Slimmer version of nest-predator bounty program approved for South Dakota

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission agreed Friday to fund a second year of Governor Kristi Noem’s program that pays bounties for some species of mammals that raid the spring nests of pheasants, ducks and other birds.

The vote was 6-2 for a trimmer version. Key changes are:

The state Game, Fish and Parks Department won’t give away live-traps this year. The department distributed about 16,000 last year at a cost of more than $1 million for traps and staff time.

The program will have a $250,000 cap and will pay $5 per tail from a raccoon, striped skunk, opossum, red fox or badger. Last year the cap was $500,000 and the bounty was $10 per tail.

The program starts April 1 and goes to July 1. A bounty will now be paid whether a predator was shot or trapped. Last year the bounties covered only trapped predators.

Only South Dakotans can participate, as was the case last year, but those age 18 and older will need to have a license of some sort.

Commissioner Travis Bies of Fairburn said the program upholds the outdoors heritage.

“There may not be any science, but it’s eroding our rights,” the rancher said about what the program protects against. “If we don’t do this, it erodes that away.”

Commissioner Robert Whitmyre of Webster supported continuing it too. The producer said some of his land has been enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program for three decades.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has spent about $100 million per year in South Dakota for about 1.1 million acres of CRP, according to Whitmyre. He said the governor’s program enhances game birds’ success on that ground.

“I think it’s money well spent,” Whitmyre said.

Voting to approve the program for another year were Russ Olson of Wentworth, Doug Sharp of Watertown, Jon Locken of Bath, Charles Spring of Union Center, Bies and Whitmyre.

Voting against were Gary Jensen of Rapid City and Mary Anne Boyd of Yankton.

Jensen, the chairman, said science didn’t support the program, more than $1.7 million had been spent to support a sector — trappers — that he said was “doing well,” and the department receives about $109,000 a year from sales of trapping licenses.

“We’ve spent generously on that. We have some other needs, higher needs,” Jensen said. He noted the department doesn’t have a budget for marketing pheasant hunting. “We could spend the money there,” he said.

Adrenaline flowed as Jensen relayed difficult questions that several people had raised and the department’s deputy secretary, Kevin Robling, gave candid answers.

“It isn’t just about kids. It’s’s about creating outdoors families,” Robling said about the program’s broader purpose.

Jensen said the 50,000-plus predators’ tails turned in last year represented about one per 1,000 acres. Robling said the figure came down to about one per 300 acres, because most of the tails came from the eastern third of South Dakota.

Jensen asked for the science that would support the program. Robling acknowledged there weren’t any studies that the department chose to do.

Jensen asked for proof that the program made a positive difference for pheasant population. Robling replied that thousands of predators were removed from areas where pheasants nest.

Jensen said carcasses without tails were left “here, there and everywhere” last spring and summer. Robling acknowledged people could question the ethics of killing pregnant predators.

Whitmyre got in the discussion at that point and said raccoons had come to South Dakota by following farmers’ development of grain fields. He said predators generally were now too numerous.

“I’m concerned what is that upper limit, if it’s not controlled,” Whitmyre said. Regarding dead predators being tossed aside after their tails were cut off, he said they would have grown so numerous that other factors such as disease would take many out.

“None of those carcasses are going to be used, either way,” Whitmyre said

Jensen and Robling went around several times, without any resolution, on the outside survey that the department contracted.

The survey received responses from participants in the program and the general public, but sportspeople such as hunters and anglers weren’t contacted.

Robling said they were, as members of the general public. “It wasn’t specifically targeted to those groups, but they’re in there,” he said.

Jensen said they weren’t identified. Robling said the general-public results would have included about 30 percent of outdoors people, because that’s roughly South Dakota’s ratio.

“People have asked us, why?” Jensen said about the absence. Robling said that’s how the research firm chose to run it.

Earlier in the discussion, commissioner Sharp said people from his area of northeastern South Dakota who trapped their lands heavily last spring told him they saw more pheasants last fall.

Commissioner Olson said the department spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on hunting coyotes and paying for damage done by big game. He wondered why opponents of the governor’s nest-predator program weren’t outraged at those efforts too.

“What’s the difference there?” Olson asked.

Jensen wondered whether the department planned to seek bounties again next year. Replied Robling, “I’m not aware of that plan at this time.”

He added, “We have to analyze the data again, as we did in 2019.”

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