NOTE: The public hearing will be May 4 in Custer State Park. An incorrect date was shown on GFP’s proposal sheet.

BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission is considering whether to allow more nonresident licenses for hunting waterfowl.

But some South Dakota hunters are saying slow down. Several asked the commission Thursday to let them be involved in coming up with a different approach.

The Legislature in 2014 passed a state law that said the commission could increase nonresident waterfowl licenses by up to 5% per year.

Last month, the state Game, Fish and Parks Department proposed making 300 more waterfowl licenses available to nonresidents.

The recommendation to offer 6,300 waterfowl licenses for nonresidents marks the first time since 2014 that the commission has looked at providing more.

There are two components to the proposal.

The 3,750 nonresident 10-day licenses that can be used throughout most of South Dakota would rise to 3,950. (They are valid for five-day increments, whether back to back or split across a longer period.)

And the 2,000 nonresident three-day licenses that are divided among four specific regions would increase to 2,100.

The proposal sheet notes, “In the past 17 years, resident migratory bird certificate sales dropped 29% from 33,950 in 2005 to 24,166 in 2022. A 5% license increase to nonresident waterfowl type 86 licenses would result in 300 additional licenses compared to the 9,784 fewer resident migratory bird certificates since 2005.”

The commission gave tentative approval Thursday on a voice vote. The commission’s final decision will come after a public hearing scheduled for May 4 during the commission’s next meeting at Custer State Park.

The half-dozen comments the commission received Thursday came during the period that the commission takes public input at each meeting.

Rich Widman of Brookings, a past president of South Dakota Wildlife Federation, spoke against the proposal. He said the federation formed in 1946 after World War II veterans returned to South Dakota and discovered there weren’t places to hunt ducks.

Widman said the Legislature responded by closing South Dakota to nonresident waterfowl hunters. But there’s been a gradual erosion, which Widman said contributed to fewer residents hunting waterfowl. “Let’s keep South Dakota great,” he said. 

Zach Hunke of Watertown, the current South Dakota Wildlife Federation president, said he wants to preserve the state’s rich outdoors tradition. “Mostly we’re just asking for a little time,” he said, so that resident duck and goose hunters can consult with the department’s staff.

Hunke said some commercial hunting guides also could provide more information about how their businesses operate. 

Cody Warner of Webster, president of South Dakota Waterfowl Association, said he opposed the proposed 5% increase in non-resident licenses. He said the department staff hadn’t contacted the association. He urged the department to focus on retaining and recruiting resident waterfowl hunters before looking to allow more nonresidents.

The department’s Wildlife Division director, Tom Kirschenmann, in turn defended the proposal. He said South Dakota now has 1.48 million acres available to the public for hunting and fishing, including special waterfowl management units in northeastern South Dakota, with entire farms enrolled in some cases. “It provides some phenomenal waterfowl opportunities for folks,” he said.

The department also has added more waterfowl-hunting access points to put boats into the water, he said. Other positive steps include a ‘three-any-duck’ option for hunters and more youth hunts.

According to Kirschenmann, adding 300 nonresident licenses won’t have a significant impact. The 200 valid throughout much of South Dakota would be for public and private land, while the other 100 would be for private land: 50 for the unit of Brown, Campbell, Edmunds, Faulk, McPherson and Walworth counties; and 50 for a unit covering 40 other counties.

The commission’s chair, Stephanie Rissler of Vermillion, asked how far the department reached out to waterfowl groups. Kirschenmann said the conversations were primarily within the staff. He understood the criticism. But, he said, state law already gave the commission the option of a 5% annual increase.

“It’s not an impact biologically. We understand the social concerns,” Kirschenmann said.

Rissler said she appreciated some of the things the resident hunters brought up Thursday. But, she said, “I don’t think 300 will put much of a dent in.” She added, “At this time, I do plan on supporting the proposal.”

Commissioner Julie Bartling of Gregory asked how many of the 300 would use commercial outfitters. “I think it would be safe to say there would be some licenses,” Kirschenmann said. “To give you a number or an estimated approximation, I cannot do that.”

Commissioner Travis Bies of Fairburn called for the proposal’s tentative acceptance. He spoke about the rising number of ducks and geese he’s seen in western South Dakota, including his home area of Pennington and Fall River counties.

“I think there’s a lot of population out there now, compared to what it used to be,” Bies said. “I think there’s more opportunity, more birds here now than there’s ever been.”