News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel S.D. Secretary of Agriculture How do you mend a fence where there is none?

A good fence can make for good neighbors if properly built and tended. But there are times in the West when fences (or the lack of them) cause some real un-neighborly feelings and behavior.

I recall a news story about an Arizona fellow who got fed up with cows wandering through his yard and shot one. He soon learned that some parts of the "Old West" are alive and well while others are not. "Open range" is still the law in 13 Western states, but shooting cows is not.

In most of South Dakota, owners of real property are required to build (or pay for) half of the fence needed to separate their property from that of their neighbors. Those rules don't apply to open range such as the Black Hills.

People in open range areas are required to build fences if they don't want animals ranging onto their land.�Whether this rule will apply to the federal government is another matter.

The National Forest Service is writing (as they have been for eight years) a 10-year management plan for the Black Hills National Forest. A part of the plan from three years ago decided to keep cows away from streams so they won't step on snails or otherwise damage ecological values.

No one knows where these fences are going to be, or who will be responsible for building or paying for them.

If the Forest Service follows the same rules as the rest of us, they will fence the areas they want protected and will do so at their own expense.

That will happen if the United States Department of Agriculture decides to do the honorable thing, possibly about the same day my cows learn to fly.

We don't have any straight answers on this issue. I am left with my hunch that the measures will be imposed to appease the green "clients" (the Forest Service has "clients" nowadays) and those with grazing permits will be compelled to pay the bill or remove their cows.

I spent a lot of years in the South Dakota Legislature working on the adoption of laws and came to understand that having a clear rule that everyone understands is just as important as how the rule solves the problem.

Fencing laws are written to prevent or solve problems. They clearly lay out everyone's duties and responsibilities. The laws may divide duties differently in different areas, but at least everyone knows what the rules are.

Working with federal agencies is more difficult, mostly because they have so many vague and conflicting rules nobody knows what the rules are.

There are no quick and easy solutions to this. USDA officials are kind of like the buffalo that keep wandering out of the unfenced Yellowstone Park areas.� They wander where they please with no sense of direction, trampling on private property, and you for sure can't shoot at them.

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