MADISON, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota wildlife officials decided Thursday to raise several nonresident hunting license fees next year to bring in more than $1.1 million in additional revenue.
While officials said they were careful to keep the fees in line with those in other states, one hunting preserve owner predicted if South Dakota continues to increase the cost of licenses for out-of-staters, they’ll go elsewhere. “It we stop our hunters from coming over the border, everybody loses,” said Will Stone, a Gary pheasant hunting preserve owner.
Pheasant hunting has always been a South Dakota pastime, but tourism officials over the past decade have turned the season into a nationwide draw. The state’s airports are awash in blaze orange this time of year, and hunters drive in from such nearby states as Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Stone said the cost of out-of-state licenses for those visiting his family preserve have jumped 950 percent during his 28 years in the business. He said even if he offers discounts on his hunting packages, customers still complain about the high cost from the state.
“It’s a mom-and-pop operation,” he said. “It’s designed for fathers and sons.”
The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission agreed to raise the fee for a nonresident 10-day small game license by $10 to $120, while an annual shooting preserve license will go up by $35 to $120. Two nonresident shooting preserve licenses are going up $10, with a 1-day costing $45 and a 5-day costing $75.
Nonresident waterfowl licenses are increasing $10, with a 10-day running $120 and a 3-day costing $85.
No changes were made to resident hunting license fees.
Commissioner Jim Spies, of Watertown, voted against the proposal, saying he understands the need to increase revenue, but he doesn’t think out-of-state hunters should pick up the majority of the tab.
“I don’t think this is right, and I think we have to look at the resident license fee real soon,” Spies said.
South Dakota licensed more than 95,000 nonresident small game hunters and about 69,000 resident small game hunters last year.
State Wildlife Director Tony Leif said solid license sales have helped offset the department’s rising costs, but they’ve gone up 18 percent since the last fee increase in 2005 and another one is needed.
Leif said the Game, Fish and Parks Department looked at budget cuts first, but there was still a gap. In raising the fees, he said, the goal was to take in enough money to pay for programs without discouraging participation in hunting and fishing.
If he thought the increases would result in dramatic drops in people coming to South Dakota to hunt, he wouldn’t have supported them, he said.
Commissioner John Cooper of Pierre said some businesses that cater to nonresident hunters wonder if South Dakota penalizes out-of-staters to keep the costs low for residents. He asked Leif if a study should be done to project sales years out and raise all license fees accordingly.
Commissioners bumped the cost of an annual state park license by $2 to $30 per vehicle, with the fee for a second vehicle going up $1 to $15. Officials say the change will bring in an additional $157,000 annually.
Group lodging fees at Shadehill, Lake Thompson, Palisades and Newton Hills also will increase.
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