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Study Group Working On Hunting Issues

A South Dakota study panel has been unable to reach agreement on a proposal that would restrict game wardens' ability to enter private land to check whether hunters are following the law.

The West River Issues Working Group is looking at ways to improve relations between hunters and western South Dakota landowners. The panel deadlocked on the issue of game wardens' access to private land, but it likely will discuss the issue again before taking a vote on its final recommendations November 30th.

Hunters and landowners are divided on the open-fields doctrine, a legal principle that gives game wardens authority to enter private land to check hunters without getting permission from landowners.

A measure to restrict game wardens' access to private land was rejected earlier this year by the South Dakota Legislature. Landowners believe officers should have to get permission to enter private lands unless they have reasonable suspicion of a crime or need to investigate a report of wrong-doing.

Under the open fields doctrine, game wardens now can go onto private lands without permission during hunting season to check whether hunters are complying with the law and to investigate potential crimes.

The same panel has endorsed a compromise plan that would give western South Dakota ranchers some say in who gets licenses to hunt deer on their land.

The West River Issues Working Group finished work on its draft proposals. The panel will meet again November 30th to take a final vote on its recommendations, which will then be given to the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

Ranchers had asked for the ability to have a say on which hunters get licenses to hunt deer on their land so they could guarantee friends, relatives or paying guests a chance to hunt. But the Legislature has several times rejected the idea of letting landowners get licenses that could be transferred to other people.

The compromise would not guarantee licenses to anyone. But it would let ranchers with at least one-thousand acres sponsor a certain number of hunters who would get the chance to draw licenses from a special pool. A hunter who drew a license after being sponsored by a landowner could hunt only on that rancher's land.

A pilot program would issue 2,000 sponsored licenses in western South Dakota. Hunters sponsored by landowners would not be certain of drawing a license, but they likely would have a better chance of success than if they tried to get a license through the general drawing.

© 2004 Associated Press.

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