When the 2013 pre-season pheasant brood survey for South Dakota showed a 64 percent drop from 2012 and a 76 percent decline from the 10-year average, hunters that are familiar with the traditional world-class pheasant hunting in the state took notice. Many canceled their hunting plans altogether.
The statistics caught the attention of South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who understands what the $750 million pheasant hunting industry means to the state economically as well as recreationally. In response to the crippling drops in pheasant numbers, the governor quickly called together his game and fish, agriculture and tourism departments for a summit to identify the problems responsible for the pheasant decline and to develop a path forward to reverse the negative trend.
The event was held on a bitterly cold December day in Huron, SD. The town is known for displaying the largest pheasant statue in the world as a symbol of the importance of the state bird. Secretary of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Jeff Vonk explained that healthy pheasant populations require food, cover and water across the landscape. While weather is also an important short-term factor, habitat is the long-term driver of pheasant abundance.
He quoted the great wildlife manager Aldo Leopold as having the answer to the challenge, “Game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools that have heretofore destroyed it—the axe, cow, plow, fire and gun. Successful management is the purposeful and continual alignment of those factors to benefit the species.”
So what can be done about this habitat crisis? Summit participants agreed that conservation policy should play a major role and suggested several actions:
- Pass a Farm Bill with strong conservation features, including a targeted Conservation Reserve, wetlands and grassland protection and conservation compliance features that prevent crop insurance from causing habitat conversion.
- Pass legislation to tax grazing lands based on actual use rather than on soils capacity to produce crops.
- Increase funding for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to manage pheasant habitat.
It was encouraging to witness Gov. Daugaard’s attentiveness to the needs of the sportsmen but much work remains. Watch a video from the summit below and stay tuned as the TRCP and our partners provide opportunities for sportsmen to speak up on behalf of key conservation initiatives.