Other Voices: Let’s grow pheasant numbers

Farm Forum

Opening day of pheasant season is a fall tradition embraced by generations of South Dakotans.

We watched the colorful scene unfold once again this year. Nature’s specter of fall beauty is showcased across our rural landscapes as colorful pheasants take flight against stark blue skies, swarms of orange in pursuit. Our fields, roads and small-town diners swell with hunting parties.

But this annual event is more than a slice of Americana for many of our rural communities. Pheasant season is to main street businesses in places such as Gregory, Chamberlain and Redfield what Christmas shopping season is to major retailers in Sioux Falls or Rapid City.

That’s why recent reports from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department and the South Dakota Tourism Department are so troubling.

The GF&P report details the decline in the number of pheasants in the state. The tourism numbers show the potential economic results of that decline.

For two straight years, pheasant numbers in our state have dropped. And the decrease is striking — a decline of more than 60 percent in that time.

There are many causes for the decline — weather extremes from summer drought to spring flooding certainly affect breeding success. At a time when numbers are lower, additional birds lost to predators become more pronounced. And, of course, the loss of thousands of acres of habitat through fewer farm acres enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program has an effect.

The state’s tourism department estimates the retail economic impact of pheasant hunting annually at $223 million. There are 4,500 jobs linked directly to hunting-related tourism.

Those status reports together paint a discouraging scene for hunters and business people in this state.

That’s why Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s announcement of a pheasant habitat summit last week is an encouraging move.

He wants the stakeholders in this important industry to get together and brainstorm solutions. The summit is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Huron.

These are complicated problems, and certainly none of the answers will come easy. In fact, it might take bold action by state officials to effect noticeable change.

But all ideas should be welcomed and encouraged.

Obviously, no one can control the weather. But here are some starting points for discussion:

— Can the state focus some of the thousands of acres of land it holds specifically on the development of habitat for upland game birds?

— Is there a role for the state in making the set-aside of farm acres for habitat development more attractive? A monetary incentive from the state on top of the federal CRP rates?

— Is it wise to institute incentives to reduce the number of predators — bounty systems or changes to licensing fees for residents and nonresidents alike for hunting or trapping coyotes and other varmints?

Undoubtedly, other ideas will surface, and the GF&P’s own biologists and other wildlife experts should be able to help focus the conversation.

The time is right to start thinking big about one of the most iconic — and important — South Dakota experiences.

Much is riding on our ability to stem the declines in pheasant habit and rebuild and strengthen hunting opportunities in our state.

—Argus Leader

We commend SD 4-H

for expanding robotics

South Dakota 4-H is expanding its robotics program, and we think it’s a great idea for today’s youth.

Four-H is a nationwide youth development program that has many facets, including volunteering on community projects, going on field trips, experimenting with science, taking care of animals, making art and much more.

In South Dakota, 4-H is aligned with South Dakota State University Extension, and has had a rural focus. But there are many programs that city kids get involved with, including robotics. Training sessions will be held this winter with parents and volunteers.

The program in South Dakota will use the National 4-H Junk Drawer Robotics curriculum and Lego Mindstorms platform, both highly regarded in the field.

We believe this program is a perfect example of fun, group learning. It gets kids away from the television and smartphone, and into a program where they can imagine, experiment, succeed, fail and try again. They’ll learn problem-solving and work with other kids to get their projects to operate.

We hope many youth with sign up and plenty of parents will help. It’s a great program and we hope it succeeds.

— Madison Daily Leader