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Pheasant surveys down 6 percent

Recent brood surveys show pheasant numbers have dropped about 6 percent statewide, according to the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks, but the Mitchell region may have actually seen an 8 percent increase.

Recent brood surveys show pheasant numbers have dropped about 6 percent statewide, according to the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks, but the Mitchell region may have actually seen an 8 percent increase.

Ron Schauer, a regional wildlife manager whose office oversees the southeast quarter of the state, said numbers appear to be up somewhat over last year in the area around Mitchell, but cautions that over the 10-year average, that may not mean much.

"Last year was a down year (in the immediate Mitchell area)," Schauer said. "We had some pretty good storms come through here last year during the nesting season, which caused a drop. We see this year, it has come back well."

Even though the Mitchell region was down somewhat last year, the state still enjoyed a modern population high, with an estimated 9.5 million pheasants running wild at the beginning of the 2005 season. The last time the state had such high numbers was in 1963, when the pheasant population was estimated at 10 million. The population bottomed out at 1.4 million in 1976 and was at 2.7 million as recently as 1989.

The state's ongoing drought had some worried that the pheasant population would take a more drastic dip this year, but results of the brood survey show that's probably not the case.

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"All things considered, these are solid numbers and higher than anticipated in some areas, especially with the habitat conditions created by the drought of 2006," said Thomas Kirschenmann, a senior GF&P wildlife biologist stationed in Huron.

The brood surveys, completed on 110 30-mile routes throughout the state, resulted in surveyors seeing 35 percent more roosters and 9 percent more hens than in 2005. The number of broods counted increased by 2 percent; on the other hand, the number of birds in those broods declined by 10 percent.

The smaller broods were most common in the areas hit hardest by drought, according to a GF&P release.

"Poor habitat conditions, created by the lack of precipitation and extreme hot conditions, resulted in limited cover and minimal insect production," Kirschenmann said. "The combination of these two factors was the most likely cause of the lower chick survival that we observed in 2006."

But Schauer said it wasn't nearly as bad as some predicted.

"I think if you asked most of the department people involved with the survey, most of them would tell you we were pleasantly surprised that things turned out as good as they did," he said. "I have talked to a few people who think the results we got, if anything, may be a little conservative."

Again, Schauer cautions to be careful of how the numbers are perceived.

"We don't like to have people get hung up on individual bird numbers," he said. "Keep in mind that these routes are 30 miles, the same stretch each year, and cover a small percentage of the county. But they are a good indicator."

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Schauer said a route through north Davison and Hanson counties showed 16 broods this year, up from last year's seven. In south Davison-Hanson, there were 19 broods this year, up from last year's eight.

In Hutchinson County, one route showed 10 broods this year, up from six in 2005.

In Aurora County, which has been a pheasant hotbed in recent years, one route showed 55 broods, up from 51 last year.

According to the GF&P release, the north-central area of the state was hit hardest by the drought and the survey documented a drop in pheasant numbers for this area. However, the region was still in line with its 10-year average.

GF&P Secretary John Cooper said that, "despite the marginal decrease in pheasant numbers, South Dakota continues to enjoy some of the best pheasant numbers this state has seen since the early 1960s."

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business Magazine since 2014.

He is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors and, in the past, has served on boards for Junior Achievement, the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, United Way, Empire Arts Center, Cornerstones Career Learning Center and Crimestoppers.


As publisher, Wenzel oversees news, advertising and business operations at the Herald, as well as the newspaper's opinion content.



Wenzel can be reached at 701-780-1103, or via Twitter via @korriewenzel.
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