Monday, February 26, 2007

USFWS plans to divest responsibilities at Bear Butte

Nancy Hilding provided the following information.


Bear Butte/LaCreek Wild Life Refuge conservation meeting;

USFWS public open house on the USFWS divestment proposal,
Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007
you can stop in anytime between 11 am and 2 pm
Sturgis Community Center, 1401 Lazelle St., Sturgis, SD in the Meade Room.

Directions to Sturgis Community Center: It's on Lazelle, which is the main east-west street through Sturgis. It's on the north side of the road and is large and can't be missed.

For more information contact:
LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge,
29746 Bird Road,
Martin, SD 57551

Tom Koerner
(605)685-1173 fax


Also Prairie Hills Audubon Society (PHAS) has rented the meeting room at the Sturgis Agricultural Extension Bldg for a post open house discussion on this plan, and/or any other Bear Butte or local wildlife related concerns. After the USFWS terminates their meeting we will relocate a few blocks to the South to the Ag Extension Building which is just west across the parking lot from the Meade County Court House.
Call Nancy at 787-6466 or 787-6779 for details. On Wednesday call my cell phone 430-9230 to verify if we have moved from one meeting on to the next meeting. We imagine this move will occur about 2:30 pm on Wednesday the 28th.


Directions to Meade County Extension office , meeting room.,-- 1029 5th, Sturgis
The Building located just due west of Meade County Court house,
Directions: From I -90 take Junction Ave north, turn left at Sherman
go west on Sherman till it dead ends at Meade County Court House.


Geography & History of Bear Butte Mountain Lake

On the east of Highway 79 is the Bear Butte Mountain, which is a laccolith geologic formation up- thrusting from the plains. The Mountain is owned by the State of SD (as a Park), various Native American Tribes and private land owners. On the west side of Highway 79 is Bear Butte Lake, which sits in one of the drainages coming off of Bear Butte, which drainage is a tributary of Spring Creek. Spring Creek flows around the north side of Butte and joins Bear Butte Creek about 6 miles east of the Mountain. The Lake was once a natural lake or a prairie pot hole. A dam was built along its south west side and the natural lake/pot hole is now augmented with additional surface water runoff now collected by the dam. Also there once was an artesian well near Bear Butte, which was used to supply additional water to the Lake, and the USFWS had an easement to pipe water to the Lake. The engineering on this well failed in 1987, was not fixed and thus this ground water no longer augments the surface water. The Lake supports an artificial fishery of introduced fish, which periodically die off when the lake shrinks and the low oxygen/high temperatures kill the fish. It provides for shore birds and waterfowl and is especially important habitat for them during the spring and fall migrations. Upland areas provide mixed grass prairie habitat. Right now due to drought the Lake is very low.

The Lake is both a State Park and a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Thus both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and SD Game Fish and Parks Department (SDGFP) have a say in how the Lake Refuge/Park is managed. It is operated under a cooperative agreement executed in 1967 between the USFWS and SDGFP, allowing for SDGFP to manage the Refuge/Park pursuant to the USFWS rights. .

The Refuge was created in the late 30s when the USFWS acquired conservation easements from the State of SD, the War Dept. (now - Bureau of Land Management - BLM) and private landowners. The conservation easement was to maintain an area for "migratory bird, wildlife conservation and other purposes". The 1935 executive order states the purpose of refuges are "as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife..."

As part of the purpose of the refuge the easement reads:
"the exclusive and perpetual right and easement to flood with water, and to maintain and operate a natural or artificial lake thereon or in connection with other land included in what is known as the Bear butte Lake Project, and to raise the water level thereof by means of dams, dikes, fill, ditches, spillways and other structures, for water conservation, drought relief, and for migratory bird and wildlife conservation purposes and to operate upon said lands and waters and maintain a wildlife conservation demonstration unit and a closed refuge and reservation for migratory birds and other wildlife.
USFWS has 374.20 easement acres and no fee title lands. The Lake has a surface area of 180 acres and a maximum depth of 13 feet. Some lands under easements were originally owned by private landowners but are now owned by the State. Sometimes the easements apply only to the land under the high-water mark of the Lake.
Most of the Dam is on land owned by the BLM and some of the Dam is on land owned by the State. The BLM's land is to the western side. There are 3 small parcels within the Refuge Boundaries, along its edges were the land is owned by private persons.

Proposal to divest themselves of the Refuge.

The USFWS believes that the SDGFP via its promotion of the recreation uses of boating, swimming, camping and picnicking at the Lake, prioritizes recreational use over wildlife. It believes that the recreation use hurts the wildlife. The USFWS mission is to protect wildlife; it allows for recreation related to wildlife on its refuges but when conflicts arise, wildlife, not recreation is the USFWS priority. For example they believe that the recreational uses at the Lake, prevents whooping cranes, a endangered or threatened species from using the area. They don't think a park managed for recreation should be a refuge and want to walk away from the Bear Butte NWR, giving up their easements.

They have a planning document called an Environmental Assessment (EA) and propose only two alternatives; to continue the status quo or to divest themselves of the Refuge.
We (Prairie Hills Audubon Society) strongly objects to this plan. We will provide some reasons below.


You can comment on this document and the Plan till April 9th, 2007. The deadline is "postmarked" on April 9th.

Here is the link to down load the draft EA.

Here is the link to the EA on the USFWS regional web page.

Comments should be "snail-mailed" to:

Michael Spratt
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 25486
Denver Federal Center,
Denver, Co, 80225-0486

Comments are due in writing by April 9th, 2007 (That is "postmarked" )
Questions can be addressed to Micheal Spratt,, 303-236-4366 or to, 605)685-6508,


1. INSUFFICIENT ALTERNATIVES -- The USFWS only proposes two alternatives, it should have proposed another -- alternative in which USFWS insists that the State change its management of the Lake and the Lake's surroundings to decrease the impacts of recreation to wildlife. For example the USFWS could prohibit boating all together or prohibit boating at key times, such as spring and fall. We believe that an alternative which reduces the conflicts should be created and be the preferred alternative.

2. INSUFFICIENT DOCUMENTATION OF CONFLICTS -- Birders who use the Refuge, don't see that much use by recreators during the key migration times. The USFWS has provided us with data on the Parks infa-structure and policies but has not provided data on the Parks actual patterns of recreation use or actual wildlife data except to list species that occur there. Thus it does not backup its allegations the conflicts actually exist. For example the EA says "Documentation of bird occurrence and use is not well-developed for this refuge." But ironically they know that recreation is adversely impacting wildlife!

3. NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURAL PROTECTIONS UNDER FEDERAL LAWS BEST - The Federal government has very superior laws about consultation with Native Americans, about environmental justice, and about protection of historic/cultural resources than does the state. Native American interests may suffer with the removal of the USFWS from the area.

4. NEPA PROTECTIONS - When the federal government plans a project, gives money for a project or permits a project, NEPA (The National Environmental Policy Act) is invoked. If the area affected has "Unique characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to historic or cultural resources, park lands, prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers or ecologically critical areas." an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is needed. ( 40 CFR 1508.27 (b) (3)) An EIS is a superior planning process to an Environmental Assessment (EA). One can ask why isn't an EIS on this Bear Butte NWR divestment plan of the USFWS being done?

Some of the future development in the area may involve federal dollars/plans. The state of SD is planning to build a by-pass around Sturgis to drop traffic from I-90 on the east side of Sturgis. Some suspect the recent flurry of commercial rally related development near Bear Butte is in anticipation of this new by-pass. With a Wildlife Refuge in addition to a National Historic Landmark, on Highway 79, there are better arguments for an EIS not an EA on the proposed by-pass or other future projects, which may involve federal dollars.

Inappropriate development threatens Bear Butte. The Mountain itself is very special. The grasslands which surround it have some wetlands, wooded draws and riparian areas, with several streams running parallel to each other and merging in the area. Part of the Mountain itself and most of lands immediately under the slope of the mountain remain in private ownership. Meade County has no zoning. Private land in the area is getting very expensive, it is possible that the tribes don't have the financial resources to purchase all the needed lands, to secure both the Mountain and a buffer immediately around it..
Many believe purchase of land or conservation easements for public and/or tribal ownership is needed. Currently BLM, USFWS and the BIA (holding land in trust for tribes) are the federal land owning agencies in the area. There are federal conservation related monies sources for both BLM, USFWS to purchase land or easements (Land & Water Conservation Fund) and perhaps the BIA could be used, in a precedent settling manner, to receive federal conservation funds. There are federal tax breaks to donate conservation easements. We hope that in the future the USFWS can acquire more land or conservation easements in the area. Wouldn't a large prairie wildlife refuge including the grasslands and streams surrounding Bear Butte be great -- wouldn't a large buffalo herd (not bikers or subdivisions) surrounding Bear Butte be great? If USFWS leaves we will be left with the BLM, which is a "multiple-use" agency and as PHAS is a wildlife-biodiversity oriented group, we prefer the USFWS over the BLM as a federal land manager in this area.


The BIA has no precedent of which we are aware, to receiving LWCF conservation related funds, but maybe new precedent can be set at Bear Butte. Also sometimes the Federal government provides LWCF conservation grants programs requiring matching dollars for States/local government to purchase lands,/easements. But such grant programs did not receive any budget allocations in this fiscal year. I believe tribes can apply and compete within the State grant program for matching funds, in years when this state grant program is funded. Options of LWCF funding is something tribes could investigate.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

PenDemorandum for Feb 6

February 6, 2007
Another great weekend for Dems!
1. Champagne and Chocolates
2. Cracker Barrel!
3. Celebrate with Patti Rudge Sunday

1. Champagne and Chocolates, Friday

The Pennington County Democratic Party invites you and your friends to join us for:
** Champagne and Chocolates **
Featured Speaker: Gerard Baker, Superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

5:30 to 7:30 p.m, Friday, February 9, 2007
Prairie Edge, Sixth and Main in Rapid City

Suggested contribution, $25*
Seniors and Students with ID $15
*Contributions in any amount welcome

2. Cracker Barrel!
Saturday, Feb 10, 9-11 am, at the New Classroom Building on the SDSMT campus. West River Legislators will again speak and take questions from the public about the current legislative session. Sen Tom Katus (D-Rapid City) is a featured speaker this week! Meet up beforehand with Tom at Black Hills Bagels at 8 am to discuss what's happening in Pierre.

3. Celebrate Patti Rudge on Sunday

Sunday Feb 11, 2-4 pm! Our own Patti Rudge is retiring after 20 years of service to both Sen. Daschle and Sen. Johnson. All are welcome to come and celebrate her contributions and wish her well in future pursuits at Sen Johnson's Office, 405 E Omaha St, Rapid City

Friday, February 02, 2007

List of Bills

A few bills get a lot of press, so we often forget exactly how many bills are up during a legislative session. It can be mind boggling.

Fortunately, the Pennington County Democrats Issues Committee has been hard at work. Nancy Hilding with the help of the rest of this new committee, has developed a comprehensive list, which we have posted here as a google document.

You can easily check on the status of any of these bills by number at the South Dakota Legislative Research Council website.