We listened intently to Governor Noem’s first State of the State address delivered to the joint session of the Legislature. We were impressed with the tone and direction the new Governor set in her speech as she moved through the more important topics and priorities impacting our State: access to high speed broadband internet across the state; providing our businesses room to grow and prosper; addressing the housing shortage problem and workforce training needs, including career technical counseling; and outlining an approach to deal with methamphetamine involving education, enforcement and treatment. All of these, and the other priorities she discussed were well thought out and of specific interest to our state’s citizens.

We had to scratch our heads, though, when the Governor speaking to her interest in supporting and improving hunting in South Dakota. She listed both the economic impacts and the quality of life as critical to South Dakota, mentioned pheasant hunting and vowed to “advance” hunting by citing her “Second Century Initiative”, which would: increase resources for habitat management; have GFP find voluntary funding solutions, including a “Hunt for Habitat Program”; develop a specialty pheasant license plate program which directs proceeds from sale of plates to habitat management; and “getting aggressive on predator control with a bounty program’

Governor Noem’s remarks related to hunting and science based wildlife management seemed to us to be somewhat shallow related to those items she listed as “important to advance hunting” We were reminded that these same points of concern and discussion were brought to light during Governor Daugaard’s Pheasant Habitat Summit on December 6, 2013 where over 500 people gathered in Huron and provided a forum for Landowners, sportsmen, tourism and government officials to both learn about and provide suggestions on sustaining SD’s pheasant populations and continuing hunter interest.

Soon after that Summit, Governor Daugaard convened “The Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group” composed of thirteen members representing business, biological science, government administration, Legislators, landowners, conservation organizations, sportsmen, and educators. The Habitat Work Group assembled an impressive amount of information from people directly involved with habitat, agriculture, pheasant population/management, economics, federal and regional programs, partnerships and land stewardship.

During the six months the Work Group was in session, over 160 public comments and recommendations aimed at sustaining and improving pheasant populations and hunter recruitment/satisfaction were noted, thoroughly reviewed and discussed as the Work Group eventually arrived at its Final Report released in July 2014. That Report is an excellent source for anyone interested in South Dakota pheasants and their history and management principles. It is also the original thrust behind the current website habitat.sd.gov.

We reread the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group Report over the past few days and found it thorough and enlightening, with strong recommendations for solid policies and actions that could be taken to improve pheasant abundance. Most of these require close communication and partnerships with state agencies, like Game, Fish & Parks, Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Districts and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, working with Federal Agencies like the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Services Agency. The South Dakota Habitat Conservation Fund was also a product of the Work Group Recommendations.

We also noted that the Work Group fully addressed “predator control” on page 18, by stating “ … when suitable habitat is available and weather conditions warrant, pheasant populations flourish without direct predator control”. They also note “a bounty or reward system to encourage predator control would probably not have a measurable effect on pheasant populations” and add …” bounty systems in other states have been ineffective because the origin of the predators cannot be verified.”

So, the real issue in front of us to “advance pheasant hunting” is to focus on habitat, primarily grasslands and wetlands, work with landowners to secure those habitat(s) through incentives, provide hunter access through a strong walk-in program and raise suitable funding to get it done.

If you really want to be considered “The Sportsman in Chief for South Dakota Pheasant Hunting”, as you noted Governor, you will have to up your game and focus on the science backed management principles noted in the Report which truly impact pheasants in our great State. Predator bounties won’t get the job done and they detract from the priority tasks at hand. At best they serve to mollify a vocal minority who don’t want to admit that it is lack of quality habitat that has caused pheasant numbers to fall.

The South Dakota Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group Report is available online.

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