South Dakota state legislators, environmentalists, and other parties recently organized a summit to discuss what has become an alarming 62 percent statewide decline in the population numbers of pheasants throughout the state. The summit gathering brought together 450 people - all at the invitation of the state's governor, Dennis Daugaard - to brainstorm possible ideas for saving the ringneck pheasant, which is an important piece of South Dakota's economy and cultural image.
But why are pheasant populations declining at all, and what can the state possibly do to return the trend? Unfortunately, most of the blows against pheasants have thus far been dealt by Mother Nature. One of those blows came in 2012, when a sweeping summer drought left many species throughout the state's expansive prairies fighting for their survival. A series of recent cold and wet nesting seasons have only made matters worse for the birds.
However, not all of the factors behind the pheasant population are the result of weather or other natural occurrences. The Conservation Reserve Program, one of the institutions designed to help fight for ringneck pheasants and other wildlife populations, received a catastrophic blow of its own in recent years, when rising land prices and expanding crops forced a loss of half a million acres meant for conservation efforts, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Still, South Dakota faces an uphill battle in preserving its pheasant populations, and the darkest portent's for the fate of the battle are not found in the weather or in lost conservation acreage, but in the trends that have already played out in other states. South Dakota is not the only state to face the impact of pheasant population declines. The same thing already happened to Iowa, and has also played out in many states throughout the Midwest and the Great Plains.
In fact, South Dakota has remained for years as one of the last great havens of prairie hunting, and the ringneck pheasant has always been a huge part of that image.
Read more about pheasant hunting and its rebuilding period here.
Now, it appears that South Dakota's old-time prairie image is finally suffering the consequences of the pheasant decline. Reports this fall indicated that pheasant numbers in the state were at record lows, and now it appears that some hunters took the poor statistics as a reason to sit this hunting season out.
The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission has indicated that small-game hunting licenses have been down across the board this year in comparison to 2012's numbers. South Dakota residents purchased roughly 7,000 fewer small game hunting licenses this year, a bad enough statistic without looking at the even more catastrophic figures of out-of-state hunters. Non-resident small game licenses were down 17,000. Those numbers represent a massive blow to South Dakota's hunting industry and overall economy.
However, the economic losses have at least done one good thing, and that was to spur Governor Daugaard to action. The governor claims that he will make it a point of focusing on pheasant habitats in order to determine a course of action for preserving and revitalizing the populations.