Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

The Associated PressJuly 17, 2014 

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, July 16, 2014

Help GF&P find deer solution

On the heels of huge reductions in antlerless deer licenses in South Dakota, the state Game, Fish & Parks Department is reviewing its system for allocating deer hunting licenses for the 2015 seasons.

Deer populations in the state have dropped dramatically in recent years, and the GF&P is struggling to find ways to help the deer rebound while satisfying the hunting demand by sportsmen. Meanwhile, hunters are reporting fewer successful hunts.

The Wildlife Division of the state GF&P will survey the 66,000 hunters who applied for a license in 2013, with results timed for the commission's December meeting and before the state Legislature convenes in January 2015.

Among the changes under consideration are limiting the number of licenses that hunters can apply for — some hunters apply for all the licenses that are available, including East River, West River, Black Hills and Custer State Park firearms, muzzleloader and archery seasons — while many hunters fail to receive the buck license that they want. The revised system would give hunters a better chance of getting the license they prefer. The GF&P may also reduce the number of licenses that are set aside for landowners.

The GF&P's proposal comes after it announced significant reductions in antlerless deer licenses this year. While the Black Hills region is not seeing significant cuts, East River antlerless-only licenses will drop by 59 percent and West River antlerless-only licenses will be reduced by 86 percent with no licenses for mule deer.

Wildlife biologists believe that limiting antlerless licenses will help the state's deer herds to recover. Diseases and a significant shift in agricultural land from conservation reserve to farmland have reduced deer populations in much of the state.

Hunting is an important lifestyle for many South Dakotans. A recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service survey found that South Dakota was No. 1 in the nation in percentage of residents who hunted and fished.

We like the idea of the GF&P surveying hunters for their views on how deer licenses should be allocated. Since much of the GF&P's income comes from hunting licenses, getting input from their "customers" is a good idea.

Maintaining the health of the state's deer herd should be a priority for the GF&P. We believe the state's sportsmen should support the GF&P in finding the best solution to declining deer populations, even if it means issuing fewer licenses and changing how hunting licenses are allocated.

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Press & Dakotan, Yankton, July 14, 2014

Highway Funding: The Clouds And The Road Ahead

Officials from South Dakota's Department of Transportation (DOT) were in Yankton recently discussing some of the projects they have in the pipeline for this part of the state.

But there was a nagging sense that it all seemed more like a wish list than a definitive timetable.

In some ways, that's an inaccurate description. Some projects, such as the Highway 50 work on the east side of Yankton, are certainly set to move forward.

But several other items — including a much-needed reworking of Highway 46 west of Irene — are basically being held hostage by forces beyond local control.

Officials admitted that their planning is hampered by the uncertainty tied to federal highway funding. The Highway Trust Fund, from which most states get about half of their funding in order to do roadway repairs, is predicted to run out of money sometime next month, and work on a new Highway Bill in Congress has been agonizingly slow — despite the fact that crumbling infrastructure is a growing and dangerous problem around the country.

That leaves state highway officials everywhere sitting in limbo.

"We're supposed to sit here and try to create a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) over the next four to eight years based on unknown funding amounts," said David Voeltz of the DOT.

"We hope to get the same amount. If we don't, we'll probably have to go back to the STIP and defer a lot of projects. That will have a snowball effect. Our crystal ball right now is pretty cloudy as far as what is going to happen."

But the need is desperately clear, although current conditions in South Dakota, for instance, might not suggest as such. Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, wrote in the Press & Dakotan last month that 89 percent of state highways currently rate at either good to excellent condition.

However, those numbers are changing quickly — it's estimated that 25 percent of state roads will be rated in poor condition in 10 years — and planning (and budgeting) to keep those roads up must begin years in advance.

At the county level, things are even more uncertain. A recent hearing in Yankton revealed that some officials in area counties plan to convert more roads from paved to gravel. And bridges are a growing problem; an issue with any one bridge in any location can have a ripple effect on producers for miles around.

The situation is pressing enough that state officials are even talking about raising the gasoline tax to help fund new projects, although that prospect doesn't seem to be well received by taxpayers who, by the way, also rely on good roads to do business and to move about freely.

None of this is news. These facts have been obvious for years, and still our federal lawmakers have found little desire to vigorously address the issue. The 2009 stimulus package, which was arguably too small to begin with given the size of the economy it was trying to jump-start, did provide some funding for highway projects, and states did put them to good use. But it didn't reach far enough given the scope of the issues we face. A second stimulus proposal to more specifically target highway spending went nowhere. And now, the slow dance on the Highway Bill has states wondering what's going to happen next.

Our roadways are probably the most important system of infrastructure in this country. It allows goods to flow from coast to coast quickly, and it allows Americans to travel at an aggressive pace. A deterioration of that infrastructure is simply unacceptable from an economic perspective, as well as a social one. This is an urgent matter, and next month could tell us a lot about how connected our Washington lawmakers really are with the needs of this nation. The crystal ball needs to clear up fast before real headaches start befalling us.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, July 12, 2014

Enforce the ban on texting and driving

Surely we can do better than this.

In the two years since Sioux Falls passed a ban on texting while driving, police have issued only 32 tickets.

Much more is occurring, of course. We encounter texting drivers fairly regularly on our city streets.

Statistics show this is a serious problem. More than 61 percent of South Dakota teenagers answering a survey recently admitted to sending texts or emails while driving at least once a month. That was the highest rate in the nation.

Adults are just as bad.

The Sioux Falls police say it's difficult to enforce the city's $95 texting ban because drivers could be making a phone call, which is allowed. Without proof, the police have shied away from issuing the tickets in those cases.

Unfortunately, when police say it is difficult to do something, people hear it as, "we're not going to do it." And the fear of punishment vanishes.

But police have not really gone the extra step yet. While officers have looked for evidence of texting when investigating other traffic violations or accidents, they haven't set up a special patrol or a sting designed just to identify texting drivers.

Our law enforcement authorities need to demonstrate intent here. Set up sting operations on a couple of days and stop everyone seen using a phone and driving erratically. If you can't prove the person has been texting, you probably still could charge the driver with distracted driving.

Either way, you make headway.

Other communities have found ways to do saturation patrols to stop texting drivers. Vermillion police have written 16 tickets this year alone — half as many as Sioux Falls with a fraction of the population.

Sioux Falls needs to try these things.

Ticketing patrols draw attention to the problem. And they help drivers understand the consequences.

Reinforcing the message that this behavior is unsafe is the key. If a driver knows that an arrest and fine could happen, he or she might decide to wait to answer a text.

Similar efforts have worked for drunken driving. Beefed up enforcement efforts coupled with public education programs got the word out: If you drink and drive, you'll get caught. Consequently, fewer people opt to drink and drive today than did 15 or 20 years ago.

It might work with cellphones and texting as well. Let's give it a try.

After all, why have a ban if it's not enforced?

For the safety of all of us, we need to do better.

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