Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials
Posted September 28
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Sept. 28
Forest Service listens and finds solutions
The relationship between the Mystic Ranger District and bicyclists has come a long way since 2016 when a red line was drawn in the Black Hills National Forest.
But it has been a challenging and difficult ride.
It got real bumpy in April 2016 when the district ranger at the time decided the best way to respond to mountain bikers who created and maintained unauthorized trails was to threaten to prosecute them, which could have led to six months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In April 2017, that same district ranger, Ruth Esperance, announced she was canceling popular mountain bike and trail-running races, including the Black Hills Back 40, which raises money for local charities while attracting visitors from across the country to the Black Hills.
In both cases, the parties eventually decided it was better to work together to find a solution than be in irreconcilable conflict over how to share a public resource. They talked and began working on a plan to allow more mountain-biking trails and the decision to cancel the races was rescinded.
Now and without the drama that highlighted the process before, the Mystic Ranger District is working with fat-tire bicyclists so they too can enjoy the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota.
On Sunday, the Journal reported that after some tense exchanges last year over trail usage, the Forest Service has identified trails and roads in five areas that could be groomed for fat-tire bicycles, which allow riders to navigate terrain that is muddy or snow-covered.
In doing so, the Forest Service hopes it will keep the bikes off trails now used by snowmobiles and are off-limits to wheeled vehicles. Those groomed trails are supported by snowmobile licenses and fees.
Mark Van Every, the supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest, said representatives from several trails and recreation groups met with state and local land managers to discuss the issue and then preliminarily identified trails and roads for fat-tire bikers.
While there is still work ahead and certainly more discussions before any plans are finalized, the process this time around has certainly been smoother.
The Forest Service, bikers and others have shown that it is possible to find equitable solutions once the position of no compromise is dismissed and the red line is erased. After all, the national forests belong to all of us.
It's a lesson that those in elected office and party loyalists can learn from. We can work together in this country and often that is the best course to take.
The Daily Leader, Madison, Sept. 25
Lake County isn't only one to face jail limits
We've read several stories recently about county jails across South Dakota facing capacity problems and other structural issues, including Codington County, Davison County and Lawrence County.
The problems seem to be due, in least partially, to the criminal justice reforms passed by the state Legislature four years ago. It is a complex issue, of course, but the reforms were an attempt to reduce the capacity strain on the state's prison system.
At the time, legislators and the governor worked to remove nonviolent offenders from long prison sentences and into highly supervised probation. The changes occurred at roughly the same time as increases in methamphetamine and opioid arrests, putting more offenders into county jails.
State prison populations dropped after the reforms, but are now rising again.
In some counties' cases, the capacity strain also occurs at a time when jails are showing their ages. Some fixes are manageable within normal county budgets, while others will require tax increases or other funding to upgrade.
Rules about jailing women and juveniles have changed over the years, and some county jails aren't set up to meet those rules. In those cases, women or juveniles are sent to other facilities that can accommodate them, incurring transportation and housing costs.
In Lake County's case, the current facility has some aging infrastructure issues, plus a desire to create a better facility for 911 communications, and to put the states attorney's office on the ground. In addition, an improved design could increase safety and efficiency in staffing.
Lake County has been housing female prisoners since the beginning of 2017. It has also been talking with neighboring counties about sharing the use of the facility in Madison.
Expanding and renovating the Lake County jail is a complex and expensive proposition, and we urge citizens to learn as much as they can in upcoming months about the issue so we can make the best decisions.
The Capital Journal, Pierre, Sept. 26
South Dakota has a diversity problem
As much or more than two-thirds of our state's crop land is dominated by just two types of plant: corn and soybeans.
This is a big and growing problem. One that, for about 10 years, has been obscured by high prices and relative boom times for many of our state's farmers. Not so long ago, corn was fetching around $8 per bushel. That may not seem like too much to the non-farming public but, if you can raise an average of 200 bushels on each acre of a 160-acre quarter section, you've raised about $256,000 worth of grain. The average size of a farm in South Dakota this year is a hair over 1,400 acres.
The prices certainly are down from that record high. Yesterday, for example, the average price per bushel in the U.S. was about $3.53. The drop in price is due, in no small part, to a glut of corn having been grown in response to extraordinarily high prices.
And therein lies one aspect of the problem — there's too much reliance on too few types of crop. The price of corn has been inflated, artificially many would say, by the rise of ethanol as an alternative fuel source for our beloved cars and SUVs.
The ethanol industry has benefited greatly from generous, though often indirect, subsidies from all levels of government. One notable federal example is the Renewable Fuel Standard, which forces oil companies to mix ethanol into their gasoline. There also are the federal farm programs that help lower the risks of farming, thus lowering the price of such things as corn.
While low corn prices certainly benefit the corporations that produce ethanol, they're not always great for the folks who grow the corn. In a market not affected by government interference, the overabundance of corn would be solved by suppliers simply choosing not to grow so much corn.
The problem is that our farm programs often discourage farmers from planting a more diverse mix of crops. Diversification should be encouraged whenever possible. It's more profitable for farmers over the long term.