WILTZ: Is it possible that both the GF&P report and my opinion were correctTwo weeks ago in this column, I stated that the pheasant count for the SD 2012 season, as reported by the media, was not the truth.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
Two weeks ago in this column, I stated that the pheasant count for the SD 2012 season, as reported by the media, was not the truth. I suggested that the inaccurate report may have related to the sale of hunting licenses. When I wrote the column, I knew that I would probably be receiving a phone call.
My phone rang Friday morning, Jan. 4. It was Senior Upland Game Biologist Travis Runia for the Wildlife Division of the South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks Department. He was very polite and professional in telling me that he had prepared the report, “Pheasant Brood Survey Report — 2012.” I don’t recall his exact words, but he said that I had basically called him a liar. It was obvious that Travis was proud of his report, and he was very direct in asking me where I had received my information.
I told Travis that my opinion was based on personal hunting experience in the field along with first-hand reports from around the state. I also told him that I realized that there were pockets, though not many, where I was told that the bird numbers may have been slightly up from 2011.
Travis sent me his report. The 10-page report was well done. It was based on bird counts made between July 25 and August 15. The routes were labeled Chamberlain, Winner, Pierre, Mobridge, Aberdeen, Huron, Mitchell, Yankton, Sioux Falls, Brookings, Watertown, Sisseton and Western South Dakota.
After studying Travis’ report, I will say that I believe the report was accurate at the time, and that there was no intention to deceive. I apologize to Travis for inferring that he was a liar. However, I am not going to change my opinion about bird numbers on Opening Day 2012 unless I hear from people all over the state who tell me bird numbers were up from 2011. Like Travis, I’m proud of my column, and I do my best to tell the truth.
With regard to the GF&P study, it did report that most local area PPM (Pheasants Per Mile) counts were significantly lower than the 10-year average. It also said that when compared to 2011, the Aberdeen, Huron, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Brookings and Watertown areas increased significantly. The Pierre and Mobridge local areas were higher, although not significantly, than their respective 10-year averages.
My home turf, southern Charles Mix County, was a part of the Yankton route survey. The Yankton report showed that when compared to 2011, the count was down 2 percent for the year and down 59 percent for the 10-year average. I’ll say “Amen” to that.
As most readers of this column come from the Mitchell area, let’s look at the Mitchell route report that includes Davison, Hanson, Central Charles Mix, Douglas, Aurora, Hutchinson North and West routes, Jerauld, McCook, Miner and Sanborn counties. The Mitchell Route was up 38 percent over the 2011 count, but down 36 percent over its 10-year average.
Is it possible that both the GF&P report and my opinion were correct? This might be possible if some pheasants perished after the route surveys were completed.
On Page 3 of the report, there is a section entitled INTERPRETATION & DISCUSSION. It says, “The spring and summer was hot and dry, which, unless extreme, is favorable for pheasant production.” This section then goes on to say, “Severe drought conditions can reduce chick survival especially if conditions are severe enough to hamper production of insects, a pheasant chick’s primary food source. It does not appear as if drought conditions had a substantial impact on pheasant production in 2012 as the average brood size was similar to the 10-year average.”
I believe most everyone will agree that this past summer’s drought conditions were extreme — especially south of I-90. With this in mind, I put my question about bird survival after the survey to Travis Runia, the man who compiled the report. He was kind enough to respond immediately. I’ll paraphrase his response.
Travis said that most broods are five to eight weeks old when the surveys are conducted. Drought usually affects birds during their first two weeks, and his study assumed that the birds surveyed would be around on opening day.
That being said, Travis went on to say that the drought conditions got worse after the survey. Predation rates could have increased for lack of vegetation. More cover was hayed than in past years. Many cattail sloughs were torched after the burn ban was lifted. In Travis’ own words, “We can only base our forecasts on the data we have in hand.”
What Travis says makes good sense, but I won’t construe it to mean that he agrees with my opinion. In the future I will obtain a copy of the brood count report before I make any predictions or post-season comments about the season.
I firmly believe that at least some of the media releases blew the GF&P pheasant survey out of proportion. Our GF&P will continue to make brood survey reports during the summer. How different agencies interpret those reports will continue to be a problem. Perhaps the fact that the 2012 brood survey showed that our bird numbers would remain well below the 10-year average should have been the most important statistic garnered from the study. However, that wouldn’t sell licenses.
Much has been written lately about South Dakota’s diminishing number of CRP acres. This reduction of habitat will reduce our bird numbers. Because of row crop prices, farming practices have become more intensive. So long as this is true, we will become more like Iowa, much to the chagrin of South Dakota hunters.
*See you next week.