Seth Tupper reports that the U.S. Forest Service opposes a bill sponsored by Senator John Thune to speed a land swap between South Dakota and Uncle Sam that would allow South Dakota to establish a new state park in Spearfish Canyon:
Leslie Weldon, the Forest Service’s deputy chief of the National Forest System, testified against Thune’s bill and said in a written statement that “the bill is unnecessary and contains provisions that raise concerns.”
The statement additionally said that the Forest Service already has authority to exchange land without legislation, that the recreation goals in the bill are already met through services provided in the Black Hills National Forest, that the bill proposes land-management requirements that would interfere with the federal government’s authority, and that the bill’s proposed agricultural appraisal of land values is inappropriate [Seth Tupper, “Forest Service Opposes Swap of Spearfish Canyon and Bismarck Lake Land,” Rapid City Journal, 2016.09.23].
Funny that conservatives like John Thune would support creating a law where one is not needed. But predictable that South Dakota Republicans would try to get something from Uncle Sam without paying South Dakota’s fair share. I’m willing to guess that if the federal government decided to sell the 1,468 acres included in S. 3254 in Spearfish Canyon (not to mention the 524 federal acres South Dakota wants around Bismarck Lake to expand Custer State Park), it would get a lot more bids from wealthy folks who’d like to build swanky vacation hideaways than from ranchers who’d like to run their cattle up and down the crumbly cliffs. Valuing the federal land South Dakota wants to acquire at agricultural rates likely gives that land less value than the free market would.
On the other hand, the 640 acres of Lyman County grassland, and 1,280 acres of Pennington County grassland north of the Badlands that South Dakota is offering in exchange is probably valued quite accurately as ag land. Grazing is that land’s best market use. Developers probably aren’t itching to build fancy summer haciendas in those locations.
I love Spearfish Canyon, and I welcome whatever deal the feds and South Dakota can reach to ensure ongoing reclamation and preservation of the natural wonder that Frank Lloyd Wright found more thrilling than the Grand Canyon. But we don’t need Senator Thune’s regulatory end-run to make that happen, and South Dakota doesn’t to act like chiselers.