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OUR VIEW: Theories about global warming, pheasant loss have similarities

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

South Dakota's pheasant population apparently will be drastically down in 2013, and that news reminds us a bit about the debate over global warming.

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Experts tell us that global warming is happening, and present all sorts of data to back up their claims. Although we hope and wish and pray it wasn't happening, we're inclined to believe it's true and that human actions, along with nature, have something to do with it.

Same goes for South Dakota's pheasant troubles. We have repeatedly reported in the past that habitat loss -- prompted by the big increase in corn and subsequently ethanol production -- could eventually lead to a meltdown in the pheasant population. Saturday, a report on our front page noted that pheasant numbers are down 64 percent this year, based on annual summertime surveys.

Again, we have seen the data that show this could happen. And like global warming, we have hoped that it actually doesn't come true, yet here we are today.

Do we blame farming -- and corn farming in particular -- for this year's drastic decline?

No, not entirely. We know that severe drought and heavy snows and rains can adversely affect the pheasant population. Oddly, we had both in the past year, with the state ending 2012 in a historic drought, followed by heavy snows, frigid temperatures and saturating rains in the spring. Such meteorological extremes cannot be good for wildlife.

That's nature, and just like in the debate about global warming, we know that nature is built around historic cycles.

But what does the data tell us?

We know that between 2007 and the first of this year, South Dakota lost more than 578,000 acres of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners to set aside erodible acres in the name of environmental conservation. Without that CRP, pheasants have fewer acres upon which to live and breed.

We know that the estimated pheasant population in South Dakota has fallen from 11.9 million in 2007 to 7.6 million in 2012 and considerably fewer this year.

We know that the number of pheasants harvested here in Davison County fell from 66,175 in 2008 to 38,246 in 2011. Meanwhile, we also know that the price of corn rose from $3.22 on Oct. 1, 2007, to $7.37 on Oct. 1, 2012 -- although it stands at about $5.50 today.

Will the pheasant population rebound as part of some historic cycle, or will the corn boom crowd out pheasants and bring the population back to where it was in the 1970s and '80s, prior to the advent of CRP? That's the question that time will sure enough answer.

We hope for a rebound -- and that this is all part of nature -- but we are beginning to worry that a great recovery will never happen on its own.

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