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Pheasant numbers down but GFP looking for a revival

March 6, 2018 GMT

A state Game, Fish and Parks Department official delivered a 32-slide presentation Friday on the past, present and future of pheasants in South Dakota.

In return Tom Kirschenmann received suggestions from members of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

The give and take came as South Dakota prepares for its centennial season of pheasant hunting in 2019, while governor candidates announced plans last month to spur a ring-necked revival.

“We need to get everybody involved. Everybody in South Dakota should realize how important this resource is to us,” Barry Jensen of rural White River said.

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“It’s so important to the state economically,” the chairman told other commissioners. “It may be an area we can get out there a little better.”

Kirschenmann, chief of terrestrial habitat for the state Wildlife Division, stressed habitat is essential for survival and production.

One slide showed ups and downs of federal Soil Bank and Conservation Reserve Program acres in South Dakota and the accompanying rises and declines in annual pheasants per mile estimates.

Others highlighted gains through various programs that came after Gov. Dennis Daugaard held a pheasant habitat summit at Huron in December 2013.

Some showed mixtures of successes and goals that need to be re-started.

Good weather helps too, Kirschenmann said.

A new effort has some Wildlife Division staff analyzing game-production areas. Their recommendations will be brought to the commission later this year, Kirschenmann said.

Encouraging landowners to grow short trees, shrubs and bushes that act as thermal barriers help pheasants get through bad weather.

Food plots are another step, including “brood plots” that attract pollinators.

Insects are the main food young pheasants eat the first eight weeks and the top source for hens after they’ve hatched their clutches of eggs.

“We know winter wheat can provide very valuable nesting habitat,” Kirschenmann said.

Another chart showed locations for 19 habitat advisors from various organizations and governments throughout South Dakota.

Others reported that a habitat conservation foundation formed after the 2013 summit. The foundation distributed grants totaling $611,000 to 12 large and small projects in 2016.

The foundation, now a non-profit, has new leaders.

President is Christine Hamilton, a past chairwoman of the commission. Jan Nicolay, a past legislator, is vice president. Treasurer Steve Halverson, a farmer and rancher, runs a pheasant hunting operation.

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Sioux Falls hosted the National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic last month, which Kirschenmann said was “great timing.”

South Dakota marks its centennial season of pheasant hunting in 2019.

A Game, Fish and Parks Department staffer sported the official “100” logos on cap and vest at the meeting Friday.

Meanwhile U.S. Sen. John Thune, who is South Dakota’s senior member in Congress and No. 3 among Senate Republicans, wants the federal government to increase CRP acres to 30 million in the next farm bill. The current level is 24 million.

The Wildlife Division wasn’t able to convince the state Transportation Commission to adjust ditch-mowing regulations. Trying to get the state Office of School and Public Lands to request leaseholders file land-management plans needs to be re-started.

Commission Doug Sharp of Watertown suggested the division approach county and township governments about better protecting rural roads by keeping farmers out of the 66-feet right of way and looking for ways landowners could adjust ditch-mowing dates.

Sharp said hunters become frustrated when they’ve driven two miles down a dirt road to a public walk-in area: “They get there and it’s a grazed-down pasture.”

Kirschenmann said the division has a range of landowner contracts that vary by type of lease.

While South Dakota pheasant numbers have dropped in the past decade, they’re still better than anywhere else, he said.

More people from outside South Dakota bought pheasant licenses year after year in recent times than hunters who live in South Dakota.

“It is none like any other place,” Kirschenmann said. “Our tradition of pheasant hunting is none like anybody else has.”