SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Eastern South Dakota has 1.1 million acres available for pheasant hunting, said Mark Norton, the hunting access and farm bill coordinator for the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks Department.
The 1.1 million acres is split between 600,000 acres of public and 400,000 acres of private land with public access or walk in access (WIA).
Norton calculated the 1.1 million acres for the region east of the Missouri River as well as the counties of Lyman, Trip, Gregory and Jones.
“It’s been a top priority each year for a long time to create additional hunting land,” Norton said.
Since 2009, 293,000 acres of private land has been added for public hunting access, he said.
The state would like more but adding about 29,000 new acres each year over 10 years is “definitely an increase,” Norton said.
The state adds acres through public land such as state and federal wildlife areas but also through leasing hunting access on private land.
About 40% of hunters in South Dakota use WIA lands at some point during the pheasant season, according to the GFP. The state has a map on its website of public and public access private land available for hunting.
Most of the WIA leased land is land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program or CRP.
Farmers who enroll in CRP agree to “remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality” and in turn received an annual per acre payment, according to the USDA.
Most CRP contracts are for 10 or 15 years.
The GFP wants to match the length of a CRP contract when it reaches an agreement with a landowner to allow public hunting access, Norton said.
The state pays landowner $6 to $10 per acre for hunting access. The state payment is in addition to federal payment for CRP.
Norton said South Dakota also offers landowners a one-time bonus for enrolling in a hunting access contract.
Bonus rate is per acre plus contract length and the location of the land.
In southeast South Dakota, the bonus flat rate is $5 per acre. If the hunting access contract is for 10 years that results in a $50 per acre bonus.
The hunting access contract bonus outside of the main hunting area of state is $2.50 per acre. A 10-year contract is $25 per care in one-time bonus.
Most land in South Dakota (80%) is privately owned so it’s likely that a hunter will be using private land with a public access or private land with permission to hunt pheasants at some point.
Norton said the state has secured public access to about 10% of the roughly 1.1 million acres of CRP in the state. When Conservation Reserve Enhancement Acres are included in the overall CRP acres, the state has secured public hunting access on 20% of the 1.1 million acres, Norton said.
The GFP, Pheasants Forever and other hunting, wildlife and conservation organizations have pointed out the important link between hunting and CRP.
According to a 2015 story in the South Dakota Conservation Digest 2015, as of 1991, South Dakota farmers and ranchers had enrolled more than 1.7 million acres of cropland. The CRP program started in 1985. The pheasant population grew from about 1.8 million pheasants in 1986 to 4.5 million in 1991, the story said.
South Dakota’s CRP acres changes from year to year but as of Sept. 20, 2017, it had 976,938 acres enrolled, according to the USDA.
The state had 1,129,306 acres enrolled in CRP as of Aug. 20, according to the USDA. There were 28,417 contracts for 13,384 farms.
Just as the number of CRP acres can change, the number of public access acres can also change, Norton said.
In general, the number of private acres with public access is steady, Norton said.