more feedback from stakeholders and those affected to better determine if there is public support for this concept.Jackley: A private carbon trading market inherently involves government regulation, and as a limited government conservative, I believe in seeking solutions that do not involve government coercion or taxation.
Perpetual conservation easements are a valuable tool to protect habitat and agricultural land. Do you support a private landowner's right to sell perpetual conservation easements on his/her land as a tool to protect wildlife habitat, improve water quality and enhance other natural resources?
Sutton: YesJackley:I support an individual property owner's right to enter into conservation easements.Noem: Landowners should have a variety of options when deciding how to use their land to promote conservation.
Do you think landowners should have a right to "buy out" conservation easements sold previously on land they own, regardless of the interests of the easement holder?
Sutton: I support both conservation easements and landowners' rights. Therefore, I would like to get further input on whether there are some circumstances where a conservation easement buy-out would be justified.Jackley: Easement agreements should be binding as set forth in the agreement. A "buy out" provision would have to be included in the original easement to be an option or all interested parties would need to be in agreement.Noem: It's important landowners be given options on how to best conserve their land.
Do you support strategic land acquisition by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to secure wildlife habitat and provide more public recreational opportunities?
Jackley: As governor, I would conduct a comprehensive overview of GF&P lands to assess our needs in terms of habitat and recreational opportunities. While government should not buy land in order to do what private landowners are capable of doing themselves, I support dedicating specific land areas to conservation. We must also ensure that any land managed by state government is being properly cared for. In addition, I would work with local governments and seek their support before supporting any additional land acquisitions.Noem: I would encourage South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks to continue working with landowners on strategic land acquisition. Sutton: It's important to South Dakotans that we protect our current public lands, both state and federal, and also maintain and strengthen that public access to land and water so that this tradition and way of life can flourish for generations to come. As a rancher, I also understand and respect the rights of property owners. Private property plays an important role in funding our roads, bridges, schools, and local infrastructure. In South Dakota roughly 10% of the land is open for public access. To preserve our heritage of hunting and fishing, we must protect our current state and federal public lands and find ways to ensure public access while upholding the rights of property owners. We must work to promote partnerships and improved relationships between sportsmen and property owners. There is likely room for some strategic land acquisition when consensus can be found among those impacted.
Would you support efforts to mandate improved management on state school lands, such as requiring grazing plans and drought planning?
Noem: I will work with the Office of School and Public Lands to maximize the benefits to the citizens of South Dakota. Sutton: Yes, state school lands should have plans in place already.Jackley: Government should always be looking for ways to improve management, and I support efforts to maximize the potential of our state lands through better planning.
Many grassland owners and conservation groups are concerned about current property tax methodology that in some instances incentivizes the conversion of grassland to cropland. Would you support changing property tax methodology to a system that considers actual land use?
Sutton: Yes, this is a very important issue to me and has been during my time in the Legislature. The current system of taxation on ag land is driving landowners to break up native grasslands because that land is being taxed based on "highest and best use" and not "actual use." Tax policy shouldn't force farmers and ranchers to make decisions that don't fit their vision for the land. We need to promote a fair and equitable tax system; taxation based on actual use would do a lot to achieve that goal. It would also support a system in which we are not discouraging landowners from natural conservation efforts. It is an important issue to farm and ranch country as well as for sportsmen and women that deserves a full discussion.Jackley: In April, I stood before the United State Supreme Court to argue on behalf of Main Street businesses for a level playing field. Estimates show that a victory in that case could lead to $50 million or more in new revenues for state and local government. In the event of a favorable ruling for South Dakota, I will work with the legislature to have a conversation about tax relief for South Dakotans. This conversation would include the consideration of property taxes, and whether or not actual use should be a part of that policy shift.Noem: A concern I've heard from many South Dakotans is with implementation of the productivity system. In some cases, local assessors were not using the tools they had to make sure individuals were being properly taxed. While I previously co-sponsored legislation (with Senator Jim Peterson) to have native grasslands taxed based on actual use, I also believe we need to continue to use existing statutory tools to make the adjustments contemplated by the Legislature.WETLANDS & WATER RESOURCES:
South Dakota has significant water quality problems. Wetland drainage, drain tile installation and grassland loss contribute to these problems. What role do you think the state should play in addressing this problem?
Jackley: The state should always be very concerned about water quality problems. I will make sure we address issues regarding water quality and take actions to correct those problems. The state should work with landowners and conservation groups to find solutions to better protect our lakes and rivers. I support the buffer strip tax break that encourages land owners to place runoff-absorbing grass or wildflowers between crops and polluted lakes, rivers, and streams. Given the limited number of applications in 2017, I will increase public awareness of this program to maximize its impact.Noem: As a lifelong producer and avid hunter, I deeply understand the careful balance between production and conservation. In the U.S. House, I fought to expand the sodsaver program, incentivizing the protection of native grasslands while ensuring the choice was ultimately left to producers. As governor, I have committed to expand voluntary conservation programs by improving landowner relationships. Working together, we can boost soil health and increase productivity on every acre, using precision agriculture to help farmers determine which areas may be best for cultivation while conserving the rest.Sutton: The state should fund existing programs that promote grasslands and should consider providing incentives to landowners to encourage them to refrain from draining their wetlands.
Would you support a public permitting process, that would document proposed locations of drain tile systems, particularly outlet locations where drain tile water could be entering public waterways?
Noem: No.Sutton: Many SD counties have drainage controls in place, and I would be interested in exploring the possibility of a more unified permitting process, especially as it pertains to public waterways.Jackley: I support the protection of public waterways and would be open to looking at how we can best document the effects of tile systems on our water systems.
The state recently passed a law incentivizing the voluntary establishment of buffer strips along certain river segments to improve water quality. But few landowners have signed up for the program. What would you do, if anything, to further encourage landowners to establish buffer strips along rivers, streams and wetlands?
Sutton: As a state legislator, I was instrumental in passing the buffer strip legislation. As Governor, I will work to take it a step further by further incentivizing buffer strips so more landowners utilize the program that is good for our environment and water. One of the simplest ways to do this is by expanding an existing landowner program to include buffer strips. Jackley: The buffer strip tax break is an example of a good incentive that needs more public awareness. We will do more to reach out to landowners to increase participation in the program and deliver stronger results for water quality protection.Noem: I'll continue to support the program and efforts to educate producers about the importance of enrolling land in the buffer strip program.
Do you have any other comments on any conservation related issues?
Jackley: I'm proud to say that the promotion of next generation hunting is one of the pillars of my Pheasant Hunting Initiative. We can't solve the problem of declining outdoor involvement without hearing directly from the generations we hope to inspire. That's why my Blue Ribbon Pheasant Population Commission will bring young people to the table. I will appoint a Youth Ambassador to the commission to represent the ideas of South Dakota's next generation of hunters and anglers. I'll also bring together landowners, sportsmen and women, the hospitality industry, hunting and conservation groups, the airline industry, Department of Tourism, regional economic convention and visitor bureaus, the Chamber of Commerce, economic development groups, local governments, our university system, and your members to bring concrete solutions to the issue of faltering pheasant numbers. Our youth cannot get excited about hunting and fishing if our wildlife populations are not maintained. The best way to engage our youth is to get them in the field early, which is why I supported SB 137 which eliminated the minimum age for mentored hunting. I'll also work with private partners like the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, the Sportsmen's Alliance, National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, the NRA, and Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, and all other groups to expand mentorship opportunities. I'll work with these same groups to eliminate any barriers that prevent our youth from getting involved in hunting and fishing. Partnership with these advocates can bring more trainings and camps that bring our youth into the company of other young people with a passion for the outdoors. In order to personally encourage South Dakota youth hunters, I will add a youth hunting and target shooting component to the annual governor's pheasant hunt. In summary, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address these vital conservation issues. My father taught me how to hunt and fish, and I've passed down those same traditions to Michael and Isabella. Conservation groups will have a seat at the table with the Jackley administration, and I look forwarding to working together in the future.Noem: As much as hunting is a family tradition for us, we made it our family business for years as well, running a hunting lodge in northeastern South Dakota. Small businesses like ours come alive during the various hunting seasons, as hunters invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in South Dakota. As governor, I am committed to being your partner, making sure this family tradition and driver of our economy is preserved for this generation and the next. And let me know when you're hunting in the northeast part of the state next. I'd love to see you out there!Sutton: I grew up on my family's ranch overlooking the Missouri River in South Dakota. The land and way of life has been passed down from generation to generation, and that is something I will look to protect as governor. I understand the importance of conservation and understand the impacts it has on our industries, having represented a region of our state best known for its pheasant and other small game hunting. I will always have an open ear, the background necessary to truly understand the issues before us, and the forward-thinking and get-it-done attitude to find solutions. I look forward to working together with you to make South Dakota even stronger.