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OUR VIEW: Keep pheasant increase in perspective; we still need habitat

A pheasant is shown in a field in this file photo. (Republic file photo)

So South Dakota's pheasant population is up. Now what?

More nonresidents will read the state's preseason report and make the trek to our state to buy gasoline, stay in hotels and spend their tourism dollars in our communities.

A huge win, right? At least for this year, sure.

It's no secret the number of hunters who visit South Dakota and the number of small game licenses sold are tied to the preseason pheasant report, which was released Monday and showed a 47 percent increase from 2017's count.

But relying on prime weather conditions for an optimal bird hatch each year is too risky if we want South Dakota to remain the nation's top pheasant destination. Despite a little flooding in some areas of the state, we've had outstanding weather conditions this year to help spark a much-needed bounceback year for pheasants. Timely rains and cooler temperatures have been perfect.

Anyone living here knows drought can strike anytime — excessive heat in the summer and massive spring snowfall are not abnormal. The only remedy for pheasants during tough weather periods is habitat. That's no secret.

Even Gov. Dennis Daugaard stood before a large audience in 2013 during a summit in Huron and said weather and habitat will impact the state bird the most. While some success has come from that gathering in terms of aiding the state's habitat, South Dakota has still lost more than a half-million acres of CRP land in the past decade.

It's unreasonable for the burden of maintaining a good pheasant population here to fall on farmers. They have enough to worry about running their own business each and every day.

That's why it's important to point out the good work being done by nonprofit organizations such as Pheasants Forever and the United States Department of Agriculture to give farmers and landowners options to be paid to put ground into habitat.

We recognize agriculture is the state's most important influence to its economy, and for pheasants and wildlife to thrive we need agriculture's help. And we hope that's the mindset for all hunters — we need to appreciate the farmers who don't plant every acre; thank those people and support them.

A good example is the community-based habitat access program, an effort led by Pheasants Forever. The initiative, in short, allows individuals and businesses to gather money for land to put into public hunting. The funds go to landowners to further incentivize habitat.

Aberdeen started this project in South Dakota. Mitchell followed suit, and now rural areas like Chamberlain have joined.

So while we celebrate a strong report of a good pheasant hunting season on the horizon, we need to remember this population influx is mainly due to optimal weather conditions. We can't control Mother Nature.

The only way as South Dakotans — both agriculture producers and outdoor enthusiasts — to positively influence pheasants is to work together and keep putting more habitat on the ground.

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