year-end camping numbers, changes to archery deer, antelope seasons


PIERRE, S.D. — At their December meeting, the Game, Fish and Parks commission heard updates on state tourism and license sale numbers as well as plans and progress on handling aquatic invasive species.

All told, camping numbers through Nov. 30 improved by 1% over impressive 2021 numbers, though visitation totals to the state dipped about 7% from last year.

Department leaders have stressed often that 2021 was somewhat of an outlier due to fewer options and higher budgets for travelers during the pandemic.

“We were probably thinking that sooner or later our numbers have come back a little bit and visitation has done that for us just a bit,” Director of Parks and Recreation Scott Simpson said.

In revenue-generating areas, hunting license sale receipts have slipped about 2% from last year as of Nov. 30, though some key areas saw improvements, such as a nearly 25% jump in resident small game licenses. Compared to the 5-year average of license sales, 2022 was a 3.7% improvement.

The parks division, where revenue is mainly driven by annual and daily passes as well as camping services, saw revenue drop by 1% from last year, though some areas saw more precipitous drops: seven-day passes into Custer State Park fell 26%, for example.

“While we do see some things that we know we need to pay attention to as far as annual pass sales and the seven-day sales into Custer State Park, when we look at what that bottom number is, what was total revenue into the parks division, we’re within 1%,” Simpson said, adding that, despite small drops in revenue, no budgetary cuts would need to take place.

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A visualization of visitation data this year compared to the last decade.

Contributed / Game, FIsh and Parks

With full prevention nearly impossible, GFP says aquatic invasive species plan centers on personal responsibility, slowing spread

Heading into a legislative session that will likely see more questions from representatives about whether the department is doing all it can to minimize the spread of aquatic invasive species, Jake Davis, the statewide aquatics program administrator with the department, gave a year-end update on the program combatting zebra mussels and other unwanted guests.

“In the end, it comes down to each surface water user,” Davis said about recreators following rules like “Clean, Drain Dry” and pulling their boat plugs.

Department numbers indicate that 96% of users have complied with these directions. Zebra mussels, the most well-known invasive mollusk in the state, continue to spread, infesting Clear Lake on Oct. 29.

Though the department has struggled to fill staff at watercraft inspection sites, with

information provided to a legislative committee in October

indicating an inability to expand inspection sites due to just 31 of 53 filled positions, Davis was not convinced that throwing money at the problem would help slow the march of aquatic invasive species.

“Essentially every state that had them continues to have new detections. An important thing to note about these states is they all have aquatic invasive species programs, but they all spend different amounts of money, in some cases millions of dollars,” Davis said. “The take-home here is, in every case, we see new annual infestations.”

Zebra, image of invasive mussels.jpg
Zebra mussels are generally small and can be identified by the distinctive stripes on their shells. If not contained, zebra mussels reproduce quickly and can damage waterways and boats and clog water treatment facilities and power plants.

Contributed / U.S. Geological Survey

However, he added the department was focusing heavily on education, with marketing expenditures increasing by nearly half to $62,000 this year. These communications included email reminders, highway signs at peak tourism times and even commercials that looped on a few dozen gas station televisions around the state.

Questions of whether heightened funding over the past few years for battling aquatic invasive species has been worth it will certainly be asked by legislators this coming session.

“There has not been a threshold found yet,” Davis said of a dollar amount to cull expansion of invasive species, pointing to Minnesota, where despite $10 million in annual expenditures, 31 lakes were infested with new invasive species in 2021.

Commission approves pet accommodations, recommends archery deer, antelope changes

The meeting, held Dec. 8 and 9 in Pierre, also saw the commission move forward with allowing pets in certain department camping facilities and recommend changes to archery deer and antelope season.

For a $10 fee per group per stay, pets will now be allowed in certain cabins or suites at campsites.

“Due to recent changes to the way people travel and what society is asking for, we believe that this proposal to allow pets in some of our facilities for a moderate fee will keep us up with what travelers are looking for,” Scott Simpson, the parks and recreation director with the department, said to summarize.

In helping make accommodations for those with certain allergies, the commission agreed that a percentage of cabins and suites in each area would remain pet-free. Exact thresholds were not decided on and would be flexible by location.

The commission also considered changes to archery deer and antelope season in the state that would limit the number of nonresident hunters on public land, potentially dealing with overcrowding due to a recent rise in popularity of archery hunting.

For the archery antelope season, the commission recommended limiting nonresident public and private land licenses to 450 total, an approximately 25% decrease from turnout in previous years.

Similar changes were recommended for archery deer season, potentially limiting nonresident public and private land licenses to 2,200.

In both cases, private land licenses will remain unlimited for nonresidents. These proposed changes will be finalized next year at the commission’s March meeting, which will also include a public hearing.

Lastly in terms of potential rule changes, the commission unanimously denied three resident-submitted petitions for rule changes.

One of those petitions originated from Pat Feterl, a Mitchell man hoping to shorten the deer season to minimize the damaging effects of roadside hunting combined with the height of deer rutting season.

Tom Kirschenmann, the director of wildlife with the department, argued that beginning the season Dec. 1, as Feterl hoped, could mean harsh winter weather and fewer experiences for hunters.

The ten-day proposal, Kirschenmann added, would also miss the Thanksgiving weekend travelers and would mean only one weekend during deer season some years, a point Feterl indicated he agreed with.

The commission voted unanimously to deny the petition. Two other petitions, including expanding opportunities for snagging asian carp and adding an option for a third line on open waters, were also denied unanimously.

Jason Harward is a

Report for America

corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at




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