The Game Fish and Parks Q&A sheet on the impact of coronavirus on outdoor operations includes a note that South Dakota is not closing its fishing and hunting seasons to non-residents. “[A]ny individual with a valid fishing or hunting license is eligible to participate in any open fishing or hunting season.”
I don’t want to stoke anti-outsiderism, but I would like to explore whether continuing to encourage nonresidents to come hunt and fish (I was going to say, “promote nonresident hunting,” but then I thought of hunting Minnesotans who stray across our border… and I hear Minnesotans, with their richer and healthier diets, make for fine eatin’… but let’s not stoke paranoia: there is no food shortage, just kinks in labor and supply chain and, mostly, shoppers behaving stupidly) is akin to keeping the bars and casinos open.
Hunting and fishing are primarily recreational activities. No one needs to hunt or fish. The fact that an activity is nonessential does not mean we need to shut it down; the state is keeping its campground open for now, so why not allow hunting and fishing to continue? Hunting and fishing involve social distancing: hunters and fishers are far less likely to spread cooties galoshing about the wetlands or lounging by the Big Sioux than they are crowding into some bar.
But nonresident hunting means someone is traveling a fair distance purely for recreation. When folks come from out of state to pursue our walleye and pheasant, they probably aren’t coming just to be outside. They’re probably planning to hop some bars and restaurants. Add the fact that, just to get here, they’ll have to spend time airports or the gas stations along the Interstates, and you see nonresident hunting as a recipe for introducing more disease vectors into the pandemic mix. I won’t advocate closing our borders, but promoting nonresident hunting, inviting tourists to travel long distances to spend time in our state for mere recreation during a public health crisis, is a bad idea.
Now one could argue that hunting and fishing aren’t purely recreational but provide folks with a source of food (never mind zoonotic diseases and lead poisoning). But if hunting and fishing support the local food supply, then that might be all the more reason to restrict nonresident hunting. If South Dakotans need walleye and pheasant to survive, we don’t want Ole and his pals from Bemidji coming and harvesting a big chunk of our precious food.
Promoting nonresident hunting is just one of South Dakota’s many normal profit-making activities that need to be rethought during the current public health crisis. Our state makes good money on recreational activities, but given the millions of lives at stake in preventing the coronavirus from spreading, we may just have to accept the losses of telling nonresident hunters to stay home this year.