MADISON, S.D. (KELO) — Whether for hunting pheasants or waterfowl, or for fishing or trapping, didn’t seem to make much difference. People who enjoy the outdoors didn’t buy as many licenses in South Dakota this year.

The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission received a final sales report Friday that landed like a last blow to the losing fighter’s jaw in a one-sided boxing match.

Other than for male big game species, which still have strong demand in many units, the license sales on page 61 of the commission meeting book were generally down. The falling numbers that began in a few spots in recent years spread through many categories in 2019.

Heather Villa, wildlife administration chief, said the overall decrease in 2019 was eight percent, a difference of about $1.5 million from 2018. “Obviously this year we had a lot of strange weather,” she said.

For 2020, the state Wildlife Division plans a new feature: automatic renewals, online. Villa said the service starts December 15 and is intended for customer convenience.

South Dakotans can re-up their licenses for small game, fishing, combination of the two, and fur-bearers. Nonresidents can renew licenses such as fishing, predators and hunting-preserves.

“We are hoping we will have a good turnout on this,” she said. 

“Automatic renewal will be good,” said the commission’s chairman, Gary Jensen of Rapid City.

“We need to make sure we’re making it easy for them to do business with us,” Villa replied.

Commissioner Russ Olson of Wentworth said he’s hunted in states such as Kansas that offer lifetime licenses. Olson asked whether that might be tried in South Dakota.

Scott Simpson, who’s now director for the state Division of Parks and Recreation, said the Wildlife Division looked at the lifetime concept about a decade ago, when Representative Tim Rounds of Pierre had legislation that would have allowed it. Simpson was on the wildlife side at the time.

“I would say I’ve heard less positive comments from the states that have them, because it ties up that revenue source,” Simpson said. He noted the price would have to be high enough to generate sufficient earnings from the investment interest to cover the annual license costs.

“I personally have not seen the advantage in it,” Simpson said. He called the auto-renewal a step toward more convenience.

The commission had heard Thursday about the need to re-ignite interest among people for waterfowl hunting. Those numbers have been dropping for many years, said Kevin Robling. He’s deputy secretary for the Game, Fish and Parks Department that oversees the two divisions.

Robling said waterfowl hunting was complex because it involved identifying species of ducks and knowing the limits for them.

“We have a great supply of waterfowl in South Dakota,” he said. “The supply is there, the demand is not.” He added, “This is a national issue. This isn’t just a South Dakota issue.”

How much are they down? GFP data showed about 17,000 residents and nonresidents who went duck hunting in 2014, versus about 14,300 in 2018. The main goose season in 2014 drew about 14,000 resident and nonresident hunters, compared to about 11,000 in 2018.

Most of South Dakota’s public and private universities and technical institutes are in the Central Flyway that waterfowl use. Robling said reaching those students would be “a main focus.”

Chairman Jensen said a model might be the free traps the department distributed last spring under Governor Kristi Noem’s new emphasis to get more youth and their parents into the field.

“The opportunities are endless,” Robling said.