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Gov's pheasant work group named

Attendees fill the Huron Arena floor Dec. 6 during the Governor's Pheasant Habitat Summit in Huron. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

KENNEBEC — It has been 20 years since Steve Halverson experienced pheasant hunting as bad as this past season.

Halverson, 49, who owns Kennebec’s Halverson Hunts, a pheasant-guide service in central South Dakota, has been in business since 1985.

“At the time, we knew we had a surplus of pheasants and we just decided to try and market it,” Halverson said of opening the hunting business with his parents. “It started really slow and now we’ve built it up to where it’s almost 100 percent repeat customers, guys who have been coming since 1985.”

This was the first year Halverson had to supplement his operation with non-wild pheasants for his clients to hunt. The statewide pheasant season ended Sunday, and bird numbers have declined over the past two years dramatically, Halverson said. He attributed the drop to tough weather and declining habitat.

Tuesday afternoon, Halverson was one of 13 people named to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s Pheasant Habitat Work Group. The work group is so far the main result of a meeting of landowners and conservationists during December at Daugaard’s Pheasant Habitat Summit in Huron.

In addition to looking at the ideas that came from people who attended the December summit, Halverson said one of his main goals will be more habitat and public hunting land.

“I just know there is some great public hunting opportunities out there now, and there’s also some public ground out there that has gone stale,” he said. “I think there are some opportunities to go in there and rejuvenate them with an effort to bring back all wildlife.

“I think before we start telling the farmers what they need to do, the state should look into their own ground for opportunities to not only increase pheasant numbers but to create better opportunities in all wildlife.”

The chairwoman of the group is Pam Roberts, of Pierre, a former secretary of the state Department of Labor and Regulation. Representatives of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Pheasants Forever, and state legislators are among the notable figures who are part of the group.

“It seems like a pretty broad and diverse group,” GF&P Secretary Jeff Vonk said. “I think it’s a pretty good, well-rounded list if you look beyond just the titles. They all bring kind of a unique perspective to this.”

Halverson, who also is a farmer, was surprised when he got called at the end of last week by the governor’s office to be part of the group. He said he’s excited about the opportunity.

Halverson said the first meeting of the group will be in February, and monthly meetings will be held until late June. That’s when he said there will be a final meeting and action plan announced.

“The thing I like the most is the awareness people have to know how important this is to our state,” said Halverson, whose business guides about 300 clients each year, hunting each weekend from the season’s kickoff through December.

Here is a list of the 13-member Pheasant Habitat Work Group, announced Tuesday by Gov. Daugaard’s office:

  • Pam Roberts, Pierre (chairwoman), retired secretary of South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation.
  • Barry Dunn, Brookings, dean, College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences at South Dakota State University.
  • Tim Kessler, Aberdeen, Pheasants Forever Board of Directors, former Game, Fish and Parks Commission chairman.
  • Mary Duvall, Pierre, District 24 state representative.
  • Jason Frerichs, Wilmot, farmer, Senate minority leader, District 1 state senator.
  • John Cooper, Pierre, GF&P commissioner, former GF&P secretary.
  • Steve Halverson, Kennebec, farmer, owner of Halverson Hunts.
  • Jan Nicolay, Chester, former state representative, conservation advocate.
  • Jeff Zimprich, Huron, USDA-NRCS state director.
  • Doug Deiter, Faulkton, farmer.
  • Jeff Vonk, Pierre, GF&P secretary.
  • Lucas Lentsch, Pierre, South Dakota secretary of agriculture.
  • Nathan Sanderson, Pierre, governor’s policy adviser for agriculture and GF&P.