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OUR VIEW: Don’t discount pheasant season before it’s hatched

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
(605) 996-5020 customer support
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

We are disheartened to hear hunters are canceling their reservations in Mitchell hotels in response to bad news from the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

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The GF&P recently released the results from its annual summer brood counts, and it’s not good. The agency says that according to its numbers, the pheasant population may be down as much as 64 percent from last year’s estimated population of 7.6 million.

Really, the GF&P can’t win. In the past, the agency has been accused of fluffing the numbers as a way of promoting South Dakota tourism during an otherwise bland time of year. Now, the GF&P predictions are notably somber. Our suspicion is that South Dakota business owners and tourism officials are disappointed that such dire numbers were made public. Again, the GF&P can’t win.

So during this time of uncertainty, we commend the GF&P for the work it does and the statistics it releases. No doubt, it’s usually a touchy subject.

It takes nerve to release statistics that undoubtedly create controversy. Trust us, sometimes it’s easiest to just shoot the messenger.

Time will tell how the pheasant population will size up this year. Time also will tell if the decline is a result of cyclic weather patterns and bad luck, or if it’s related to declining habitat spurred by America’s love affair with corn and the subsidies associated with it. Most likely, it’s a combination of both.

While we await the final verdict, we offer a few optimistic thoughts:

• 3 million pheasants — our rough estimate based on a decline of 64 percent from last year’s population — is still a lot of birds. As recently as 1997, the population fell to 3.6 million, yet the harvest was more than 920,000.

• We suspect that hunting will still have some decent pockets, and especially at lodges and preserves — places that specifically plan for habitat and pheasant growth.

• If hunters do indeed cancel their reservations, there will be more birds for the hunters who remain. Anyone who remembers tramping through the brush in the 1980s — when the pheasant population was only around 2 million — readily understands that South Dakota still will have a very huntable number of pheasants within our borders.

• The pheasant population in Iowa — one of our state’s biggest pheasant competitors — also dropped. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported a 19 percent decline in pheasant brood counts this summer. Here in South Dakota, the GF&P statistics account for average pheasants per mile, which this year is 1.5 statewide. In Iowa, the DNR statistics account for the average number of pheasants on a 30-mile route. This year, that number was 6.5 statewide, or less than a quarter of a bird every mile.

• Perhaps some meteorological phenomenon skewed the numbers. Did our late spring somehow affect the timing of the hatch, which meant fewer birds were visible along the roads on those August mornings during the survey?

In the end, we hope hunters still come in droves because it’s possible the hunt won’t be as bad in the field as it is on paper.

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