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Thune: Best use must be made of limited conservation budget and acres

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks Friday during the Governor's Pheasant Habitat Summit in Huron. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

HURON — U.S. Sen. John Thune recalled a favorite hunting memory Friday.

At 12 years old in 1973 in Jones County, he bagged a bird.

“A small group of sharp-tail grouse busted out of a thicket, and I took my single-shot .410 and hit one,” Thune said at the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit. “Once that happens to you, you’re pretty much hooked for life. So for the past 40 years or so, I’ve been taking full advantage of all South Dakota has to offer.”

Thune, a Republican and Murdo native, said he has a personal and professional interest in declining pheasant numbers and wildlife habitat loss. He hunted pheasants just last weekend in Faulk County with Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Thune said he supports the linkage in the current farm bill negotiations regarding conservation compliance and eligibility for crop insurance premium subsidies. Thune said he is hopeful the next farm bill passes soon, but doesn’t believe it will pass before the end of the year.

He explained landowners need to find ways to have the best conditions possible, given the budgetary constraints, to provide maximum opportunities for people in South Dakota to enjoy the outdoors. He said about 6 percent of the most recent $957 billion farm bill was spent on conservation programs.

“Production agriculture drives the state’s economy,” Thune said. “You have to remind yourself that South Dakota always was, is and always will be an agriculture economy. Finding that balance and finding that way that we can structure win-win solutions is important.

“What we have to do, in my view, is figure out how to take a smaller budget allocated for some of these programs and smaller number of acres and use them in the most efficient and practical ways possible to get the very best opportunities for wildlife production.”