Monthly Archives: August 2016

The mystery of pheasants and CRP in South Dakota

The common reason we’ve heard in recent years from state Wildlife Division biologists is that fewer acres in the federal Conservation Reserve Program have contributed to the decline in South Dakota’s pheasant population.

Perhaps, but perhaps not. It depends upon how far back you look.

Here is the packet released Wednesday by the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks. See Figure 6 on the final page. Nearly every year in the late 1980s and 1990s, CRP acres exceeded their current level but pheasant numbers were below their current level. Not until about 2002 did the pheasant population really take off.

The mystery, in my opinion, is why the pheasant population didn’t respond for approximately 15 years to so many acres in CRP.

Now CRP acres are dropping, as the chart shows. Pheasant numbers are dropping too. It looks like a correlation. But if so, why did it take so long for the birds to rise in numbers?

Sure, there’s weather. That is a concern every year. But it seems like something more is at work.

When CRP was at its peak for nine years, the pheasants per mile seen along brood routes fluctuated in much the same sub-six range as they have the past few years.

We essentially have returned to what appears to be the real normal. The big populations of 2003 through 2010 now seem to be the exception.

I don’t disagree habitat is important to pheasant populations. But the experience over the life of the CRP program, from 1987 through now, suggests there are other factors that are as important or more so.

Take a look at the harvest data, hunter numbers and brood data in this other wonderful historical chart from GFP.

The average brood size has been less than six during three of the five most-recent brood surveys including this summer. That is nearly unprecedented.

The only other period when this happened during the modern era was 1959-64, when there also were three years of less than six per brood.

The commission and the Wildlife Division staff haven’t taken any steps to reduce harvest in response to smaller brood sizes in recent years. I haven’t seen any studies about a relationship between brood size and harvest. What we do have are the same number of days in the season and the same bag limit and a decreasing brood size.

South Dakota residents have taken their own steps to reduce harvest. Thousands have stopped hunting pheasants. The resident licenses sold during the past three seasons are the lowest since 1940.

For GFP, and for many landowners, and motels, and restaurants, and guide services, and spoting good shops, pheasants are good business. GFP likes to publish reports on the economic importance of pheasants to South Dakota.

Based on resident license numbers, however, pheasants seem to mean less and less to South Dakota hunters. Why?

The answer might rest, at least in part, in the ratio of non-resident hunters to resident hunters. As recently as the early 1990s, resident hunters outnumbered non-residents by approximately 2 to 1 or more.The tipping point came in 2002. There were 70,821 residents and 74,873 non-residents. Since then, non-residents have outnumbered residents every year, often by large margins.

Non-residents set a record high 2007 of 103,231. And in 2013, we hit a modern low in residents, with 57,677, while non-residents numbered 74,424. Both increased slightly in 2014. Last season, we had 65,135 residents and 84,901 non-residents.

There’s another set of numbers that catches the eye. It’s the percentage of roosters seen on the brood surveys. Five of the six most-recent summers, the percentage of roosters has been 50 percent or higher. The previous time something close to that happened came in 1947-51.

And so that’s our other mystery. What’s suddenly happened to the hens?

Governor gets another legislative appointment

I haven’t checked yet what the all-time record is for legislators appointed by a single governor in South Dakota, but Gov. Dennis Daugaard gets another vacancy to fill with the death Tuesday of Rep. Dan Dryden, R-Rapid City. The governor can make an appointment for the remainder of Dryden’s current term. That person could then be appointed for a full term if voters in District 34 cast enough of their ballots for Dryden so that the one Democratic challenger, Steve Stenson of Rapid City, finishes third behind Republican candidates Craig Tieszen and Dryden in the contest for the district’s two House seats. Because the ballot deadline has passed, Dryden’s name remains on the ballot as a candidate for the general election. This is rare but isn’t unprecedented. Ten years ago, voters in Jerauld County elected a dead woman, Democrat Marie Steichen of Woonsocket, to the county commission, defeating Republican incumbent Merlin Feistner of Woonsocket. She had died two months before the election.

Rep. Dan Dryden, 1944-2016

His full name was Robert Danny Dryden and he was known in public as Dan. He died Tuesday morning after several years of fighting cancer that spread from his liver. Dryden, R-Rapid City, was finishing his sixth year in the South Dakota House of Representatives. He represented District 34. He didn’t have a Republican challenger in the June primary. He and Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, were challenged by a single Democrat for the November general election for the district’s two House seats. Now it appears Tieszen and the Democratic candidate, Steve Stenson, will be the district’s two representatives for the 2017-2018 term. (Tieszen and Rep. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City, engaged in seat swapping this election because Tieszen had completed the constitutional limit of election to four consecutive terms in the same chamber.)

Where Dan Dryden excelled in the Legislature were congeniality and school issues. He was vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee during the 2015-16 term. Lawmakers from both political parties seemed to deeply respect him for his character and his knowledge. He was prime sponsor of one bill, HB 1099, during the 2016 session. It requires insurance pools such as the one operated by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota to report on their financial condition to the state auditor general. The House approved it 65-0. The Senate did too 33-0.

Dryden also played a significant role behind the scenes this year in winning approval for the governor’s proposal raising the state sales tax to 4.5 percent in order to provide more money for teacher salaries and property-tax relief. Several reforms he attempted in previous legislative sessions, such as counting more of a school district’s total revenue in calculating the necessary amount of state aid, are included in the new formula that was passed as part of the tax-increase package this year. Wade Pogany, the executive director for the Associated School Boards group, said Tuesday after learning of his death, “He will be greatly missed.”

Dryden also served in recent years as House chairman for the Government Operations and Audit Committee. Known as GOAC the panel, during the past three years, has been dealing with several scandals in state government dating from the previous decade. He previously was the business manager for the Rapid City school district, and he understood the inherent value of a properly run operation.

Near the finish of the 2016 session, the House gave him a long, long round of applause. They recognized his courage and character. Sometimes his health kept him away. More often he was there, working. He quietly got things done — and done right. In that respect he was an example of what a South Dakota legislator should be.


Recommended reading: Shoe Dog

The title of this Phil Knight memoir about the creation and success of Nike is a reference to people whose obsession was making shoes, in this instance athletic shoes. Knight was at the center of this company but he shares credit with a variety of others throughout this entertaining story. There’s a lot about America, and parts of Asia, in that story. Why did Nike make most of its shoes overseas? America’s shoe-making industry was all but dead. (And some Nikes were made in the United States.) Nike began under a different name as the West Coast U.S. importer of a Japanese brand of track shoe. In the story, Knight and Nike are repeatedly one bank decision away from failure. A Japanese lender delivers the big help. The U.S. government at one point tries to levy a penalty that would have shut down the company — as competitors hoped. The story takes the reader to the decision within Nike’s leadership to become a publicly traded company, using the Class A and Class B system of stock that other companies learned was an effective way to raise money publicly without giving up control among the founders. The book closes with a long chapter about what led Knight to write the book and about Nike becoming the world leader in athletic shoes and apparel. This is one of those books I didn’t buy but interested me. I happened to find it at our excellent Rawlins public library in Pierre (if only every public library could excel at selecting books as well as Pierre’s staff does). After reading it, my opinion is that it is worthy of purchase. It is a good tale.

Banking Commission sees some change

The state Banking Commission will have new members for the first time in five years when it meets Thursday.

Two of the longer-serving members have stepped down this summer. They are John Lillibridge of Burke and Paul Christen of Huron.

Lillibridge resigned earlier this summer for health reasons. Last week, Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed John Johnson of Piedmont to succeed him.

Lillibridge had served nearly 20 years on the commission and was its longest-tenured member. Johnson is a retired regional vice president for First Interstate Bank. Lillibridge is chairman of the board for First Fidelity Bank at Burke.

Last month, the governor selected Doug Balvin of Huron to succeed Christen. Balvin is executive vice president for the Christen Group LLC, a real-estate investment company. Christen is its chairman. Christen formerly was president for First Western Bancorp in Huron. Christen spent the past decade on the commission.

The changes are the first since May 2011 when Steve Hayes of Presho replaced Doyle Estes of Hill City. The longest-serving members now are chairman Jeff Erickson of Sioux Falls, who was appointed to the commission in November 1998, and Dick Westra of Aberdeen, who was named to the commission in April 2002.

The banners in the Avon gym

The story told on Wednesday night was the state Public Utilities Commission originally planned to hold its public input hearing regarding the Prevailing Winds permit application at the Avon fire hall. Chris Nelson, the commission’s chairman, thought a larger room would be needed because of the strong opinions in the community, on all sides, about the proposed wind farm. The decision came weeks ago that the hearing site should be the Avon school gym. In the half hour before the 6:30 p.m. meeting, people streamed in, eventually filling the south bleachers all six rows deep and using all of the folding chairs that waited as stand-by seating. They spoke for more than three hours, sometimes in tears. It’s difficult to tell at such a forum whether more people were for or against. It wasn’t hard to tell the community cared very much about its past and about its future. Caring was the common denominator.

There wasn’t any disruption of people’s comments. Sometime in the second hour, audience members began clapping at the end of a speaker’s comments. Both sides then did this. There weren’t any signs. Nor were there any protestors outside the gym. As far as one could see, people simply were polite to one another, even though opinions ran strong in the crowd of some 300 people.

What stood out as well was the gym. The wooden parquet floor shined a natural gold. Names of local businesses and other supporters were painted along the school-red boundary to the court. On an end wall a display held the names of the sponsors of the floor-restoration project from about 20 years ago. Overhead hung two rows of banners, celebrating championships and strong finishes in state tournaments, including the South Dakota titles won in girls volleyball and nine-man football. To say the school has an impressive record in athletics during the past 15 years would be an understatement. The title banners included the names of the players, coaches and student managers. You could see how this small place launched Tom Oster from superintendent of the school district to state secretary of education for the final three years of Gov. Rounds’ administration.

One of the concerns in the crowd on Wednesday night was that the community could be permanently divided over a wind project within sight north of town. This visitor wondered whether the gym would feel the same in the future, as a place of pride in a community’s young people, to the hundreds of people who went to the PUC meeting. The floor will still be there. The banners will still be there. The test ahead is whether the communal pride can still be there, whether the possibility of 100 white wind towers will or won’t overwhelm the bond, the tradition, of the red and gold.

An incident in North Dakota along pipeline route

As the numbers of tribal peoples increase at the Cannonball protest site, and work continues to be stopped on the permitted project, there is a report on file with the North Dakota Public Service Commission (the kin of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission) regarding a report of a possible grave site along the Dakota Access pipeline route in Morton County, N.D. The official report to the PSC is worth reading. It is here. Upon further investigation, officials determined there wasn’t substance to it. However, the incident also showed that the process for handling discoveries worked, at least in this instance.

The pipeline route, which runs through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, required permits in all four states. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers participated with the state regulators in their permitting processes. The South Dakota process included interaction with the corps. The key documents involving the corps are here. (Go to near the bottom of the long list.) For what it’s worth, only two tribal governments participated in the South Dakota permitting process. They were the Yankton Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. During the hearing by the state Public Utilities Commission, the corps didn’t seem overly involved. Perhaps the questions from the lawyers representing the two tribal governments and from other organizations opposed to the project helped better focus attention. The corps documents were issued in July. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation covers parts of North Dakota and South Dakota, didn’t participate in the South Dakota permitting process. The Cannonball protest is on the North Dakota side of the reservation.

An interesting procedural twist regarding the protest is the 12-month requirement for Dakota Access to complete its work under the corps’ conditions. Because all of its pipe has been delivered, it seems unlikely DAPL will give up. And because the protest seems to be gaining momentum among tribal peoples beyond the Dakotas, it seems unlikely the protest will end any time soon. Construction is continuing elsewhere along the pipeline. Federal District Judge James Boasberg, from Washington, D.C., has set Sept. 9 for his ruling on the work-stoppage injunction brought by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. There is little question the losing side will appeal, regardless of which side it is. The heart of the work-stoppage injunction is the threat of oil polluting the Missouri River where the pipeline would cross under the river downstream from Bismarck. Those waters are at the top of the Oahe Reservoir, most of which is in South Dakota.

A big year for SDHSAA starts today

The South Dakota High School Activities Association begins a year of major transition today with the annual strategy meeting for its board of directors. This will be the final school year with Wayne Carney as executive director for the association and selecting his successor is a giant responsibility for the directors. The chairman for the board during this year of change is veteran high school principal and educator Steve Morford of Spearfish. Take a look at today’s agenda and you’ll get a sense of the board’s continuing efforts to bring more transparency and order to its processes. The agenda and a live audio link are at the association’s website on the Internet. Wayne Carney performed well in building a stable financial base for the association. Because of the association’s system for selecting its board, who are subject to a limit of one term, the executive director has been greatly responsible for setting direction and processes. That’s gradually changed in the past few years, after some missteps that riled school district officials in some instances over money and policy. The Legislature stepped in with the decision that SDHSAA meetings needed to be subject to South Dakota’s open-meeting laws just as school districts are. That’s led to meetings now being live-cast on the Internet for the benefit of all school districts and all South Dakotans. The procedural discussion today on the use of first and second readings is another example of the changes made in recent years. The board holds its regular business meeting on Thursday.

GOED’s new leader starts next week

Scott Stern, best known in South Dakota for his past work in the family petroleum-products business at Freeman, starts Monday as commissioner of economic development for Gov. Dennis Daugaard. He replaces Pat Costello of Sioux Falls, who was the original head of GOED in Daugaard’s administration, serving from 2011 through June 30 this year. Costello now works in a management position for Schoeneman;s Lumber in Sioux Falls, according to Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s chief of staff. Aaron Scheibe, the deputy commissioner, has served in an interim role as commissioner since Costello’s departure. Scheibe recently briefed state Board of Economic Development members about the transition and reported that GOED staff have been working with Stern in preparation for his official start.

The trains now must run without Carl

Carl Anderson of Aberdeen submitted his resignation from the South Dakota Railroad Board over the weekend in a letter to its chairman, Todd Yeaton of Highmore. Carl participated in his final meeting Aug. 19, via teleconference, as he has increasingly needed to do for health reasons. Carl and Todd had been the two longest-serving members of the Railroad Board, whose duties are to oversee South Dakota’s state-owned rail lines and make loans to rail projects. They were appointed in 2003 by then-Gov. Mike Rounds and subsequently reappointed by Rounds and Gov. Dennis Daugaard. One keepsake from the Carl Anderson era that will remain with the board are a gavel and a sound block that the chairman uses.  Read the letter here.