The tightfisted South Dakota Legislature passed a bill Wednesday to mandate a $25 wildlife stamp surcharge for nonresident hunters and anglers.
The all-new stamp, backed by outdoors enthusiasts and conservation groups, would be required with the purchase of hunting or fishing licenses. If Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signs the legislation, the stamps will raise an estimated $5.7 million per year to expand and improve public hunting and fishing areas. For South Dakota residents, with some exceptions, the stamp will cost $10 annually.
“We are a very conservative people and a very conservative Legislature, but it was the outdoorsmen who said, ‘We will pay for this because we want things to improve,’ ” said Sen. V.J. Smith, a first-term Republican from Brookings who introduced the bill this year.
Smith’s legislation breezed through the Senate, received a friendly amendment Monday in the House and returned to the Senate floor Wednesday for a final vote. The tally was 30-5 in favor.
Smith said Noem hasn’t said whether she’ll sign the bill, but Smith and others are optimistic she will. Hunting and fishing is estimated to add $1 billion a year to South Dakota’s economy, but participation has been steadily falling. In South Dakota, far more licenses are sold to nonresidents than residents.
The expansion of row crop farming in South Dakota has led to a sizable decline in publicly available wildlife lands. Smith said the scarcity has made it harder for average-income people to hunt. Especially when it comes to pheasant hunting, not everyone can afford to pay for access to carefully managed private land or to hunt on a for-profit preserve, the senator said.
In his push to pass the legislation, Smith said all states surrounding South Dakota already run habitat stamp programs of some kind.
Matt Morlock, with Pheasants Forever in South Dakota, said support for the new stamp program exceeded expectations. The change will be especially favorable to hunters and anglers because the legislation was written to strictly limit how the proceeds will be spent.
“It’s going to be significant,” Morlock said from his office in Brookings. “It’s been received tremendously.”
By statute, the yearly proceeds would stream into the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department for the “purpose of enhancing terrestrial habitat on public lands, providing additional public access to private land and aquatic habitat enhancements on public waters.” The state won’t be purchasing land, but some money will be paid to farmers to give hunters more walk-in access to untilled acres that provide new wildlife habitat.