By Chris Hesla
Hunting ducks and geese has been a great tradition in South Dakota, but the number of resident waterfowl hunters has plummeted by nearly a third from 43,500 to 30,000 in the last 15 years. We are losing that tradition because we are losing opportunity.
A South Dakota Game Fish Parks survey showed that a shortage of good places to hunt was one of the major reasons respondents no longer hunt waterfowl. For those who continue to hunt, it was the single most significant cause of their growing dissatisfaction with the sport. That survey was supported by a national 2017 Delta Waterfowl survey that list lack of opportunity as the number one cause of the sharp decline in waterfowl hunters. We have had a record high number of ducks and geese, and the tragedy is that the opportunities to hunt them have been at a record low. Why? The answer is clear: we are draining of the state’s wetlands, we have fierce competition among hunters and rapidly increasing commercialization. The result is a continuing decline in the quality of waterfowl hunting in our state and consequently the decline in the number of resident hunters.
To increase opportunities and thereby begin reversing the loss of resident waterfowl hunters, we need to do the following:
- Eliminate all three-day non-resident waterfowl licenses with the exception of 500 that will be restricted to private land in the Missouri River unit
- Limit the number of 10-day nonresident licenses each year to eight percent of the average number of resident waterfowl hunters
In addition, we need to convince the Department of Game, Fish and Parks to put two initiatives into place:
- develop a plan to increase waterfowl hunting opportunities by improving access to water on public land in the state
- develop an overall plan to increase the number of resident waterfowl hunters by twenty-five percent in the next 10 years.
Chris Hesla is the executive director the South Dakota Wildlife Federation