PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Widespread shortage of moisture and the governor’s pro-agriculture position led her to issue an emergency order opening East River ditches to haying more than a week early.
That’s just one of the moves by Governor Kristi Noem potentially affecting South Dakota’s pheasant population that are likely to come up next week, when the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission, which governors appoint, meets in Watertown and by teleconference.
July 1 also marks the season-end of the 2021 nest-predator bounty program that Noem brought with her to the governor’s office three years ago. Wildlife damage program administrator Keith Fisk said Wednesday he will deliver the latest numbers.
That’s on the July 8-9 meeting draft agenda, a few slots down from the item titled, Pheasant Hunting Marketing and Season Outlook.
Since Noem started paying $10 bounties for the tails of raccoons, opossum, striped skunks, badgers and red fox, the Game, Fish and Parks Department also stopped doing the summer brood-nest survey, Secretary Kelly Hepler retired and Wildlife Division director Tony Leif was let go.
Noem grew up on her family’s farm and ranch in Hamlin County. She later was involved in ownership of a pheasant preserve where hunters paid, but her communications director says she no longer is.
Minnehaha County trappers submitted 4,225 tails so far. That was the most through June 28, according to the GFP tracking website. Other counties in the top 10 were Beadle, Brookings, Yankton, Grant, Roberts, Deuel, Moody, Clark and Hutchinson.
Statewide there were 48,560 tails submitted through June 28.
Fisk told KELOLAND News, “Today we are sitting at approximately $486,010, and the last day to submit bounty submissions will be July 1, which we will accept all bounty submissions that day, even after the $500,000 cap is reached.”
He said the program this year “has been very successful at engaging youth” — approximately 30% of the participants were younger than 18 — “and hopefully in some localized areas, people will see more pheasants and ducks that hatched because of the increased nest survival.”
The rule that Noem suspended is an attempt to protect pheasant and waterfowl nests in eastern South Dakota from mowers of farmers and ranchers before July 10.
In a statement, the governor said, “This increased flexibility will allow producers to immediately gain access to hay for their livestock. With a mild winter and early spring, most of the pheasant hatch is well behind us, and we do not expect this move to affect pheasant numbers. Reports from the field look fantastic for the upcoming pheasant hunting season.”
South Dakota has been fighting to keep its status as a national leader for pheasant hunters.