Anderson: Pheasants Forever decides it can't sit idly by

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2014 - 6:56 AM

The group has made a pro-active move by establishing an office in precious South Dakota.

Pheasants Forever threw down a conservation gauntlet this week when it announced it will open a regional office in Brookings, S.D.

In moving one of its most experienced leaders to the state that is the undisputed Pheasant Capital of the World, and announcing plans to intensify efforts there to slow, and, preferably, stop, habitat losses, PF has placed its considerable gravitas and experience behind an effort the conservation world will watch closely.

If nothing else, for the time being, the action gives hope to the little guy (or gal) — the pheasant hunter who might live in New York or Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota — whose life is largely defined by the dogs he owns and the time he spends each fall tramping the hinterlands, hoping to put a rooster to flight.

Those people worry, rightfully, that their passion and pastime are being threatened to extinction in their lifetime. Maybe now, they figure, in coming to South Dakota’s rescue, PF will also save them.

Leading PF’s South Dakota initiative from an office in Brookings will be Dave Nomsen, who joined the organization in 1992 after working for the National Wildlife Federation in Bismarck, N.D.

Initially a Minnesota field biologist for PF stationed in Alexandria, Minn., Nomsen soon became the organization’s point person on the federal farm bill. His current title is vice president of government affairs for PF as well as its sister organization, Quail Forever, a responsibility he’ll retain, in addition to directorship of the new South Dakota office.

Establishment by PF of its first regional office outside its Twin cities headquarters makes sense from many viewpoints. Habitat losses have intensified across the nation’s pheasant range in recent years, triggered largely by high commodity prices. The devastation in Iowa, for example, which once rivaled South Dakota in the number of roosters harvested each year, has startled wingshooters and game managers alike.

Recent tough winters and wet springs have contributed to the decline. But other factors have been in play as well, not least a federal crop insurance program that helps to indemnify farmers from risk, and the development of new seed varieties that flourish in semi-arid environments such as South Dakota.

Time will tell whether corn and soybeans can in fact be grown successfully in these new lands. It’s possible the region’s lack of rainfall might make the push for more cropland a fool’s errand.

Whether that proves true or not, PF decided it could no longer stand idly by while pheasants and pheasant habitat continued to suffer in South Dakota.

“We’ve learned a lot in other states in our 32 years, and we intend to bring that experience to South Dakota to get things done there,” said PF CEO Howard Vincent.

For Nomsen, the move to Brookings will bring him home in a way. Though an Iowa native, he took undergraduate and graduate degrees at South Dakota State in Brookings and also served on the faculty there for seven years, studying and working with prairie wetlands.

A few decades back, when PF was organizing chapters at a breakneck pace (its current membership exceeds 130,000), South Dakota was an outlier of sorts. The state was so rich in resources (and remains so, relative to other states) that many residents didn’t see the need or urgency to “save” pheasants and pheasant habitat.

That attitude has since changed, and now a diverse panel organized by Gov. Dennis Daugaard has been charged with developing a new state pheasant habitat plan.

A member of that group, Nomsen intends to vastly expand the visibility of Pheasants Forever in South Dakota, in part by expanding partnerships among individual South Dakotans, wildlife professionals and groups, farm and ag specialists, and academics.

In the process, Nomsen said, “Just as agriculture has turned more and more to precision farming, we’re going to have to turn more and more to precision conservation.”

PF already has eight farm bill biologists in South Dakota, as well as one regional biologist. Further staff, including a deputy director of the office, will be added in coming months, with the overall goal of developing a “suite of best management practices” to help landowners there make pheasant-friendly production decisions.

Nomsen, as part of the government’s special pheasant habitat council, hopes to help develop an effective state-sponsored upland recovery plan, and a funding source to underwrite it.

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