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GF&P might consider changes for deer license system

Hunter Josh Starnes shot this buck in northeast South Dakota in January. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks officials are considering changes to deer licenses. (GF&P photo)

YANKTON — Much bigger changes might be coming for deer hunting in South Dakota beyond the recommended reductions in licenses and tags that receive a public hearing today by the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

0 Talk about it

The commissioners held a governance meeting Wednesday afternoon in advance of their regular business meeting today and Friday at Lewis and Clark Resort. The consensus was to begin discussions in July about how a new system would be structured for allocating deer licenses.

If the commissioners want to pursue changes after that discussion, the state Wildlife Division staff would prepare a proposal for consideration at the August meeting and possible action in October, according to Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk.

Vonk said the changes could take effect for the 2015 seasons.

The timing is right as the commission looks at reducing the harvest of does and other antlerless deer as a step toward rebuilding the populations in some areas, according to commission chairman John Cooper of Pierre.

“It’s on the minds of a lot of people right now,” Cooper said.

That was evident at the state Capitol earlier this week when state Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, raised the deer harvest issue during a legislative rules-review meeting.

“Certainly we’re at a crossroads,” replied Tony Leif, director for the Wildlife Division.

Leif said many deer-hunting units have populations that match GFP’s management targets. But in the western and far eastern parts of the state deer are down, he said.

Habitat conditions impact deer just like pheasants, such as in the eastern part of South Dakota where farming has turned more intensive in recent years and more land was converted to production again after being idle in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, according to Leif.

“We’ve also had a couple of pretty tough winters,” he said. “And lastly, we’ve had some disease issue.”

He noted disease had a significant effect on deer populations in the southern part of South Dakota.

The commissioners plan to slash antlerless-only licenses by approximately 41,000 for the East River and West River fi rearms seasons this fall. That will be accomplished primarily by eliminating most of the multi-tag licenses that allowed hunters to take more than one deer per license. Hunter success was down in 2013 for the East River and West River seasons.

Under the commission’s proposals for this autumn, the 2014 East River season would have 19,375 licenses for any deer, a decrease of 2,090 from 2013.

But the antlerless-only licenses would drop to 10,700 for East River, from 29,170 a year ago — a 59 percent reduction.

The West River prairie season would see an even larger drop.

The West River proposal for 2014 calls for 16,075 any-deer licenses, a reduction of 1,675 from 17,750 in 2013.

The West River antlerless-only licenses would be eliminated for mule deer for 2014 and the overall total of antlerless-only licenses would be chopped to 3,855, from 27,000 a year ago — an 86 percent cut.

The proposed Black Hills season would be essentially the same as 2013 with 200 resident and 16 non-resident any-deer licenses and 3,000 resident and 240 non-resident any-whitetail licenses. The only cut would be eliminating 100 resident and eight non-resident antlerless-only whitetail licenses from 2013.

Today’s hearing starts at 2 p.m. in the Grand Lodge at Lewis and Clark Resort west of Yankton.