Letter: Habitat should be for wildlife, not ag

Farm Forum

South Dakota is indeed fortunate to have 730 Game Production Areas, totaling more than 281,000 acres, and 1,000 Waterfowl Production Areas (150,000 acres) available for public hunting. I am truly grateful for the privilege to hunt pheasant on many of these areas.

These 730 GPAs are owned by South Dakota and managed by Game, Fish and Parks. The WPAs are owned by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The “2014 Hunting Atlas” states these lands are purchased with money from the sale of hunting licenses, by a tax on hunting equipment sales and the sale of duck stamps. The property taxes are paid with sportsmen’s license fee money.

It is extremely frustrating and disappointing to see large sections of these GPAs and WPAs unavailable for wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities because cattle have been allowed to graze and sizable portions have been mowed or hayed for many years. Precious habitat is being lost. These lands are being stripped of their original intent, which is to provide habitat for wildlife, not hay, crops or grazing land for a few private individuals.

The signage posted around the GPAs reads, “This is Your Area.” Well, if it is “our” area, then let us use it, all of it. Keep the cattle out and discontinue the haying. At a time when pheasant and deer populations are declining, it doesn’t help the cause when significant areas of precious habitat on GPAs and WPAs are unavailable for nesting and the raising of young wildlife.

It is time for all sportsmen and women and wildlife organizations to band together to say enough is enough. There were more pheasant, deer and other wildlife on “our” land before the so-called “restoration program” was begun on these GPAs and WPAs. These acres of land were designed to be a place offering favorable conditions for pheasants and other wildlife — to increase their populations. Sadly, current practices being allowed are contributing to their decline.

Thomas L. Hopper