A free offer proved so popular in the first 12 hours Friday that the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department stopped taking orders that evening.
Thousands of South Dakotans contacted the department through its website wanting live traps for catching skunks and raccoons and other predators.
The idea came from new Governor Kristi Noem as part of her Second Century Initiative.
The farmer’s daughter and former four-term congresswoman wants to help landowners develop more wildlife habitat and keep South Dakota’s hunting experience strong.
One of the ways she’s trying is more trapping of predators, so pheasants and ducks and other game birds have a better chance to survive, especially during spring nesting.
The demand Game, Fish and Parks saw Friday for free traps amazed people in the department.
Officials had announced around 1 p.m. they would distribute up to five live traps for free to 5,500 South Dakota households.
By 6 p.m. a second announcement went out scaling the offer back to three apiece, because so many people were registering online.
Around 9 p.m. came a third announcement: The department had 5,500 commitments and was closing the giveaway.
Now the department needs to fill orders and get traps to GFP offices throughout South Dakota for people to pick up.
A department news release initially said traps would be ready by April 1. But a followup said it could take longer.
“We appreciate your patience as we work on manufacturing live traps for this program. It was anticipated that it would take time before all traps were distributed, but please know it could take several months before traps are available for pick up,” the followup said.
It continued: “Thank you for your understanding. The interest is high in this effort, which is a very exciting moment for our state and the next generation. It ultimately means that we will continue to keep the tradition of trapping and the outdoor heritage strong for the future.”
The April 1 timing coincides with another of the new governor’s ideas: A bounty on some predators.
It’s $10 per tail for raccoon, striped skunk, badger, opossum and red fox starting April 1 and is available only for South Dakota residents. Animals need to be caught in South Dakota.
The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission on Friday proposed rules for the bounty program. A public hearing is set for April 4 at 2 p.m. MT at the Outdoor Campus in Rapid City.
The commission’s goal to increase participation in trapping by people of all ages while reducing local populations of nest predators.
The free live traps was a giant hit.
“We knew it was going to be popular but we had never done anything like it before,” Keith Fisk said Saturday afternoon. He GFP’s wildlife damage program administrator. “We were all taken aback.”
He said people seemed to be ready when registration started Friday. Sioux Falls, Pierre, Watertown, Rapid City and Mitchell were the top five areas.
State Department of Corrections inmates and a private contractor are building the traps. They’ll cost an average of about $55 apiece. Game, Fish and Parks will fund the project, with department officials looking for outside sources to offset the costs.
Live traps are easier and safer for people to operate, Fisk said. These are made from wire mesh and measure 12 by 14 by 36 inches, with a platform inside where bait is placed. When the animal steps on the platform to reach the bait, the added weight triggers the overhead door to spring shut.
Each trap will have an ID plate with initials “SDGFP” laser-cut.
Fisk said about 700 people had registered by noon. Then the rush began. By 3 p.m. they numbered about 2,000. They hit the 5,500 cutoff at about 8:30 p.m. “It was wild,” he said.
Many people who registered also checked boxes indicating they were interested in more education materials about trapping and about habitat programs, according to Fisk.
“So we’re real excited we’re able to tap into some people we might have missed before,” he said.