PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — By 54-14, the South Dakota House of Representatives said Monday that nonresident landowners and their immediate family members should be allowed under certain circumstances to receive free licenses to hunt antelope and West River deer on their lands.
The nonresident would need to own at least 640 contiguous acres and hadn’t received an any-antelope license or a West River buck deer license through a regular drawing. Family members would include a spouse or a child who lives with the nonresident.
Representative Tom Brunner, a Nisland Republican, said the state Game, Fish and Parks Department estimated about 700 nonresidents would be eligible. He said that if each of their households received two free licenses, there would be about 1,400 additional licenses issued.
But realistically, Brunner said, probably only 10 to 20 percent of them would apply. He assured KELOLAND News after the vote his intent was two licenses would be allowed per ranch or farm.
Depending on the unit, a license could actually be good for two deer — one any-deer and one antlerless deer — or for two antelope — one any-antelope and one doe/kid — under the legislation as written.
“Biologically, it is just insignificant, the number this would affect,” Brunner told House members.
According to Representative Herman Otten, a Lennox Republican, the department issued about 11,000 West River deer tags last year. The nonresident tags would be in addition. “At the end of the day, I just think it’s a bad idea,” Otten said.
Representative Tom Pischke, a Dell Rapids Republican, said the bill would put the hunting rights of nonresidents ahead of residents. Pischke said West River deer applicants can take two or three years to draw a license.
In 2019, the department received 20,803 West River applications.
Pischke warned that nonresidents, including “big money people,” could buy land and qualify for the free licenses in the future.
But House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte said he couldn’t imagine anybody buying land just to get a license. “I firmly believe they should have the right, just like a resident,” Qualm said.
Section 3 of the legislation also would make a nonresident landowner eligible for two free licenses for antlerless deer in areas designated by the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.
Representative Jean Hunhoff, a Yankton Republican, asked Brunner whether he consulted with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department beforehand.
Brunner said he didn’t but the department would develop rules if the Legislature approves the change. “We have to pass the state law before the commission can deal with it,” he said.
Hunhoff said she could appreciate what Brunner was attempting, provided nonresidents had South Dakota roots. She, Pischke and Otten were among the 14 who voted against it.
Representative Dayle Hammock, a Spearfish Republican, said the department provided him information on its spending for countering wildlife damage, including more than $900,000 for deer depredation. Hammock said any way to decrease the deer would decrease those costs.
Brunner said the department didn’t oppose or support the bill. He said nonresidents pay property taxes on their South Dakota land and provide food for wildlife.
“This is a good way to reward them slightly for what they do and allow them to hunt on their own land,” Brunner said.