GFP hopes for a pheasant revival in SD

SDGFP staff stressed that habitat is crucial to pheasant production and survival during the March GFP Commission meeting in Pierre. Courtesy photo by Chad Coppess, SD Tourism

By Bob Mercer, American News Correspondent

PIERRE — A South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department official delivered a 32-slide presentation March 2 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 100th pheasant hunting season later this year, 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.

“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 resources 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 had a pheasant habitat summit at Huron in December 2013.

Some showed mixtures of successes and goals that need to be restarted.

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 helps 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 nonprofit, has new leaders. The 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.

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

A GFP staffer sported the official “100” logos on cap and vest at the meeting Friday.

Commission member 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 2 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 have bought pheasant licenses year after year in recent times than hunters who live in South Dakota.

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

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