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Pheasants Forever to reach across SD from new office

Mitchell may be pheasant country, but Brookings will soon be Pheasants Forever's home in South Dakota.

Pheasants Forever, based in the Twin Cities, announced plans Monday to open its first regional office in July in Brookings.

Dave Allen, president of Mitchell's chapter of Pheasants Forever, which is known as Pheasant Country, said he wasn't disappointed by the organization's decision to open an office in Brookings -- not Mitchell -- but wondered why a city more centrally located in the state wasn't chosen.

"I just thought maybe they could have brought it closer to home or to where the pheasants are," Allen said in an interview Tuesday. "But at least they're doing something."

While Pheasants Forever employs field representatives across the country, it has never before operated a regional office.

Dave Nomsen, the organization's vice president of governmental affairs, will head the office and serve as organization's voice in the state. He said in an interview Tuesday that Brookings was chosen because of the opportunities for partnerships in the city, which is home to South Dakota State University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Brookings Wildlife Habitat Office.

"Brookings just made a whole lot of sense," Nomsen said.

Many cities were considered as possible sites for the organization's new office, Nomsen said,

"We took a look at all of them. It was a tough decision," he said. "It shouldn't surprise anybody because pheasants are such a part of the culture."

Nomsen said the location of the office is secondary to Pheasants Forever's goal of reaching out to communities across South Dakota and promoting the conservation and restoration of habitat.

"It's really about expanding and really targeting our delivery system, everywhere from Mitchell to Chamberlain to Webster," he said. "You can pick whatever town you want around the state."

Allen said he hopes the new office will be beneficial for all of South Dakota.

"We're all in it together, so we've got to pull together," he said.

In a news release, Pheasants Forever says the move is a part of the organization's effort to address habitat losses and land use changes in the South Dakota.

Last year, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department reported the number of pheasants spotted during an annual survey dropped 64 percent compared to the previous year. The decline was the second largest in the history of the survey, which dates to 1949. Part of the blame for the drop was placed on the high demand on farmers to use more land for crops, often resulting in the destruction of grassland that serves as valuable habitat for pheasants.

Nomsen was a speaker at the Governor's Pheasant Habitat Summit in December in Huron, which was held in response to the declining pheasant numbers.

The summit resulted in the formation of the Pheasant Habitat Work Group, tasked with finding ways to boost the pheasant population. The work group consists of legislators, cabinet secretaries, an SDSU dean and others. It met Monday for the fourth time and will complete a report for the governor by the end of the summer.

Pheasants Forever has more than 140,000 members and 745 local chapters in the U.S. and Canada. There are 6,000 members in South Dakota, and Mitchell's local chapter was started in 1985.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.