Nest Predator Bounty Program 2021 gets best of two previous years

Russell “Russ” Olson - vice-chair of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission discusses the upcoming third year of the Nest Predator Bounty Program.

The nest predator bounty program began in 2019 as a key component of Gov. Kristi Noem’s Second Century Initiative. Its goals were to diminish the population of animals that eat pheasant and duck eggs, to get youth and families outside together, and to help ensure trapping remains a part of South Dakota’s outdoor heritage.

Now with the program to start its third year, it has been given what worked best from its two previous years. It is back to the $10 bounty per predator tail. With the upcoming program season being April 1 through July 15, the GF&P could collect 50,000 tails, thus reaching the 2021 cap of $500,000.

Russell Olson is vice-chair of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission. He discussed the Nest Predator Bounty Program, in advance of the Commission’s January 28-29 meeting. The public can attend through conference call or remotely through Zoom. Number eight on the agenda is the Pheasant Hunting Marketing Campaign 2020 Summary. Number 27 on the agenda is the Nest Predator Bounty program. Number 29 on the agenda is Future of Habitat Update.

The 2019 cap on receiving harvested predator tails was $500,000, at $10 per tail, Olson said. South Dakota citizens can harvest the included species — raccoons, striped skunks, badgers, opossums, and red fox — year-round, but to be eligible for the bounty program the animals must be harvested during the program timeframe, or until the cap was reached. In fall of 2019, Responsive Management completed an independent survey of South Dakota residents and program participants, measuring their opinions on trapping and the Nest Predator Bounty Program. Overall, 83% of South Dakota residents approved of the program.

Participants must comply with South Dakota trapping and hunting rules and regulations, found in the current hunting and trapping handbook or online at Road kill animals are not eligible. Payment for the tails is through a check in the mail approximately every 30 days.

On August 12, the 2019 Nest Predator Bounty Program closed, after receiving 50,000 nest predator tails from nearly 3,000 participants. Game, Fish and Parks’ Secretary, Kelly Hepler, said, “The success of this program is directly tied to the stories we have received from the families who were inspired to start trapping for the first time. Participants have not only been successful at removing large numbers of nest predators which will help nesting birds in their local areas, but more importantly, they have had fun and experienced our outdoor resources in a way they might not have ever known.”

The 2020 Nest Predator Bounty Program ran from April 1 through July 1. This year, though, the cap was $250,000 — half from 2019, and each tail received $5 — half of the original $10. Program changes for 2020 also included that participants under the age of 18 and landowners harvesting nest predators from their own land were not required to have a license. All other participants must have a hunting, fishing, or furbearer license. And, the method of take included shooting of nest predators in addition to trapping. Participants could submit up to $595 worth of tails per household. Due to the pandemic, the GF&P did not accept tails until a later date, and participants were to freeze all tails until dates and locations were determined for submission.

“COVID caused an unknown aspect to the 2020 program,” Olson said. “Still, in some of the counties, we doubled the number of youth participating. Of the 4,100 tails collected over the first two years, 16% were harvested by participants 17 years old and younger. We strove for the three Rs — recruit, retain, and reactivate. We want to see people getting out, getting off of their couches to going outdoors.” One of the goals is for at least 20% of bounty participants to be under the age of 18. The main species of tails turned in were racoon tails, with skunk tails taking a distant second. One of the GF&P offices collecting the tails is the Fort Pierre office at 20641 S.D. Hwy. 1806 in Fort Pierre, call 605-223-7680.

Olson said, for the 2021 season, he will encourage his 11-year-old son, Gordon, to participate. Olson is looking forward to getting in the pickup with his son on a regular basis and checking traps.

“I have heard people say the program has achieved its goals. People know the correlation of predators and the brood production success. I know, and it seems amazing, that every year about 75% of the pheasant broods are lost to predators. This is according to the biologists, and I have learned to trust these guys. Habitat is shrinking, and it’s easier for predators to find the broods — like shooting fish in a barrel for predators to get eggs and chicks. The Nest Predator Bounty Program will help us and the pheasants in the long run. I personally feel we’ve seen more pheasants this year, but the guy 10 away might say he has never seen the impact.”

Olson mentioned a weekly give-away program. Of the kids turning in predator tails, one winner each week will receive three live traps, a quality skinning knife, and a copy of the Trappers Association handbook — a package totaling an estimated $350.

Reaching the cap could end the season early. “The program could very well hit its cap, say the 1st of June, and the season would be over,” said Olson.

“The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is focused on increasing participation in trapping from all ages while at the same time, reducing localized populations of nest predators as a way to enhance pheasant and duck nest success,” states the GF&P website. “The activity of trapping nest predators during the nesting season has been a management technique for decades. Trapping is central to wildlife management, conservation and sustaining our state’s outdoor traditions for the next generation.”

The goals of the program for South Dakota residents were, are still are:

Enhance duck and pheasant nest success;

Increase trapping participation, awareness and education;

Ensure South Dakota’s hunting and trapping heritage remains strong for the next 100 years; and

Get the next generation involved and interested in outdoor recreation, conservation and wildlife management while increasing support for habitat.

Olson added that the GF&P hopes to double youth participation in ETHICS S.D., a furbearer education program collaboration between GF&P, 4-H, the S.D. Trappers Association, and the Western S.D. Fur Harvesters. There were six 4-H clubs from around the state participating in ETHICS SD as a pilot program from October 2019-April 2020. ETHICS stands for Ecology, Trapping, History, Identification, Conservation, and Stewardship. Once furs are harvested, students learn skills in fleshing, stretching, salting and drying furs to compete for $1,000 in scholarships at next spring’s South Dakota Trapper’s Association youth division fur competition. Each 4-H group has approximately 10 student participants (ages 10-18), one 4-H adviser, and at least one trapping expert to assist with the class content. Parental and volunteer involvement has been key to the success of the program.

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