Rub Line: SDGFP focus group and changes

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By Dana R. Rogers

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department is currently taking a hard look at how it manages various social issues within its current deer management plan. As part of the process, a Deer Stakeholders Group was formed, and I was privileged to participate in the group’s meeting last month in Pierre.

The meeting was geared toward tag allocation options, but other aspects of licenses, preference points and seasons were also discussed. The meeting’s primary objectives were two-fold: 1. Discuss potential alternative deer license allocation options in an effort to increase the number of hunters who draw their preferred license; and 2. Discuss the research process for these alternatives.

GFP took public testimony and written comments and worked in-house with staff members to come up with four options for the stakeholders group to consider. In turn, the stakeholders were presented with the options, discussed them in detail and filled out mock-application scenarios.

Future plans are to hold focus groups in five locations around the state to go over the options and run attendees through the mock applications. This data will give GFP a snapshot of what hunters would do when faced with each application scenario, and then GFP will take that information and formulate a recommendation for the GFP Commission.

This process will likely include focus groups during the late winter and spring, as well as the actual proposals to the GFP Commission come midsummer. Given the future time frame for possible changes in license-application programming, these discussion items and proposals will not be applicable during the 2018 firearms draws, with the exception of a newly adopted cubed-preference-point system, which we’ll get into later.

Here are the four mock-draw options:

1. Combined East River, West River and Black Hills firearms draw:

In this scenario, residents could apply for a first and second choice per application. If an applicant draws on the first pass, they would sit out the second pass. On the third draw, those with one either-sex permit can enter again. On the fourth and subsequent passes, applicants can put in for leftover licenses in undersubscribed areas. Nonresident quotas would remain the same.

2. Combined East River, West River, Black Hills, National Wildlife Refuge, Custer State Park and Muzzleloader Deer draw:

Residents could apply for a 1st and 2nd choice per application. It’s the same scenario as above, where if you draw an either-sex permit you sit out the second draw. Those with a permit can enter on third draw for a second permit and pick up any leftovers on a fourth draw. Nonresident quotas would be 8 percent for the Black Hills deer season, while National Wildlife Refuge and West River quotas would remain the same.

3. Sequential drawings for Custer State Park, National Wildlife Refuge, Muzzleloader, Black Hills, West River and East River deer seasons:

In this scenario residents could apply for a first and second choice for each of the six applications. This would be a sequential drawing similar to what South Dakota currently has for all of its elk permits, where if you draw an either-sex permit you sit out until the second draw. Those with a permit can enter on third draw for a second permit and get any leftovers on fourth draw. Nonresident quotas would be 8 percent for the Black Hills deer season, while National Wildlife Refuge and West River quotas would remain the same.

4. No changes: This would keep the status quo in place.

In the coming months, focus groups will meet across the state to go over the same type of mock-drawing scenarios, which will provide GFP with a data set on what people would actually choose if faced with this new application process. This will provide a measure of data to help formulate what the license-draw flow will look like.

The primary goal of these firearms draw proposals is to spread out opportunity for more hunters to get their No. 1 choice. By forcing firearms hunters to make a choice and apply for their preferred license instead of every license available, the odds will be more evenly distributed in high-demand areas.

During the meeting we also discussed limiting nonresident archery permits in some manner, which certainly appears to have broad support. One discussion item involved capping nonresident archery permits at 8 percent of the total resident archery permit sales. Another option we discussed would leave nonresident archery-license allocation unlimited, but put a cap on nonresident access to limited-entry units, such as the Black Hills, Custer National Forest, Fort Pierre National Grassland, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, etc. A number on the cap wasn’t set or discussed.

For perspective on why nonresident archery-hunting pressure is being addressed, keep in mind that during the 2016 season there were 270 resident bowhunters on the Custer National Forest and 134 nonresident bowhunters. Resident bowhunters took 19 mule deer bucks while nonresidents took 28. Capping nonresident opportunities would result in better opportunities for resident bowhunters.

The nine-day extended antlerless season and end dates for all seasons were also discussed during the stakeholders meeting. GFP plans to recommend closing all deer seasons on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 in the coming years. If an extended antlerless season is required for management purposes, it may be set to either the first week of December or the last week of December. This would allow the season to occur prior to when a majority of bucks shed their antlers.

So, as you can see, many social issues were discussed. No mock-draw scenarios have been finalized for proposal, but it would appear that possible changes are on the horizon for how firearms draws are handled so that more hunters across the state draw their preferred license.

All that said, there was one important change that was made. In regard to South Dakota’s current preference-point system, the GFP Commission adopted a proposal during its January meeting that cubes preference points for 36 sets of limited-draw licenses, including several deer licenses.

For example, an applicant who has three preference points going into the 2018 East River deer season will now have a total of four points upon submitting their application for 2018. Those four preference points, when cubed, would equal 64, which means that applicant’s name will be be entered 64 times — not just four times — into the drawing for the 2018 East River deer season drawing. To put it simply, the new system significantly increases the chances for hunters who have accumulated a number of preference points for certain licenses.

I encourage anyone with questions or comments to become informed and get involved on these topics. Please always remember when you are afield to 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.