February 26, 2013 by Chris Hitzeman - UGUIDE South Dakota Pheasant Hunting
Concerned hunters are asking "How are the birds doing?" , "How's the winter been up there?", "Is there any CRP left to hunt on?". All good questions and plenty of reason for optimism and things to look forward to in the state of pheasants this year.
First lets talk about CRP. I just came back from Pheasants Forever's National Pheasant Fest in Mpls where ag Secretary Vilsack announced a new General CRP signup in May where they are hoping to enroll another 4-5 million acres. The current farm bill, which got extended 9 months, shows a national cap of 32 Million acres of CRP. We are currently around 27 million acres and the goal of the general signup and other continuous CRP programs is the get the CRP back up to the 32 million acre cap.
South Dakota has around 1 million acres of CRP in and will be maintaining that over the next several years. Back in the 80's the state had zero set aside acres at all.
As far as winters go it has been a mild one. I would says temps have been above average for the most part. The state is starting to see some moisture patterns but nothing above average and the drought still has a strong grip on the land. We are looking much more favorable for spring vegetation growth now that we did last fall. The NE part of the state has had the most significant snowfalls. Any major storms that came thru were folloew by extremely mild winter.
Last years drought affected public hunt way more than private land last year due to the extreme haying pressure effectively removing 50% of all CRP acres and probably as many acres on public land and closer to 90% of roadside ditches.
Assuming no drought disaster this summer there would be no grazing or haying allowed on CRP and one could assume the public lands would be in much better shape as well.
For certain with the high commodity prices available to farmers there are changes to the landscape happening. Understandably so. For the most part the hunters that had a "good deal" with a landowner and the owner did not treat pheasant hunting like a serious business are probably the ones where they willconvert thier CRP or crop more acres pushing out the few hunters and cashflow that farm had in exchange for the lucrative crop profits to be had. People in the pheasant business to stay have to manage their lands accordingly and we are not seeing many changes to our farms as our pheasant acres are competitve with crop acres.
It should be noted that there are parts of the state that have recently enrolled large amounts of new CRP. It is also rumored there may be new allocations of CP-38 and other attractive higher paying continuous programs offered in conjunction with the genral signup. IN some parts of the state the CP-38 CRP is very attractive to farmers and they will put in large tracts of land if made available.
While commodity prices have been the big driver on landscape management I would still say that the last 3 years in South Dakota has seen its major impact be from the climate extremes. 2 years of high mositure followed by last years record drought. I know on my farm birds responded much better to the drought that than the high moisture years.
Given an average climate year in the state we could see very good things happen in regards to nesting cover and wild pheasant hatches.
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