PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Results weren’t as good this spring for South Dakota’s effort to kill more animals that prey on ground-nesting game birds.

Keith Fisk, the state wildlife damage program administrator, presented numbers Friday to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

Last year, paying $10 per tail, the bounty program used up the $500,000 allocated.

This year, with bounties reduced to $5 and funding likewise cut in half, about $131,000 was paid through the July 1 end.

“Due to COVID-19 we weren’t able to accept tails right at the start,” Fisk explained.

Instead, people initially were asked to freeze tails of predators such as raccoons that they had trapped or shot.

That was because Governor Kristi Noem, in response to COVID-19, had ordered non-essential state government employees under her control to work from home starting March 15.

The governor issued another order effective May 2 giving discretion to her department and bureau heads to gradually reopen state offices as they saw fit.

The first opportunities to be paid $5 apiece for tails came May 8, May 15 and May 29 at nine locations. Further dates were held in June and July 1.

Fisk said about 26,000 tails were submitted, with raccoons the most numerous. Counties in eastern South Dakota generated the most tails.

About 1,100 people participated, with the most ages 51 to 70, and about half were repeats from 2019.

Last year 13% were age 17 and younger. The goal this year was 20%. That came short at 16%.

Fisk said participants told him there were two reasons participation overall was down. One was COVID-19 and the related limits on turn-ins. The other was reducing the bounty to $5.

Fisk said the overall cost for the program was about $150,000, with about $16,900 paid for staff salaries.

Commissioner Doug Sharp of Watertown questioned why the salary expense would be included because it “artificially” raised an issue for the public.

“I’m not sure it’s a fair representation of the cost of a program when we’re looking at things,” Sharp said.

Commissioner Robert Whitmyre of Webster said he was “impressed” that so many people participated during COVID-19. He defended the program.

“I think it’s been very successful,” Whitmyre said. He removed 12 raccoons and had 12 waterfowl nests in an area on his farm.

Commission chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City wondered whether the program should be limited to areas that have pheasants.

Commissioner Charles Spring of Union Center said predators were “real hard” on ducks and turkeys too.

Commissioner Travis Bies of Fairburn agreed with Spring, noting that grouse are helped too. “It’s not just a pheasant-area program,” Bies said. 

The state Game, Fish and Parks Department gradually reopened to the public in May and June. The bounty program ran April 1 through July 1.

The commission reduced the program this year, amid challenges from sportsmen who wanted money spent instead on more pheasant habitat. The bounties concept came from the governor, a hunter and a past owner of a commercial pheasant-hunting operation.