A South Dakota duck hunter walks through the tall grass along a wetland with his dog. (Josh Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
Some South Dakota duck hunters are upset over the Game, Fish and Parks Commission’s Thursday decision to increase the number of duck hunting licenses available to hunters from outside the state.
The approved proposal allows for 100 more nonresident licenses, to be used on private land only, in two areas of the northeastern corner of the state. The proposal also allocates another 200 nonresident and resident licenses to a large area in western and southern South Dakota.
Resident hunter and former GF&P commissioner Jeff Olson spoke during a hearing on the proposal at Custer State Park. He alleged that Game, Fish and Parks Department leadership held a meeting with the owner of a private hunting operation prior to the department bringing the proposal forward.
“Just one guy went to Game, Fish and Parks, and here we have a proposal,” Olson said. “No stakeholder involvement. They didn’t have to come with a petition to the commission.”
A spokesman for the department did not immediately respond to a South Dakota Searchlight message seeking a response to Olson’s comments.
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Department Wildlife Division Director Tom Kirschenmann was questioned at the meeting by Commissioner Stephanie Rissler about Olson’s concern with “the process.”
Kirschenmann said decisions regarding license allocations are not dependent on petitions from stakeholders.
“We don’t bring together stakeholder groups for things like that,” Kirschenmann said.
After hearing no proponent testimony and opposition from multiple hunters and the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, the commission unanimously approved the proposal.
Opponents argued that increasing nonresident license sales will exacerbate the already competitive nature of finding a duck hunting spot in northeastern South Dakota – hurting the experience of residents and nonresidents alike.
“It’s already not good quality hunting for anybody, and they’re going to add to that,” retired GF&P wildlife biologist George Vandel told South Dakota Searchlight. “Frankly, it’s a debacle up there.”
Opponents asked the commission to postpone the decision for one year and work with stakeholders to put together a different plan.
“They should be passing a waterfowl access plan that helps all hunters, and residents,” Vandel said. “We’ve got ideas, too.”
Kirschenmann defended the proposal, pointing to declining resident participation. The number of resident duck hunters has fallen from about 25,000 to 11,000 since the late 1990s. The department is unsure what is driving the trend.
The department’s arguments did not sway opponents.
“We know it’s only 300 licenses, but it’s a slippery slope for us,” said Mitch Richter, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Wildlife Federation. “And we just don’t think enough people were part of this.”
Referencing disputes between landowners and hunters over access to land, Commissioner Robert Whitmyre said the reason fewer residents are duck hunting may be that resident hunters are not respecting landowners like him. He said the proposal to allow private hunting operators to sell more licenses to nonresidents could improve relations.
“If access is an issue, I can’t help but identify that you reap what you sow,” Whitmyre said.
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