Commission expects drop in South Dakota deer tags
By Nora Hertel
PIERRE (AP) — The number of South Dakota deer hunting licenses is expected to drop substantially this year due to habitat loss and a disease that thrives in dry weather, said Game, Fish and Parks Commission Chairman John Cooper.
The commission will review the license proposals at a meeting Thursday and Friday at Custer State Park. Cooper said the total number of tags proposed for the East River deer season is down by about 40 percent. West River tags will be down 56 percent.
"We've had a decrease in deer habitat across the state, especially in East River," Cooper said.
He said intensive agriculture and the conversion of wetland sloughs to crop land have contributed to the decrease in habitat. Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, which Cooper says is exacerbated by drought, has also depleted the deer population in the state. Cooper says the license numbers won't change too much for deer hunting in the Black Hills.
East River licenses are proposed to drop from about 50,600 to 30,000. The region stretches from the Missouri River to the eastern border of the state and includes mostly white tail deer. West River licenses are proposed to drop from about 45,000 to nearly 20,000. That region, which has mule and white tail deer, extends west of the river, excluding the Black Hills. Deer season ranges from late November to early December depending on the region and beginning in late December for antlerless deer.
Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the decrease in license numbers reflects the reality of using a natural resource.
"I'm probably surprised by the percentage of the drop, but not the trend of smaller numbers," Hesla said about the deer population. "We have been hunting the herd pretty hard."
He said farmers are not leaving a lot of idle acres and that's affected the pheasant population as well.
The Commission will also get an update on the pheasant season this week.
"We know that the harvest report on pheasants will be down," Cooper said, adding that it's been down for the last six or seven years.
The commission will also host a public hearing on a change to the state's hunting license policy Thursday at 2 p.m.
The proposed change would allow hunters to buy "preference points," giving them a higher priority in subsequent years when applying for limited licenses.
Cooper said other western states have similar systems, and he uses it in Colorado to increase his chances of getting a license every few years.
"It's a system that seems to work well in other places," Cooper said. "We're trying to simplify and allow people another option."
He said the commission has gotten good feedback so far on the proposed change. It will likely be used for big horn sheep, elk, mountain goats, deer and antelope.