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Published July 01, 2013, 10:26 AM

Why restart land purchases?

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has lifted a moratorium on land purchases by the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department. The department now can purchase land for public recreation.

By: Rapid City (S.D.) Journal, Agweek

In January 2011, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard fulfilled a campaign promise when he announced a moratorium on land purchases by the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department. The decision was popular with West River ranchers, who think the state owns enough land and mismanages what it does own.

The governor lifted the moratorium in June, allowing the GF&P to resume acquiring land for wildlife production, hunting and other public recreation.

Public input

Daugaard says future land purchases should be made prudently and with the involvement of local officials; county commissioners will be notified in advance of acquisitions of 80 acres or more; and commissioners also will be able to meet with GF&P about proposed land acquisitions in their counties. He says there will be a 30-day comment period before action by the GF&P Commission.

“I believe the state should be prudent about land acquisition,” Daugaard says. “I want to consider local preferences and priorities as we make sure that all South Dakotans have great hunting and outdoor opportunities now and in the future.”

We are encouraged that Gov. Daugaard will include local county commissions in the process and allow the public to submit comments on proposed purchases.

But we wonder what has changed since 2011 to break a campaign promise.

In January 2011, Gov. Daugaard said South Dakota was in a budget crisis and declared across-the-board spending cuts.

At the time, allowing the GF&P to buy more land would look bad when other departments — education, for instance — were being asked to cut back.

Is it a coincidence that Daugaard’s budget director recently said the state’s budget revenues are projected to be nearly $50 million more than expected with a projected surplus of up to $20 million?

From $120 million in deficits to $20 million in surpluses in two years is impressive, and Daugaard deserves credit for easing the state’s budget problem. The apparent surplus in revenues was made possible by two years of austerity budgets.

Granted, the GF&P budget is separate from the state’s general fund, but is now the time to open the state’s checkbook to buy more land for the GF&P? Is buying private land for wildlife management, hunting and recreation the best use of the GF&P’s funds?

Prudent purchases of land with the cooperation of local county commissioners and public comment are welcome changes to past policies.

We note, however, that the land acquisition moratorium from our self-styled fiscal conservative governor lasted only as long as the state’s budget crisis. Now that the state is back in the black, it’s business as usual.