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OUR VIEW: Coyotes not to blame, but control still needed

As the pheasant population in South Dakota dwindles, many fingers are pointing in many directions as we all look for the cause.

Saturday, we reported that some in the state are attributing the decline in pheasants to a rise in the coyote population.

Anecdotal evidence tends to show that the coyote population is high. During the recent Pheasant Habitat Summit in Huron, some landowners said coyotes are more prevalent than ever in South Dakota, and a joke by an attendee was that CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) actually is an acronym for Coyote Reproduction Program.

Actual statistics indicate an increase in coyotes, too. From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, for example, the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks received 1,409 requests for assistance regarding livestock loss due to predators, resulting in 7,184 coyotes killed. That was up from 1,120 requests and 6,735 dead coyotes the year before, and up quite a bit from 2010, when there were 1,262 requests and 3,700 kills.

But are predators entirely to blame for the decline in the pheasant population?

The GF&P doesn’t believe so, and neither do we.

We believe it’s a combination of poor weather conditions, a rise in predator numbers and a recent change in farming practices — such as increased crop production along with a reduced number of set-aside acres and wetlands.

However, we cannot argue with statistics that show predator numbers on the rise. And just last week, a member of our editorial board saw a sight that a few years ago would have been quite rare: a lone coyote jogging near a highway after sunup.

While we do not believe predators are the sole reason for this drastic change in the pheasant population, we do feel the rising predator population is a problem that deserves a high priority within the state.

And, from what we’ve learned, the GF&P is taking appropriate action. The department created three additional wildlife damage specialist positions last year and has made increasing use of a federal program to shoot coyotes from the air. We take those developments as signs that the GF&P is listening to landowners, even though we realize some landowners may not be satisfied that enough is being done.