Specifically, House members debated whether landowners in South Dakota should continue to be allowed to engage in perpetual conservation easements on their properties with the federal government.
More than a dozen lawmakers spoke. In the end, the House voted against limiting conservation easements to a maximum of 30 years. The vote was 22 in favor and 45 against.
The legislation, House Bill 1087, was brought by Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City. She said that a perpetual easement means the current landowner as well as every future landowner lose the choice of how to use the land.
“Just bear that in mind. This is a protection of property rights,” Olson said. She added, “Times change. People change. Land use changes.”
Rep. David Sigdestad, D-Pierpont, supported her position. He said the easement issue “is very close to my heart.” He said he is a conservationist and a hunter, but he ran into difficulties farming land that his mother-in-law put into easements.
Sigdestad said the landowner gets a payment and taxes must still be paid on the land.
“But what do the succeeding generations get? Nothing,” he said.
Rep. Dennis Feickert, D-Aberdeen, said he has land under perpetual grass easement. He said he knew what he was doing when he signed the deal.
“I have a hard time voting in favor of this,” he said.
Two instances that need to be considered are the permanent impacts from the loss of natural wetlands and a loss of private interest in protecting areas that have wildlife, said Rep. Charles Hoffman, R-Eureka. He called for the bill’s defeat.
Hoffman said he could have considered supporting a 99-year limit. “But 30 years is a drop of a hat. It is a heartbeat,” he said.
The 30-year limit is an infringement on private property rights, according to Rep. Mike Verchio, R-Hill City.
“The individual landowner ought to have that choice. Nobody is forcing those people to do this,” he said.
Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, took the opposite view. He said it seems wrong to let a person control a piece of property forever from the grave.
“That strikes me as undemocratic in our society,” he said.