President’s message – George Vandel, Pierre
February 2022

I have attached information about the proposed Missouri River Waterfowl Refuge expansion.  Some background: At the January Commission meeting and based on a petition submitted by the Migratory Bird Association (a group of landowners and fee hunters in the Pierre area) the Commission proposed greatly expanding an existing Missouri River Waterfowl Refuge from Peoria Flats down river all the way to the end of Farm Island.  The new refuge above Oahe Dam would be a take line refuge (eliminating all waterfowl hunting on adjoining public land and water) the area downstream would be a waterline refuge.  It would close the entire area to waterfowl hunters (both boat and pass-shooters) in the blind hope it would creating more goose opportunity for pass shooters?  Note there will be a significant decline in public areas to hunt as there is no corresponding increase in new areas open to public hunting.

I have attached for your use a note on the history of Missouri River Waterfowl Refuges and a very brief list of some talking points for your use.  Please take the time to comment on this issue (  Note the deadline to submit comments is on Sunday February 27th. The Commission meeting is in Pierre at the Missouri River Events Center (217 W Missouri Ave).  The public hearing begins at 2 pm.  Hope to see some of you there!  Call me at 605-295-2880 if you have questions.

I’m also assuming that some discussion and/or action could occur regarding nonresident licenses.  GFP indicated their desire to “simplify” the units for the nonresident 3-day permits.  It’s likely to involve the elimination of unit boundaries, or most unit boundaries for the 3-day permits.  At present some of the units don’t sell out leaving unsold licenses.  By removing unit boundaries, it would allow all the 2,000 3-day permits to be sold.

The GFP Commission and GFP staff are also considering using their legislated authority to “annually increase the 10-day (two 5-day) nonresident permits by 5% per year”.  For example, they can by rule increase the 10-day permits by 5% or 100 permits.  It’s a small increase but if they increase the permits by 5% every year for the next 10 years the

Our main issues 1) expanding and increasing quality waterfowl hunting access opportunities in South Dakota 2) maintaining quality waterfowl hunting in our state by balancing nonresident waterfowl hunter numbers such that they do not create undue conflicts with resident waterfowl hunters and 3) to ensure that commercialization of waterfowl hunting in South Dakota remains low.

Board: John Simpson – Pierre, Spencer Vaa – Brookings, Tom Yseth – Brookings and Bill Koupal – Pierre.  Bobby Cox will serve as Secretary Treasurer and Chuck Dieter will serve as Past-president.

The Impact of the Proposed New Refuge

What the proposed refuge would do:

  • Create a refuge three-times the size of any existing refuge on lower Oahe
  • Block waterfowl hunting on 3,000 acres of public land and 50 miles of shoreline
  • Take away opportunities for waterfowlers to hunt from shore over decoys, from boats or pass shoot from ridges
  • Facilitate the expansion of commercial hunting
  • Deny hunting opportunity to hunters from across the state
  • Contribute to the number one cause waterfowlers stop hunting: lack of access

What the proposed refuge would not do:  

  • Attract more birds
  • Cause an earlier bird migration from Canada and North Dakota
  • Hold birds longer in the Pierre area
  • Stop fisherman and deer hunters from using the refuge
  • Increase birds’ use of the Lower Oahe Waterfowl Unit (Sheehan’s)
  • Address any of the 3R goals: recruit, reactivate and retain waterfowl hunters
  • Be consistent with the GF&P stated mission of optimizing hunting access and opportunity

Game, Fish and Parks Commission Proposal

Modify the existing boundary of the Oahe Dam State Waterfowl Refuge by expanding the geographic area of the refuge to include the water of Lake Oahe and all lands owned and managed by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks and the US Army Corps of Engineers lying south and west of S.D. Highway 1804 and north and east of S.D. Highway 1806 from the current refuge boundary upstream of Oahe Dam to the east boundary of Peoria Flats State Waterfowl Refuge and the water line refuge from the downstream point of LaFramboise Island to the downstream point of Farm Island.

Compressed History of Existing Waterfowl Refuges from Mail Shack Creek (Oahe Reservoir) downstream to LaFrambois Island (Lake Sharpe):

The current/existing waterfowl refuges from Mail Shack Creek on Lake Oahe downstream to LaFrambois Island on Lake Sharpe are a product of a GFP Working Group formed at the request of State Senator Mike Rounds and Governor Bill Janklow in 2002.  The Working Group was composed of hunters, landowners, wildlife officers, biologists, guides and commercial interests (including the Migratory Waterfowl Association) involved in goose and duck hunting on and alongside Oahe and Sharpe reservoirs in the Pierre and Ft. Pierre areas.  The goal of the Work Group was to significantly reduce the conflicts between commercial hunting interests, bluff/pass shooting interests, boat/water hunting interests, and enhance waterfowl hunting opportunities by using a “zoning” approach to reduce conflicts and increasing public hunting opportunities where possible.

The establishment of the current waterline and take line refuges in the areas of Oahe and Lake Sharpe reservoirs also played a critical part in establishing the Lower Oahe Waterfowl Access Area (LOWAA) located east of Okobojo Creek, Cow Creek and Spring Creek.  This Area composes a complex of approximately 32 square miles of private lands leased by GFP to provide waterfowl pass shooting, pits, controlled field shooting with decoys, Walk-In Areas, and upland pheasant hunting.  The Lower Oahe Waterfowl Access Area is prominently featured in the GFP Annual Hunting Atlas and the Area is used by hundreds of sportsmen every Fall hunting season.  It was established in 2003-04 by GFP representatives sitting down with the landowners in the area and working out lease agreements for both waterfowl and pheasant hunting.

In summary, the current established waterfowl refuges from Mail Shack Creek downstream to the point of La Framboise Island on Lake Sharpe are an integral part of the OVERALL agreements reached by the GFP Working Group, in cooperation with landowners, and followed up by a series of discussions with the GFP Commission, Senator Rounds and Governor Janklow in 2004.  The GFP Commission has expenditure authority over the funding for the LOWAA.  The agreement(s) took significant effort to accomplish and it has served its purpose well. It has been widely accepted by hunters, landowners and others who use these public waters and lands to recreate during the fall seasons. It has reduced road hunting conflicts, reduced wounding of Canada geese from long range pass shooting (sky-busting) and provided enhanced opportunities to teach up and coming waterfowlers such skills as setting decoys, waterfowl ID, training dogs and judging ranges for shooting.

If the Commission chooses to enact the proposal, as noted above, it will take away the balance of the established unwritten agreement, which has now been in effect for 17 years, and significantly restrict waterfowl hunting on public waters and lands that currently offer that opportunity to a wide variety of hunters.

View the Proposal Refuges Ch. 41:05:02 (PDF)