By George Vandel
In the last three years, commercial interests have become increasing aggressive in their efforts to monetize waterfowl. In 2016 they expanded their market by pushing through legislation to increase the number of nonresident waterfowl hunters by over a 1,000. In the 2017 legislature, they attempted to convince lawmakers that they should have their own waterfowl licenses so they could distribute those licenses to their clients. In addition, they tried to double the number of days nonresidents could hunt in the state. In June of last year, they convinced the GF&P Commission to increase the number of nonresident waterfowl licenses in the eastern part of the state by 1,000. During the 2018 legislative session, the charge will continue. Chasing profits, this group wants to put a dollar sign on every duck and goose that passes through the state.
The push for commercialized waterfowl hunting is at the expense of both resident waterfowl hunters and South Dakota businesses, especially those in small towns. When we increase the number of nonresident hunters, we slash the opportunities for resident hunters, and many give up hunting. Contrary to the rhetoric, it’s resident hunters who pour the most money into the economy. Resident waterfowl hunters travel to hunt by the thousands. They stay in motels, eat in restaurants, drink in bars, buy gas and they do it for an entire season, not just a few days. Most nonresidents don’t buy their guns, waders and decoys in South Dakota; they bring their equipment with them, along with the ice in their coolers.
According to Department of Game Fish and Parks statistics, the number of resident waterfowl hunters has plummeted from 43,500 in 2001 to 30,000 in 2015, a one third decline in the last 15 years. The most recent department survey showed that a primary reason for the rapid decline was a loss in the opportunity to hunt. That cause is substantiated by a Delta Waterfowl national survey that cites the number one cause in the drop in waterfowl hunters is the lack of opportunity. The numbers are clear–we are losing a great South Dakota waterfowl tradition, and our economy is paying a price just to benefit a few.