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GF&P acquires another coyote-fighting weapon

Blake Bappe, a wildlife damage specialist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department who’s based in Mitchell, drives through farm land while checking snare traps for coyotes Thursday morning in Hanson County. Bappe, who works in six counties, will be aided in controlling predators, such as coyotes, by a plane recently acquired by the GF&P. Bappe will be the ground contact for aerial hunters. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Coyotes in eastern South Dakota, beware.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks has received another airplane to use for its Wildlife Damage Management Program. The plane, which is operated through a joint effort by the GF&P and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services, will be used for aerial hunting of coyotes.

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It will be the second plane available to help control predators across the state and will be ready for use in mid-February, according to Keith Fisk, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks Wildlife Damage Program administrator.

“This is going to help the efficiency of our staff with a really effective tool,” Fisk said, “and it’s going to help out our producers, too. I’m sure it’s going to be warmwelcomed.”

Fisk said the plane came from North Dakota as a surplus item after a pilot retired, and it will not cost the state any- thing to purchase. He added there will be about $50,000 of costs annually for maintenance, inspections and staffing. Those costs, funded by the GF&P, pay for about 300 hours of hunting time, all of which will be in eastern South Dakota.

“That pretty much doubles the aerial service in the last three to five years in eastern South Dakota,” Fisk said. “Annually, we’ve done between 100 to 150 hours the past few years.”

Benefitting from the new plane is the GF&P’s Wildlife Damage Management Program, which focuses on alleviating and reducing types of damage to private property.

The main emphasis on wildlife damage is preventing loss to livestock and crops. The state employs 27 wildlife damage specialists who work directly with landowners to ease those problems. One of the major problems the state deals with is coyotes killing livestock.

In 2009, the GF&P entered into a cooperative agreement with USDAWildlife Services to control predators in the state. USDA-Wildlife Services operates the predator control plane, while GF&P conducts its methods of predator control on the ground. But Fisk said the predator control plane only takes flight when directed by the WDM Program.

Fisk said the GF&P has increased its efforts to control predators through several methods, including hunting, trapping and aerial pursuits. With the air pursuits, a USDA-Wildlife Services pilot flies a crewmember to a specific area where a predator problem has been reported by the GF&P, and the plane crewmember shoots from the air.

So when a second plane became available to help the state control predator problems, Fisk jumped at the opportunity for the WDM Program to add to its arsenal.

“It’s definitely going to help,” said Blake Bappe, Mitchell-area’s wildlife damage specialist, who said he’s killed about 60 coyotes this year with eight to 10 complaint calls. “It seems like there are a lot of coyote complaints. The plane will help out, especially at this time of year when they’re breeding.”

Previously, Spearfish stationed the only plane used across the state, aside from any privately contracted work that was hired by the GF&P for predator control. The new plane will be stationed in Tea.

“It’s always been a challenge to get that over here in a reasonable amount of time,” Fisk said. “Since that’s out there, we’ve always worked with a privately contracted pilot from up in Faulkton for a certain amount of hours each year to help address the need in eastern South Dakota a little more readily.”

The most recent data that’s been compiled on predator control is from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, which was the 2013 fiscal year for the GF&P. During that stretch, the GF&P had 1,409 requests for assistance regarding livestock loss due to predators, resulting in the death of 7,184 coyotes and 49 foxes. That’s up from 2012 when there were 1,120 requests and 6,735 coyotes killed.