South Dakota’s congressional delegation has requested vacant employee positions at the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives be filled.

A letter sent Monday to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlined the importance of the hatchery as well as the staffing decline since officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began discussing the closure of the hatchery in June 2013.

“The D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery is critically important to the Spearfish community, its economy, and its residents, as more than 160,000 people visit the Hatchery each year,” the delegation of Sens. John Thune, and Mike Rounds, and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, wrote. “The Hatchery has provided jobs and volunteer opportunities in the community, and it exemplifies a successful federal public lands partnership.”

They asked that at least two full-time positions be filled at the federal-managed hatchery.

In 2013 the historic hatchery employed seven full-time employees. That number dropped to one person, the hatchery’s supervisor, Carlos Martinez, in 2014. It remained such until 2016 when Mitch Adams returned as the facilities operations specialist — he previously served as the park ranger at the hatchery; and April Gregory, former Booth Society executive director, was hired to fill the vacant museum curator position this January.

Three vacant positions remain, said Karen Holzer, executive director of the Booth Society, the nonprofit friends support group of the hatchery. Those positions include an administrative officer, park ranger, and an archivist historian.

The delegation says that re-filling two full-time employee positions is necessary to “operate and maintain the facility and safeguard its visitors.”

“The Booth Society has been advocating the filling of the vacant positions at the D.C Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives over the past several years,” Holzer said. “We have been in contact with the South Dakota delegations including Senator Thune, Senator Rounds, and Representative Noem and their offices in regard to the vacancies at the Hatchery.”

She added that members from Thune’s and Noem’s staff visited the hatchery in recent months to learn more about the facility.

“The D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery & Archives has been understaffed since the closure threat in 2013,” Holzer added. “… The additional staff will enable the Hatchery to move forward on projects and programs that have been set aside in recent years.”

According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Fish and Wildlife Service began discussions in June 2013 on whether to close the hatchery and others throughout the country.

The closure date was slated for October 2013.

A letter writing campaign and petition drive resulted in more than 47,000 signatures and more than 6,000 letters sent to service officials.

Wildlife service officials repeatedly denied that D.C. Booth or other hatcheries were being eyed for closure, but later admitted that they asked their regional offices for recommendations on hatcheries to close in a cost-saving measure. The regional offices compiled lists with hatcheries based on the federal funding received versus the fish it produces.

In an email to the Black Hills Pioneer seeking further comments, Thune’s office noted that “The Hatchery Review (closure threat) no longer appears to be moving forward. Sen. Thune is hopeful that the closure situation has passed and that U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees are supportive of D.C. Booth. However, adequate staffing is essential to the facility’s operation and to ensure that it is safe for the 160,000 annual visitors. Sen. Thune will continue to oppose any efforts to close D.C. Booth or relocate the archives and will be pressuring USFWS to keep it adequately staffed.”

Additionally, Thune’s office noted that although it is too early to tell what the current administration’s stance is on the National Fish Hatchery System as a whole, his staff will continue working with them and highlighting the benefits of D.C. Booth. The administration does appear to be supportive of recreational fishing.

“The first step was to stop any closure from moving forward, and I was pleased the report language I had included in legislation last year was taken to heart by the Department,” Noem told the Pioneer. “Next is addressing the staffing issues, which we directed the Department to do again in this year’s House-passed legislation. These conversations are ongoing, but we’re optimistic. This administration understands the needs of investing in economic opportunities, and especially given tourism’s importance West River, there’s a good argument to be made here. We’ll continue to drive this message home with Secretary Zinke and the administration.”

Do you want to sign up for my E-Newsletter?