Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station
A shooting range
A rendering of a proposed shooting range in Meade County. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is leading development on the project. (Courtesy: GFP)

Federal agency calls out SD GF&P on shooting range

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks wanted to use federal funding to help offset the cost of a $20 million shooting range outside Rapid City.

That is, until the department learned more time was needed to analyze the site’s significance to Native Americans. Artifacts had been found, according to the state Tribal Historic Preservation Office familiar with the site.

At that point, the department pulled its application for federal funding.

The project has secured some funding already, just not from the federal government. The department said it has thus far received $5.1 million in pledges and donations. It broke ground in early December 2023.

The federal Advisory Council of Historic Preservation sent a letter to the state parks department on Feb. 5, 2024, criticizing it for skirting federal funding when it learned of the need for a more complete historical analysis of a site.

“These actions appear to indicate a pattern of behavior in which the SDGFP changes course for its proposed projects after learning about historic properties located in the projects’ area of potential effects and the federal requirement to take into account the effects of the undertaking on those historic properties,” wrote Christopher Koeppel, assistant director of the federal Advisory Council of Historic Preservation.

The department withdrew its federal funding application in January.

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The proposed shooting complex would be located on Elk Vale Road in Meade County. The complex is expected to host around 180 shooters at a time, offering free public use while potentially bringing national competitions to the area. The design includes a south-end range for the general public and a north range for more experienced shooters, with “action bays” for tactical shooting practice.

Until January, funding plans included $2.5 million in federal money. The “Pittman Robertson” funds came from a federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. Money from the tax is funneled into wildlife conservation, restoration and hunter education programs across the U.S. To use the funds, states must submit project plans for federal approval.

GFP Communications Manager Nick Harrington answered questions for this story over email. He said the department staff spent hours conducting an environmental assessment and a cultural resources survey.

“GFP was issued a Finding of No Significant Impact and ultimately awarded a Pittman Robinson grant from the USFWS early in 2022,” he said in an email, referring to the $2.5 million planned for the project.

But in November 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) flagged the proposed project, saying its location could affect nearby historical locations. The determination brought the project under the National Historic Preservation Act, which mandates a thorough review of any federally funded projects on historical sites.

A separate survey conducted by the state’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office identified seven sites near the proposed range that the office believes are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

That resulted in a need for more thorough investigation, according to the federal letter. Harrington said that because the federal government changed the survey requirements after giving the project a greenlight, the department chose not to pursue the $2.5 million.

“GFP decided to forego the Pittman Robinson funding and move ahead with the complex project without any further delays,” Harrington said.

Garrie Kills A Hundred, the tribal historic preservation officer who helped with the site survey, said the issue began with the USFWS, which did not consult with tribes when conducting its initial site assessment.

“That is where things first started to go south,” he said.

Kills A Hundred said he was later informed the state had begun developing the location, resulting in “the bulldozing of the sites we located.” He worries all of the historical sites and artifacts within them that were identified have been destroyed.

The shooting range proposal has elicited mixed reactions from nearby residents. Concerns have been raised regarding potential noise pollution, increased traffic, impacts on wildlife and the environment, and the disruption of residents’ rural way of life.

Additionally, some lawmakers have expressed concern with the inflated price tag to complete the project. The $20 million price for the 400-acre shooting range is a significant increase from 2020 estimates of $11 million.

The shooting complex is expected to be completed in the fall of 2025.

Harrington said funding to construct the complex will be a combination of private and public dollars. He and the Governor’s Office did not answer questions regarding where the public dollars would come from, given the federal funding hiccup.

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