Guest Editorial

October 25, 2016

The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Commission is in an impossible position regarding nonresident waterfowl licenses. While our organizations have a deep respect for the commissioners, we believe their authority on this issue has been wholly undermined. Here’s how it happened.

In 2014, after years of contentious debate, the legislature concluded that it didn’t have the expertise to manage nonresident waterfowl licenses. As a consequence, it passed HB1185 giving that authority to the Game Fish and Parks Commission. That legislation made setting the number of nonresident waterfowl licenses just like nonresident big game and pheasant hunting licenses—the responsibility of the commission.

The commission took that responsibility seriously. Under the chairmanship of John Cooper, a past Department of Game Fish and Parks Secretary, the commission began a year-long process. It created a waterfowl work group, began a series of research projects on waterfowl harvest data, hunter satisfaction and hunter demographics, and collected oral and written testimony from hundreds of interested individuals and organizations. The public testimony generated a 270 page document in which 90% of the comments vehemently objected to a proposal to add 250 nonresident hunters and a new unit in the north central part of the state. In June of 2015 the commission chair noted: “We have heard your voice.” The commission then voted unanimously, eight to zero, to reject the proposal.

Resident waterfowl hunters assumed the issue was at last resolved. The next legislative session, however, proved that hope to be naive. In 2016, a small group of legislators ignored the work of the commission and made it clear that the commission would not be allowed to make decisions regarding nonresident waterfowl licenses. Over-ruling the commission’s actions six months earlier, the legislature created the new unit in the north central part of the state and made it possible for 1,500, not 250, additional nonresident waterfowl hunters to legally hunt in South Dakota.

When the bill came to his desk, Governor Daugaard accepted that in practice the commission wouldn’t be allowed to manage nonresident waterfowl licenses. By signing HB 1075 into law, he concurred with the repudiation of the commission’s authority.

As a consequence, the commission doesn’t have workable options. Can it challenge the legislature and the governor by refusing to issue the 1,500 nonresident licenses next year? Not likely. Can it start the 2015 analysis and public input process all over again with an expectation that it will make a difference? Also unlikely. Can it accept the 1,500 new nonresident hunters as the new normal, attempt to keep the

numbers from increasing much further and hope 30,000 resident waterfowl hunters will believe it has acted in their best interests? Certainly unlikely.

We applauded the legislature’s 2014 decision to give authority over nonresident waterfowl licenses to the commission. We continue to believe the commission is the right entity to manage this issue. Unfortunately, events have shown that belief to be inconsistent with reality—a reality the commission is powerless to change.

Contact: Chris Hesla, Executive Director, South Dakota Wildlife Federation 605-224-7524

Contact: George Vandel, Vice President, South Dakota Waterfowl Association 605-295-2880