As of Thursday morning, 36,200 tails had been turned in under South Dakota's first-year Nest Predator Bounty Program.
At $10 per tail being paid out by the state of South Dakota under the direction of Gov. Kristi Noem, the program's goals are to enhance nesting success for ducks and pheasants, increase statewide trapping participation and "get the next generation involved and interested in outdoor recreation."
The bounty runs from April through August, and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department has oversight over it. It mainly impacts raccoons, opossums and skunks.
Unfortunately, this was a missed shot for Noem and GF&P. We don't know whether the capped amount of $500,000 will fully be paid out by the end of next month, but we think the funds should have been allocated directly into habitat to revive programs such as CREP in the James River Watershed.
The bounty program has received significant negative reviews from some of our readers due to its pay-to-kill perception. GF&P's hope is to get more kids and families out in the field together, which is needed in a time when tablets and phones keep youngsters indoors too much.
Hunting is simply a way of life for many who live in South Dakota, and trapping has always been part of our heritage. We don't have a problem with it.
We believe these funds could have been used more efficiently. Earlier this year, the state invited people to sign up for free traps -- some of which still have yet to be distributed -- and now GF&P officials are responsible for collecting the tails and having the trapper sign an affidavit ensuring the animal was killed via trapping.
That's a waste of money and time for GF&P, and there is no way to prove someone didn't roadkill the animal or just shoot it running free in a field. As of Thursday morning, more than $360,000 has been paid out for predator tails. Is that investment really worth it?
Noem earlier this year signed a bill and proclaimed herself "South Dakota’s Sportsman-in-Chief" to increase habitat programs and strengthen the state's pheasant hunting. The bill allocated $1 million to be matched by private donations and federal conservation programs.
Meanwhile, a highly successful conservation program in the heart of the state's pheasant region remains stagnant. On March 8, 2014, the Conservation Reserve Enhanced Program (CREP) was suspended. The goal was to enroll 100,000 acres in 23 South Dakota counties along the James River Watershed. A lack of funding at the time stopped the program with 82,000 acres enrolled.
Under CREP, farmers voluntarily enter into contracts with the federal government for 10 to 15 years, agreeing to remove enrolled lands from agricultural production and plant them to conservation. Farmers who choose to enroll in CREP are paid through the federally sponsored Conservation Reserve Program and from the state of South Dakota. The participants who enroll their land receive about 40 percent higher rental rates than if they were only enrolled in CRP.
At first, we were unsure how much participation there would be for the Nest Predator Bounty Program. We didn't know how much state funding, time and effort would be spent in its inaugural year, but we think it's too much when there are programs like CREP that would have a more direct impact on pheasant and duck numbers.
The more birds, the more success hunters of all ages have in the field. That typically brings more participation and gets kids out in the field.
Focusing on conservation funding seems to solve all the same goals of the Nest Predator Bounty Program and ensures the money is spent much more efficiently.