- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota Senate panel Tuesday endorsed a plan aimed at ending years of legislative wrangling on nonresident waterfowl hunting by returning more control to the state commission that regulates hunting and fishing.

The Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 8-1 to approve a measure that would keep the current authorization for 4,000 10-day licenses and 2,000 three-day licenses for out-of-state hunters, but eliminate provisions that allocate some licenses to specific counties. The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission would be allowed to increase the number of those nonresident licenses by up to 5 percent a year and decide where those licenses could be used to hunt ducks and geese.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said lawmakers have argued for years over how many nonresident licenses can be issued for different areas of the state. Nonresident waterfowl hunting is the only kind of hunting so strictly controlled in state law, but it would be better to let the commission and its staff use their expertise in responding to changes in waterfowl populations, he said.

“Essentially we’ve got a situation where we’ve got less residents taking out waterfowl licenses, but we’ve got more waterfowl in the state,” Brown said.

The committee scrapped an earlier version that sought to provide special hunting licenses for nonresidents who were born in South Dakota or had previously lived and hunted in the state. The original bill, passed by the House, would have required those getting those extra licenses to be sponsored by relatives, but Brown said game officials would have had trouble verifying family relationships.

The compromise measure was supported by state Game, Fish and Parks officials, the governor’s office, outdoor groups, commercial hunting interests and business associations.

The Game, Fish and Parks Commission will set nonresident waterfowl license rules each year after holding a public hearing, Assistant State Wildlife Director Emmett Keyser said.

Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, was the only committee member to vote against the bill, saying it might hurt resident hunters.

“It’s commercialization of the industry. I worry about the sustainability of the quality of the hunting,” Omdahl said.

But Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said the Legislature in future years could pass a law limiting licenses if the Game, Fish and Parks Commission increases the number of nonresident waterfowl licenses too much.

Dean Hyde of Pierre, a hunter, said he opposed the bill because it could lead to too many nonresident hunters.

“I hate to see something that we enjoy so much get too much commercialized,” Hyde said. “I want to see a place for my kids and grandkids to hunt.”