Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Aug. 30

Task force get results with gun theft arrests

It's no secret that methamphetamine has become a major threat to public safety in South Dakota. Its addictive qualities are severe and the consequences ripple through communities in untoward and dangerous ways.

And, now, law enforcement has identified a nexus between meth and the illegal gun trade that poses another threat to public safety.

On Tuesday, Project Safe Neighborhood Task Force members U.S. Attorney Ron Parsons, Attorney General Marty Jackley, Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo, Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris and Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives officers held a press conference in Rapid City to publicize what they have uncovered since January.

It was startling.

Parsons reported that more than 200 firearms used in crimes, held illegally or with serial numbers removed have been seized in Rapid City since the first of the year. In addition, the U.S. Attorney's Office has indicted more than 40 people for drug crimes; numerous others have been charged by the state.

The task force, which was resurrected by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sees a clear and troubling relationship between the two trends.

"The rise of meth and drug trafficking is a clear and present danger to our children, families and citizens," Parsons said. "At the same time, gun crimes and other violence are on the rise as well. This is not a coincidence."

Jegeris said a recent homicide that led to the arrests of two teenagers and an aggravated assault in Founder's Park are just the most recent examples of an all-too-familiar crime scenario.

"In the last several years, we've had a normalization of meth," he said. "And it affects Rapid City, our tribal neighbors and results in increased violence."

The task force is pooling resources to focus on the activities of a world that is unknown to most people until they learn about what happened at The Rooster sporting goods store in Rapid City, which has been targeted by gun thieves twice in three years.

In April 2016, 25 handguns were stolen from the store. Two were recovered from a homicide suspect and another from a man who was killed in an officer-related shooting. No arrests have been made in the burglary case.

Then last week, 24 handguns were stolen in an overnight burglary there, but the results were vastly different. At Tuesday's press conference, the task force said its collaborative efforts led to the quick arrest of four suspects and the recovery of 22 of the stolen handguns. The suspects now face theft and drug charges that could take them off the streets for years.

The task force deserves credit for the quick action but more importantly for combining the resources of the various agencies to tackle a two-headed monster that poses a threat to all citizens.


American News, Aberdeen, Aug. 29

SD lags on immunizations, but 'vaccine hesitancy' is only one cause

According to an Aug. 20 BBC News and World Health Organization report, cases of measles in Europe have hit a record high in the first half of 2018 with more than 41,000 infected and 37 deaths. The widespread infection in Europe is largely due to people traveling to outbreak areas.

This report should get our attention in the United States.

It should pique interest in South Dakota, in particular, because this report comes right after a statewide conference presented data showing South Dakota slipping behind the national rate for early-childhood immunizations.

Our state fell far below the goal of 80 percent. This decline is a trend which now shows South Dakota and the nation at just above 70 percent.

This puts us at risk of an outbreak similar to the situation in Europe. The vaccination for measles (MMR) can prevent the infection if children are properly immunized starting around their first birthday. But, according to the data, about 30 percent of children in South Dakota are not protected.

At the conference, state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton suggested that a contributing factor for the decline is "hesitant parents." Conference speaker Dr. Barbara Pahud also focused her presentation on vaccine hesitancy. This hesitancy refers to a movement where parents choose not to vaccinate or to only partially vaccinate their children. Today, more and more parents are questioning whether the benefits of vaccinating outweigh the risks. This argument is quite polarized with a majority of the medical community claiming vaccinations pose little risk versus a vocal section of the parenting community that views the increased vaccination schedule as intrusive, unnatural, unnecessary and/or dangerous.

The South Dakota conference focused on providing information to health providers to foster an acceptance of vaccination among this sector of caregivers. For hesitant yet involved parents, this seems like a smart move to help increase the percentage of vaccinated children.

However, it also assumes that vaccine hesitancy is the only factor in the downward trend. We find that hard to believe given our culture and communities here in South Dakota. There are certainly other aspects that we should be exploring to increase our rate.

First, do all parents understand the vigorous immunization schedule that the medical community advises? This includes well-check visits at birth, one month, two months, four months, six months, nine months, 1 year, 1.5 year and every year until the child reaches school age. That's a lot of visits. For busy, working parents and grandparents, this can be time consuming and daunting. Parents care about their children's health, but our lives can often be overwhelming and hectic. Missing one of these vaccination visits may often be out of absentmindedness or necessity rather than based on a position against vaccinations.

Moreover, vaccinating can be expensive. While most health insurance, presuming you have it, will cover vaccinations, parents are still required to foot the bill for copays and other administration fees. Parents who are uninsured or under-insured do have the option to apply for Medicaid assistance, but, again, parents are required to jump through all sorts of hoops. Just looking online to get information about free vaccines can be discouraging and unclear. If you do get government assistance, parents still may have to cover administration fees and time-off work.

At the recent conference, the state seemed focused on convincing hesitant, involved parents. That's great. But, this can't be the only reason our state is under-vaccinated. Let's not forget about this other important sector of our parenting population. Caregivers who may not have knowledge, support, funds, or reasonable access to vaccinations should be receiving equal focus if we really want to reverse this downward trend and keep our communities healthy.


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Aug. 29

Keep pheasant increase in perspective; we still need habitat

So South Dakota's pheasant population is up. Now what?

More nonresidents will read the state's preseason report and make the trek to our state to buy gasoline, stay in hotels and spend their tourism dollars in our communities.

A huge win, right? At least for this year, sure.

It's no secret the number of hunters who visit South Dakota and the number of small game licenses sold are tied to the preseason pheasant report, which was released Monday and showed a 47 percent increase from 2017's count.

But relying on prime weather conditions for an optimal bird hatch each year is too risky if we want South Dakota to remain the nation's top pheasant destination. Despite a little flooding in some areas of the state, we've had outstanding weather conditions this year to help spark a much-needed bounceback year for pheasants. Timely rains and cooler temperatures have been perfect.

Anyone living here knows drought can strike anytime — excessive heat in the summer and massive spring snowfall are not abnormal. The only remedy for pheasants during tough weather periods is habitat. That's no secret.

Even Gov. Dennis Daugaard stood before a large audience in 2013 during a summit in Huron and said weather and habitat will impact the state bird the most. While some success has come from that gathering in terms of aiding the state's habitat, South Dakota has still lost more than a half-million acres of CRP land in the past decade.

It's unreasonable for the burden of maintaining a good pheasant population here to fall on farmers. They have enough to worry about running their own business each and every day.

That's why it's important to point out the good work being done by nonprofit organizations such as Pheasants Forever and the United States Department of Agriculture to give farmers and landowners options to be paid to put ground into habitat.

We recognize agriculture is the state's most important influence to its economy, and for pheasants and wildlife to thrive we need agriculture's help. And we hope that's the mindset for all hunters — we need to appreciate the farmers who don't plant every acre; thank those people and support them.

A good example is the community-based habitat access program, an effort led by Pheasants Forever. The initiative, in short, allows individuals and businesses to gather money for land to put into public hunting. The funds go to landowners to further incentivize habitat.

Aberdeen started this project in South Dakota. Mitchell followed suit, and now rural areas like Chamberlain have joined.

So while we celebrate a strong report of a good pheasant hunting season on the horizon, we need to remember this population influx is mainly due to optimal weather conditions. We can't control Mother Nature.

The only way as South Dakotans — both agriculture producers and outdoor enthusiasts — to positively influence pheasants is to work together and keep putting more habitat on the ground.