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The newly appointed South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler has admitted that he is still learning the ropes. On a recent trip from Aberdeen to Siox Falls, Hepler saw his first case of habitat loss in the field.

“I saw a lot of old farmsteads and their shelterbelts that had been torn up or burned up and turned into beans or corn,” Hepler said. “I had heard about that but I hadn’t seen it before.”

In a recent interview with the Capital Journal, Hepler has stated that preventing and turning around Habitat loss will be one of the biggest challenges of his new role. Though this job isn’t without its supporters; Governor Dennis Daugaard has expressed his support in discovering opportunities to support habitat conservation.

Daugaard push forward a bill that would have given the new South Dakota Conversation Fund $1.5 million, if those funds could be matched by private donations. However, this was immediately brought down to $1 before being raised recently to $500,000. This is unlikely to be high enough.

Hepler has stated that he is still interested in pursuing the funds and hoping to help turn around the dramatic decrease in the amount of habitat being lost.

Hepler is no stranger to the battles over wildlife management issues. He spent years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and as the special projects coordinator while holding the working title of Assistant Commissioner.

He has also faced criticism. In November 2014, there were seven complaints filed against him by a small group of commercial fishermen. They complained that he hadn’t been charged for a fishing tournament. However, Hepler was cleared of all wrongdoing in the incident.

What do you think are the major conservation issues in South Dakota? If you were Hepler, what would your first action be?

Let us know in the comments below.

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