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OUR VIEW: Pheasant summit needed to help ensure long-term health of industry

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is jumping headlong into the state’s pheasant debate, and we can’t help but wonder the reaction it will generate.

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Will it help further the effort to save the state’s pheasant population? Or will it only aggravate an already touchy subject here in South Dakota?

Daugaard announced Tuesday that he will host the first Pheasant Habitat Summit on Friday, Dec. 6, at the Crossroads Convention Center in Huron. In a release he sent to the media, Daugaard noted how “pheasant hunting is extremely important to the culture and economic well-being of South Dakota.”

He also said his administration wants to do what it can to ensure the state’s hunting opportunities will continue for future generations.

To our knowledge, this is the first time in recent history that a governor has taken on key issues related to pheasant hunting. That’s not to say others weren’t paying attention; in fact, the pheasant population has been so strong in the past few decades that governors haven’t had to do much other than enjoy watching off-season tourism dollars bolster the state’s economy.

But times are changing, and Daugaard evidently knows it.

In 2007, the state had a pheasant population estimated at 12 million. That number dropped to about 7.6 million last year, and now preseason estimates are predicting a population loss of another 64 percent this year.

Why? It depends on who you ask.

Many sportsmen say it’s because habitat is being chewed up by farmers who are planting fence-to-fence fields of corn, plowing up traditional habitat acres in the process. Many farmers counter that it’s a cyclical issue, and that they can’t be blamed for doing their job.

The governor’s summit in December will provide a forum for landowners, sportsmen, tourism officials and others to learn about the current state of pheasant habitat in South Dakota. It will include panel discussions and public input.

But to us, the fact that the governor has called this summit tells us that something big looms. We predict that Daugaard realizes trouble may be brewing. Simply attaching his name to this summit shows it.

It’s time the state steps in and tries to mediate the problem.