The Rub Line: Social change is coming

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By Dana R. Rogers

For the past year and a half, hundreds of South Dakota deer hunters have been involved and interested in possible changes to the state’s deer management plan. The plan was drafted and approved by the SDGFP Commission earlier this year, but the meat inside the plan didn’t really get to the heart of what has concerned so many hunters across the state for years now.

Volunteer stakeholders from across the state met in the form of a Deer Management Work Group. Other organizations such as the SD Bowhunters and SD Big Game Coalition also put time and effort into the process by assisting with suggestions and participating in discussions on topics they deemed essential to the future of deer hunting.

I recently contacted several SDGFP staff members I’d previously met with, and I wanted to bring the public up to date on where things stand with many of the social issues and concerns that have been raised regarding deer management. Several issues that I supported and worked to build consensus on have been discussed at length by SDGFP staff.

Topics such as limiting nonresident archery permits, eliminating January antlerless seasons, compiling more and detailed hunter harvest surveys, and examining mule deer management seem to have made it into serious consideration for change. Reviewing the deer-license application/allocation process and improving access to landlocked public lands are two other very important items that have been widely discussed across the state and are also getting a lot of attention.

I discussed the status of the deer management with Chad Switzer, wildlife program administrator for SDGP, and asked how things were shaping up.

“We’ll be reaching out to the stakeholder group to hold a meeting here in the near future to further discuss these potential alternatives regarding the license allocation process,” Switzer said. “An end result of this stakeholder meeting will be refined alternatives that we can then take to a handful of focus groups across the state to obtain their feedback and actually have these groups go through some mock application scenarios. We want to see how the members of these focus groups will respond to a couple different license allocation/drawing scenarios. We’ll then reconvene the internal development team to finalize a presentation of these alternatives to the GFP Commission.

“Aside from the license allocation/drawing process, we are also discussing recommendations for season end dates and nonresident archery license allocations and restrictions to public land,” he continued. “There will likely be recommendations on these topics taken to the commission for potential changes to the 2018 hunting season. In addition, our department is focusing on landlocked public lands and how we can improve access to these areas for our hunters.”

Recently, SDGFP held another commission meeting, and these excerpts from the minutes held further comments from other GFP personnel on the issues.

During the meeting, Tom Kirschenmann, deputy director of SDGFP Wildlife Division, provided a briefing on the social considerations from the deer management plan.

“Social considerations have been refined into five main priority items consisting of license allocations, nonresident archery licenses allocations, season end dates, limited access units and mule deer management, specifically in the Black Hills,” he said during the commission meeting. “Next steps will be to gather additional information on these five items to be addressed, noting the licenses allocation will be the most difficult and will take longer.”

Kevin Robling, SDGFP wildlife biologist, added a few thoughts on top of what Kirschenmann noted.

“The goal is to provide a higher probability to draw first-choice deer licenses,” Robling said. “Staff are now taking a new approach that will have direct involvement with the public. The first step is an internal development team to create up to three potential alternatives to be presented to the deer stakeholder group for feedback. Focus groups will be utilized to see how they would respond, the options they would select, and then simulate license draws. Due to the time (needed) to collect data and feedback, recommendations will not be brought forward until 2019.”

Kirschenmann stated that “if the department implements a new structure or approach there would need to be changes made to programming that will be a time factor.”

Robling also reminded the commission that these are social issues being addressed, and they will not change the number of licenses allocated.

A lot of very active and involved deer hunters have been involved with many of these plans and suggestions, and many SDGFP personnel have been working hard and game planning possible options for future seasons. Many of these issues can be pretty contentious, and I always encourage anyone who cares about the future of hunting in South Dakota to become informed and involved. More importantly, I also hope they try hard to see the entire picture and be open to ideas outside of their own.

At the same time, I can appreciate the fact that I do hear quite a few negative comments and questions about some of these measures. Regarding these sentiments, I’m brought back to a few comments from a former wildlife biologist with whom I’ve conversed with quite a few times over the years.

“I love change. You go first,” he’s fond of saying. “You can’t do what you’ve always done and have what you’ve always had,” is another one of his favorite lines regarding change.

Why is social change necessary? A recent anecdotal observation from a good friend lends credence to some of the concerns resident hunters have regarding the current state of deer hunting in South Dakota. He spent four days during opening week of archery season in Harding County near the Custer National Forest, and what he saw was telling and concerning to many.

He said virtually every camping location and area to pitch a tent or park a vehicle was occupied. His estimation was that 95 percent of the hunters were from Minnesota. He also said that he saw only two other South Dakota residents that were bowhunting.

I know I witnessed very similar activity here in the Black Hills during our spring turkey season, as I saw far more nonresidents than residents hunting gobblers. Chambers of commerce and business owners may bristle at my comments; however, I believe addressing how that type of nonresident hunting pressure impacts resident hunters should be right behind the protection and enhancement of the habitat and resource.

Please always remember when you are afield, respect the land, respect the landowner and respect the wildlife.

About the Author: Deer columnist Dana R. Rogers grew up in central South Dakota and now calls the Black Hills home. Contact him with comments or questions at dana.rogers.1@hotmail.com.