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Pheasant Populations Soar Despite Looming Habitat Loss

August 31, 2007 by

Hunters who take to the fields in 2007 will be greeted by one of the largest pheasant populations in South Dakota history. However, they had better enjoy it while they can. Brood count surveys by the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Department show an estimated pheasant population that handily surpasses the 40-year high mark set in 2005. The stunning population growth is due to a variety of factors, most notably favorable weather conditions for the pheasant hatch and brood-rearing and a wealth of habitat where pheasants can thrive. “Unfortunately, that habitat--and consequently the pheasant population it shelters--is in danger of fading from the landscape,” according to GFP Secretary Jeff Vonk. Currently there are almost 1.55 million acres of land in South Dakota enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CRP provides cost-share and annual rental payments to producers who place environmentally sensitive croplands into long-term conservation cover. Economics and recent developments have put CRP in jeopardy. In February of this year, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced that USDA had no plans to hold general sign-ups for CRP in 2007 and 2008. “Not holding general sign-ups limits new and re-enrollments to continuous sign-up CRP practices that usually involve much smaller acreages,” Vonk said. “This decision will mean that landowners can’t enroll new or re-enroll larger tracts of land that have expiring CRP contracts in 2007.” As of Oct. 1, 2007, South Dakota will lose a minimum of 296,000 acres of land enrolled in CRP. “That means 462.5 square miles of habitat—a land mass equivalent to all of Davison County—won’t be available to nesting pheasants in 2008,” Vonk said. “If the losses continue as predicted, by 2009 South Dakota will have fewer than 1 million acres of CRP land for the first time since the 1980s.” Hunters and outdoor enthusiasts won’t be the only ones who notice the change in South Dakota’s landscape. “If the CRP acres decrease and the pheasant population suffers because of it, there will be significant economic impacts all across South Dakota,” Vonk said. “Dozens of communities in this state depend on the pheasant hunting season to boost their local economy. That opportunity is going to disappear if CRP is allowed to wither away.” As CRP diminishes, farmers will also miss an opportunity. “Without an opportunity to sign up for CRP, farmers have little choice than to put marginal land into production,” Vonk said. “Landowners need to be provided with options that let them make reasonable decisions about what would be best for their land.” South Dakota’s pheasant season starts on Saturday, Oct. 20. “I call on all hunters—residents and nonresident—to take a good look around when they’re out in the field. Pheasants are plentiful because of good habitat and much of that habitat is a result of CRP that could become only a fond memory,” Vonk said. “Anyone interested in South Dakota maintaining its world-class pheasant population needs to work to convince the Agriculture Secretary to hold a CRP sign-up in 2008 and also get involved in the process of convincing Congress that conservation programs like CRP are critically important for the conservation of all kinds of wildlife, soil and water resources.”

Posted in: SD GFP News

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