SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Outdoor activities in South Dakota are part of a billion-dollar industry, so when the officials from the South Dakota Game and Fish Department reported on Dec. 13 that there was a $1.5 million decrease in license sales in 2019 from 2018, it may not seem like much.

But it could be another sign in a trend that’s been noted in South Dakota and nationally.

Surveys and reports show that the number of nonresidents, those who pay higher license fees to hunt, fish and trap, is declining.

Wildlife-associated activity and outdoor recreation generated about $63 million in tax revenue for the state in 2016, GFD study said. So, if there are fewer hunters and anglers, the revenue decreases.

South Dakota residents make up the smallest portion of license holders in the state. In general, their licenses cost less. A deer tag for any deer taken in the West River district is $40 while a one-day small game license for a resident 16 and over is $12 and an annual license is $33.

A deer tag in the West River district for any deer is $286 for a nonresident. A non-resident license for small game for a total of 10 days in two five-day periods is $121.

An annual fishing license for a resident is $28 while it’s $67 for a nonresident.

Numbers in South Dakota show declines as do the national numbers associated with hunting.

The National Fish and Wildlife Service said in 2016 that 11.5 million people 16 or older hunted that year. That’s about 4% of the total U.S. population. The data was reported in the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation conducted by the National Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Similar surveys that allow for comparison the agency said were conducted in 2011, 2006, 2001, 1996 and 199. 

Numbers from those surveys show a general decline in the number of hunters in the U.S. The respective year’s survey said there were 13.7 million hunters in 2011, 12.5 million in 2006, 13 million in 2001, 14 million in 1996 and 14.1 million in 1991. 

Fishing numbers in the U.S. didn’t show the decline from 2011 but instead an increase of about 2.4 million from 2011 to 2016. The national surveys said in 1991, 35.6 million people fished; in 1996, 35.2 million; in 2001, 34.1 million; in 2006, 30 million; in 2011, 33.1 million; and in 2016, 35.8 million.

Numbers in South Dakota from 2015 to 2019 reflect declines in licenses for hunting, fishing and trapping. The state had about 65,500 fewer hunters, anglers and trappers in 2019 compared to 2015. The number declined by about 29,000 people in one year from 2018 to 2019.

South Dakota issued a total of 403,342 licenses for hunting, fishing and trapping to nonresidents and residents in 2015, the South Dakota Games, Fish and Parks Department said. The numbers dipped farther in 2018 to 366,857. In 2019, the total number of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses issued to nonresidents and residents dropped to 337,799, a loss of 29,058 licenses, the agency said. The calculated loss of revenue was about $1.4 million.

Annual fishing licenses for nonresidents in South Dakota decreased from 26,600 in 2015 to 22,772 in 2019. The numbers declined steadily during that period. Resident annual fishing licenses also showed steady decline from 63,300 in 2015 to 52,005 in 2019.

The loss of revenue from licenses isn’t the only loss the state will experience.

Fewer hunters and anglers means fewer out-of-state residents staying at lodges and motels that cater to those outdoor enthusiasts. The state said pheasant hunters who responded to a 2017 survey hunted on average 5.24 days in the state.  But more pheasant hunters than deer hunters came from out of state in 2017, the state survey said. The state issued licenses to 53,577 resident and 69,018 nonresident pheasant hunters. 

Olivia Lone, the director of the Webster Chamber of Commerce, said hunting, said fishing and hunting are a year-round economic boost to the area.

While there may be local hunters and anglers, it’s the out-of-state ones that make a big difference in Webster, Lone said.

“We always try to bring new people into the community,” Lone said on Dec. 16. “This past weekend, all of our hotels were full.”

“I talked to somebody that other day who has been coming down from Iowa for 20 years (for ice fishing),” Lone said. “He’s traveling four to five hours just to fish in our area.”

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks conducted a 2016 study to evaluate the economic impact of outdoor activity in the state. The study said outdoor activity generates $1.3 billion on the state. About 90% comes from hunting, ($683 million), fishing ($271 million) and state park visitation ($212 million).

Lone said the heavy snow of the past ice fishing season likely caused ice fishing numbers to drop in the Webster area. The snow made it difficult to be on the lakes.

Snow and flooding also likely negatively impact fishing and hunting over the past year, Lone said.

State wildlife officials said in a Dec. 15 story by KELOLAND’s Bob Mercer that weather contributed some to the decrease in licenses in 2019.