RAPID CITY, S.D. — The reintroduction of bighorn sheep in the Hell Canyon region of the southwestern Black Hills is a conservation success story for South Dakota officials, but not for a third-generation landowner who wants them taken away.
The animals have been a nuisance for Dan Stearns, who lives on a ranch in the region, the Rapid City Journal reported.
The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks released 20 bighorn sheep on public land in the area in 2001. Breeding and more releases have increased their population to about 130.
Stearns said the bighorn sheep take his cattle’s food and water, damage his fences and flatten his grass and alfalfa.
The department recently offered Stearns nearly $30,000 in compensation and assistance, including payments for the alfalfa eaten by wildlife, fenced-in areas to store hay and specialized fencing to resist damage from wildlife or keep wildlife out entirely. They’ve also offered to guide wildlife away from Stearns’ ranch with aircraft.
Stearns turned down the help.
“If I take their money, then they’re going to be done with me and I’ll be forced into accepting their way,” he said. “It won’t change the way they do things.”
He said he wants the bighorn sheep taken away and the department to stop forcing landowners to accommodate wildlife and start managing wildlife to accommodate landowners.
“They’re not managing the wildlife,” Stearns said. “They want to manage the landowners.”
Department officials say their relationship with Stearns and other landowners affected by bighorn sheep is critical. Officials ranging in rank from the secretary of the department to regional supervisors have visited Stearns at his ranch to solicit his cooperation to no avail.
The department grants only three bighorn hunting licenses since the animals are scarce in the state. One of the licenses is auctioned to the highest bidder. The department uses the proceeds of the auction to fund research, reintroductions and other efforts to bolster and grow the bighorn sheep population in South Dakota.