By NORA HERTEL | Associated Press
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota officials are encouraging hunters to focus on the state's abundant goose population this season after announcing plans to significantly restrict deer hunting licenses.
During meetings that concluded Friday at Custer State Park, officials with the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Commission said numbers of geese have been on the rise since the early 1990s. According to department figures, the most recent three-year average of geese in the state is 248,000, much more than the state's goal of 80,000-90,000.
Officials have proposed issuing tens of thousands fewer deer tags than last year because of a population drop they blame partly on a decision by property owners to use more of their land for agriculture, leaving less for wildlife.
“We want to grow that population and grow it faster,” said Chad Switzer, wildlife program administrator for the department.
The department isn't currently proposing limiting the number of licenses for pheasant hunting, even though population estimates were down 19 percent from August 2012 to August 2013.
The commission also approved the acquisition of 165 acres of land, most in northwest Moody County, that will be used for wildlife management and public hunting. Funding for the $160,000 parcel comes from a grant and pheasant hunting and conservation groups in the state.
While at Custer State Park for the meeting, commissioners toured the site of a future $5 million visitor center, which will include a theater.
Park officials said they are working with an architect, expect to call for bids later this year and begin building in 2015. The project needs $1 million more to reach its funding goal.
They expect to make a call for bids later this year and begin building in 2015.
The commission will meet next month in Yankton