Update: Pheasant festival returning amid declining resident hunters; event to focus on increased habitat

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A festival celebrating South Dakota’s state bird is returning to Sioux Falls in 2021 but based on numbers from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, there may be fewer hunters who will participate.

The Pheasant Festival and Quail Classic will return on Feb. 9- 21. The event is sponsored by Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. This is the second year in four years the event will be in Sioux Falls.

Yet, the event could be a boon for the state’s hunting landscape.

Jared Wiklund, the public relations director for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, said one of the goals of the event is raise money which is used to restore wildlife habitat. More wildlife habitat will increase the pheasant population, he said.

“Any time you increase the (pheasant) population, hunting license sales go up,” Wiklund said.

In 2018, the state drew 69,018 out of state hunters, according to the GFP. There were 53,577 in state hunters. In 2009, there were about as many resident hunters (69,949) as there were nonresident hunters (69,018) in 2018.

GFP numbers from 2009 through 2018 show a steady decline in the number pheasant hunters in South Dakota. There were 69,949 resident hunters in 2009 and 97,350 nonresident hunters. Both categories reached peaks in 2010 with 72,465 resident hunters and 100,189 nonresident hunters.

The event drew 28,868 attendees to the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls over three days in 2018, according to Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. That was one of biggest crowds its history.

In 2020, the event drew a record-breaking 32,467 attendees to the Minneapolis Convention Center, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever said.

South Dakota isn’t the only state to lose some hunters.

The National Fish and Wildlife Service said in 2016 that 11.5 million people 16 or older hunted that year. The agency conducts surveys roughly every five years. The respective year’s survey said there were 13.7 million hunters in 2011, 12.5 million in 2006, 13 million in 2001, 14 million in 1996 and 14.1 million in 1991. 

The decline in hunters can be particularly felt in South Dakota.

Although there are fewer hunters, pheasant hunting is big business in South Dakota

Pheasant hunters still contributed a total of about $218.1 million to the state’s economy in 2019, according to the GFP.

Overall, the revenue from hunting, fishing and trapping licences declined by about $1.5 million in the state in 2019, according to the GFP. GFP numbers show a decline since at least 2015.

Outdoor magazines and organizations such as Pheasants Forever consistently rank South Dakota as one of the top, or the top, state in which to hunt pheasants each year.

Hunters harvested about 950,883 pheasants in 2018. That was the second straight year of a harvest under 1 million birds, according the GFP. In 2017, 326,936 pheasants were harvested by residents and 501,773 were harvested by nonresidents.

Fewer hunters and weather may have contributed to some of the drop in the number of birds harvested in 2019 but there is another long-term factor, according the GFP.

The agency’s pheasant brood population report for 2019 cited a decade long decline in the number of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in the state. CRP is land that is not farmed but instead, owners are paid a per acre price to convert the land to areas fit for wildlife habitat. Often, CRP is marginal farm land.

The combined availability of hay land, small grains, and CRP has declined by 46% or 5.5 million acres since 1990, the GFP’s 2019 pheasant population report said. As wildlife habitat declines, so will the number of birds, the GFP said.

A bright spot in the GFP 2019 pheasant report said after several years of loss in CRP acres, the number of CRP acres appears to be steady now.

The Pheasant Festival and Quail Classic is a way to encourage landowners to register for CRP, he said.

“Our goal is to restore 1.5 million acres enrolled in CRP (in South Dakota),” Wiklund said.

South Dakota has about 1.1 million acres now.

An increase of 500,000 acres will make a positive difference in the pheasant population, Wiklund said.

The latest USDA Farm Bill includes money to increase CRP acres in the U.S. from 24 million acres to 27 million acres, Wiklund said.

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