South Dakota Looking to Increase Bighorn Licenses

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Two unique hunting opportunities were among the season proposals considered by the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Commission at its March meeting in Pierre.

South Dakota hunters may have an increased chance at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity thanks to a proposal that would increase the number of bighorn sheep licenses from four to five.

The proposal considered by the commission calls for adding an additional license in a new unit. The unit would be located in Custer County west of Highway 79 excluding the fenced portion of Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument.

George Vandel, assistant director of the Wildlife Division, explained to commissioners that license applicants will have to make a choice about the unit where they would like to hunt. "They can move their preference points," Vandel said, "but they can only apply for one unit."

South Dakota's bighorn sheep season is open to resident hunters only. Successful applicants are allowed only one license in their lifetime.

Another unique hunting opportunity is South Dakota's two-day sage grouse season proposed to take place Sept. 24 and 25 on public land and private land leased as Walk-in Areas in Harding County and west of U.S. Highway 85 in Butte County.

Commissioners questioned the need for the hunting season since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the status of the species to determine if it should be protected under the provision of the Endangered Species Act. GFP Game Program Administrator Tom Kirschenmann explained that South Dakota's limited hunting season has averaged a harvest of 18 birds a year for the past eight years, a total that amounts to less than 2 percent of the state's estimated sage grouse population.

"We've seen a stable number of sage grouse based on spring lek counts, with some areas showing small increases over the past three years," Kirschenmann said. "The season provides an excellent opportunity for sage grouse hunters and even with the small number of birds harvested, the department is able to gather valuable biological information."

The commission also accepted proposals for a variety of other hunting seasons. Since the seasons were proposed without changes, they are considered finalized for 2008. Those hunting season include cottontail rabbit, tree squirrel, crow, sandhill crane, common snipe and mourning dove. The commission also accepted rules for dog training on public land.

The bighorn sheep and sage grouse hunting seasons will be the subject of a public hearing at the commission's April meeting in Brookings.

Citizens who would like to provide written comments may do so up until 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 2. Those comments may be mailed to Game, Fish and Parks Commission, 523 E. Capitol Ave., Pierre, SD 57501 or e-mailed to wildinfo@state.sd.us. All comments must include the sender's full name and address in order to become part of the official record.

Comments may also be presented in person at the GFP Commission meeting at the public hearing which will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 3, at the Days Inn in Brookings.