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OUR VIEW: Plenty of questions about pheasants; answers needed

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Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s pheasant summit last Friday in Huron won’t bring much short-term relief to South Dakota’s worsening wildlife crisis.

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Not that we expect change to come overnight. After all, it’s a problem that became front-page news only recently, and it’s also a problem that some people still don’t believe exists.

The truth is that South Dakota’s pheasant population is in danger, along with the millions of dollars that directly correlate to the ups and downs of that magic, but by no means consistent, number.

It’s simple economics: When pheasant numbers are up, hunter numbers are up. So are license numbers and economic impact in general. When pheasant numbers drop, the reverse happens.

So we’ve got that cleared up. Good.

Now what?

A good first step was Gov. Daugaard’s meeting last week in Huron. Hundreds were in attendance, as well as the governor himself, Sen. John Thune and other dignitaries. So were many landowners and hunting enthusiasts.

At the meeting, Daugaard did what many assumed he would do: Announce that he’s forming a task force to address the issue. His goal is to find a balance between modern agriculture and land conservation.

We commend the governor for creating the task force, and also for calling the meeting. Without action, we can’t expect to ever fix the problem.

Yet we just don’t know what the answer is, and that’s really the problem in and of itself.

We know that when land is set aside — in Conservation Reserve Program acres, for instance — wildlife tends to flourish and reproduce.

And we also know corn is king right now, and farmers are entirely within their rights to plant as much of it on their land as they see fit.

There’s money to be made, and we find it difficult to fault farmers for doing what they do. After all, we feel the pheasant industry was born in the 1980s and ’90s when many farmers needed some extra income and saw hunting as a reliable revenue source.

Now, many have decided that crops are the best moneymaker. Outdoorsmen say that’s exactly the problem, since today’s farming practices are leading to fewer pheasants.

Hunting definitely benefits South Dakota, but not anywhere near the benefit that comes from farming.

Daugaard is right to seek out the answer, and he’s also right to begin his quest to find the right balance. However, we worry that it may become just that — a quest, without end, and without definite answers.

It’s going to take a lot more than questions to come to a conclusion that will actually help solve this problem. While we appreciate what was done last week, we don’t envy the governor or the members of his task force.

This will be a long and trying process.

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