Why are compliance and license checks necessary?

Why are compliance and license checks necessary? By Emmett Keyser There was a time not so long ago when wildlife populations were vanishing. Fortunately citizen conservationists banded together and worked through legislatures and Congress to enact laws to protect dwindling populations. These laws basically restricted harvest and provided funding mechanisms for wildlife conservation and management programs. Through the diligence of our forefathers we are now able to enjoy wildlife resources that were unimaginable not long ago.

Game, Fish and Parks conservation officers make contact with thousands of hunters in the field each year. They make these contacts � called compliance and license checks � under the authorities of laws and regulations enacted by state legislature and reviewed by courts.

So, why are compliance and license checks necessary?

They are necessary to protect our valuable wildlife resources. These checks provide a degree of assurance to the public that those who hunt do so in compliance with the rules and laws designed to sustain our wildlife, allow a fair and equitable distribution of a public resource, and provide the funding required for wildlife management responsibilities.

This past year, several people have questioned the propriety of conservation officers conducting these license and compliance checks, especially when it involves entry on to private lands. My purpose of sharing the following thoughts and information is to allow readers to make an informed judgement as to the propriety and legality of license and compliance checks on private land.

First of all, it is important to recognize that hunting is a privilege. When a person makes the voluntary decision to hunt, fish or trap, they are undertaking an activity that carries certain conditions spelled out by state law.

One condition is that the hunter must buy the necessary license(s). Another condition requires that the hunter exhibit the license upon the request of any person (State Law 41-6-63). This requirement is printed on every license. By purchasing and signing the hunting, fishing or trapping license, each person is agreeing to the condition that they will exhibit their license upon request of any person ��not just conservation officers or other law enforcement officers. Conservation officers act on behalf of the public to make these license checks. Checking licenses and harvested game prevents a significant Reduction eduction in compliance with the very laws that citizens have enacted to provide for the protection and sustained management of our natural resources.

Does this give law enforcement officers, including conservation officers, the right to enter private land without permission? Courts throughout the United States have reviewed this question on many occasions over the past 75 years. The U.S. Supreme Court has rendered a series of decisions that support what is commonly referred to as the �Open Fields Doctrine.� These decisions offer specific legal guidance to all law enforcement officers regarding the protections that are afforded our citizens under the U.S. Constitution.

Wildlife laws apply equally on public and private lands. The principle of fairness in the application of these laws would dictate that they be enforced equally, no matter where the hunter might be found. However, Constitutional restrictions do not allow law enforcement officers, including conservation officers, to enter homes or farmsteads to conduct searches without permission or a lawfully obtained search warrant. Under the Open Fields Doctrine, this Constitutional protection does not apply to other property that would be classified as an open field.

Wildlife is a public trust resource, owned by all the citizens of our state. Game, Fish and Parks, is the agency that has been entrusted with the responsibility to manage this public trust resource. Conservation officers, working under directives provided by citizens through the state Legislature have worked to protect these resources on public and private lands for the past several decades. They continue that work today under the authority and constraints set forth by the Legislature, U.S. Supreme Court, and guidance provided by the state attorney general�s office in their recent legal opinion on this subject.

Conservation laws have provided for the recovery and protection of many species of wildlife around the nation. Without compliance and license checks, it would be nearly impossible to ensure that hunters follow established seasons, license requirements, bag limits and other restrictions put in place to conserve and sustain wildlife populations. These checks serve an important role in wildlife management and continued protection of this state�s wildlife resources. Compliance checks on privately owned open fields also play a significant role in protecting landowner rights against trespass and vandalism.

As you enjoy the opportunity to hunt in South Dakota, my hope is that you will appreciate the need for and value of compliance and license inspections when you meet one of our conservation officers in the field. I also urge you to honor and respect the private property of the landowners who serve as your hosts and who have graciously given you permission to hunt on their property.

As always, I wish each of you a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience.

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