South Dakotans might get some say on whether GFP keeps nest-predator bounties for this year

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Game Fish and Parks Department

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Should South Dakota offer bounties again this spring on some species that prey on pheasants and ducks?

The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission decided Thursday to look at it.

They’ll make a final decision at their next meeting March 5-6 in Pierre.

Kevin Robling hopes commissioners opt for a second year. He’s deputy secretary for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.

Governor Kristi Noem called for the bounty program last year and GFP quickly rolled it out.

Robling told the commission Thursday the department would like to see the program continue.

Last year, South Dakota trappers received bounties of $10 per tail and got about $547,000.

From April 1 through August 12, when the department shut down the program because money ran out, trappers turned in 43,779 raccoons; 6,001 skunks; 3,706 possum; 494 red fox and 490 badgers.

“That’s a highlight we want to articulate,” Robling said. He added, “Ninety percent of these predators were in eastern South Dakota.”

The department also spent $958,171 to give away more than 16,000 live traps; paid $190,915 in salary and benefits to staff involved with the effort; and had $35,778 of other expenses.

Robling said the bounty could be cut to $5 this year and the season length could be changed. He said the department won’t repeat the free live-traps.

Furbearer license sales rose 6.7 percent from 2018 to 2019, although Robling didn’t directly tie the increase and the two new programs.

The commission also received a presentation on the nest-predator bounty program from the head of a Virginia research firm that specializes in outdoor issues.

Mark Damian Duda said 83 percent of about 1,300 program participants who were surveyed either strongly or moderately agreed the $500,000 for bounties was a good use.

Among 420 members of South Dakota’s general population who were surveyed by telephone, 61 percent said they weren’t aware of the program. “Certainly not on top of the radar,” Duda said.

John Cooper of Pierre, now a retired Game, Fish and Parks secretary who spent the first decades of his career working as a field agent for the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service, said the total cost including the live traps must be considered.

Duda acknowledged the spending for the live-traps wasn’t included in the information presented to people who were surveyed.

Commission chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City said sportsmen weren’t included but their money was used. Jensen also said science didn’t support targeting predators as a method to increase bird numbers.

Duda, who noted at the start of his presentation that he and Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler had known one another for years, said the survey questions were reviewed ahead of time by people in the department.

As to interviewing sportsmen, Duda said, “We were not asked to do that.” Duda said the original contract was for eight questions that turned into more than 20. He said his work cost the department $35,000.

“That was hard on me,” Hepler later told the commission about what he went through last year to get the bounty program going.

Jensen rolled down a list of things he would like changed, such as cutting the bounty in half, allowing people to use guns and arrows, and requiring adults to have some type of South Dakota license to get the bounty for predators taken off other people’s lands.

“It’s going to be hard if not impossible to evaluate this program,” Jensen said.

Commissioner Russ Olson of Wentworth said July 1 would be a good “hard stop” date if the program continues.

“The public can tell us what they think March 5,” Jensen said.

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