Anderson: Concern for pheasant population in South Dakota

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2013 - 12:31 AM

The state, making a historic push to increase the ringneck population, wants to stop the death spiral of the birds on the prairies.

hide

Hunters from all over have enjoyed the pheasants in South Dakota, one of the last great places in the country to hunt the birds, but it’s one threatened by degraded habitat.

Photo: File photo Marlin Levison • mlevison@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

History will be made Friday in South Dakota when about 450 people from throughout the state trek to Huron to collectively concern themselves with a bird.

Which is admirable enough. That the pilgrimages will be made at the invitation of the state’s governor makes the event a bigger deal still.

The bird in question is the pheasant, which underscores the importance, socially and economically, of the ringneck to South Dakota, a state widely regarded as among the nation’s last best places for prairies, prairie wildlife and prairie hunting.

Unfortunately, South Dakota’s pheasants have been in what has been described as a death spiral in recent years. Loss of more than a half-million Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres is one reason, a consequence of rising commodity prices and the resulting conversion of grasslands to croplands

A summer-long drought in 2012 didn’t help. Nor did recent, successive cold, wet nesting seasons.

Were it only money associated with pheasants that is at stake — some 21 percent fewer nonresidents hunted birds in the state this year, representing a $2 million loss to the Department of Game, Fish and Parks — the ringneck’s 62 percent population decline would be worrisome enough.

But South Dakota’s self-image, and the image it projects to the nation, is also taking a hit. This is big prairie country, after all, and with it is widely associated the good life, and good living, in the nation’s heartland, with all of its outdoor recreation opportunities.

Yet even here the conflict between modern agriculture and natural-resource conservation has come home to roost. As occurred long ago in Indiana and Illinois, then Iowa and Minnesota, wetlands in the eastern part of South Dakota are being drained, or are threatened to be drained, as never before.

Pattern tiling also has taken hold in the state to further rush surface water from the land, as farmers act to make their properties as corn- and soybean-friendly as possible.

So is “South Dakota fast becoming Iowa,’’ as is commonly claimed, a reference to Iowa’s once robust-but-now decimated pheasant population?

If so, ringneck lovers everywhere are in danger of losing their favorite pastime, and their favorite autumn haunts, as even the New York Times noted in a story published last year:

“The pheasant, once king of Iowa’s nearly half-a-billion-dollar hunting industry, is vanishing from the state. Surveys show that the population in 2012 was the second lowest on record, 81 percent below the average over the past four decades.’’

Credit, then, South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard with calling Friday’s meeting at the Crossroads Convention Center in Huron.

“We are going to focus on habitat. We’re not looking at predators, disease, weather. We’re going to look at habitat — are there things we can agree on that people would all support?’’ Daugaard told the Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls.

Some observers might think the governor’s call to action, or at least his call to discuss a call to action, is a political ploy.

Doubtless politics play a part. But in a nation in which natural resources too often are given short shrift by politicians as they compete for survival with various industries, not least agriculture, the governor’s effort is laudable and an important first step in the bird’s recovery.

And make no mistake: Pheasants will recover in South Dakota — even without the return of the 1.5 million CRP acres that helped boost their numbers to record levels a handful of years ago.

Weather is one reason: Dry nesting seasons historically outnumber wet ones in South Dakota.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Brooklyn 109 FINAL
Boston 107
Cleveland 6:00 PM
Orlando
Indiana 6:30 PM
Detroit
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Houston 7:00 PM
Memphis
San Antonio 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Charlotte 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
LA Lakers 7:30 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8:00 PM
Denver
Philadelphia 9:00 PM
Portland
Phoenix 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Illinois 18 4th Qtr 10:35
Louisiana Tech 21
Rutgers 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
(15) Arizona State 12/27/14 1:10 PM
Duke
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 2:30 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close