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Northwest Salmon



Survey indicates pheasant population is up

by Amanda Fanger

 With the 2014 Game, Fish & Parks Pheasant Brood Survey complete, a lot of hunting enthusiasts are getting excited by the statewide results.
The pheasants-per-mile numbers in South Dakota are up by 76 percent from last year, indicating the overall population has increased from 2013.
Day County has two, 30-mile routes that are covered. One is grouped into the Aberdeen area report and the other in the Sisseton area report. Aberdeen area saw a 61 percent increase in bird sightings while the Sisseton area is up by 38 percent.
“Everyone’s happy,” said Blake Yonke, Game, Fish & Parks district conservation officer supervisor from Webster. “I’m happy and surprised with the numbers, considering the habitat we have here.”
The 2014 statewide pheasants-per-mile index of 2.68 is up from 1.52 in 2013. The index this year is similar to 2002 when 1.26 million roosters were harvested.
On the 10-year average the state is still down 53 percent, according to the survey. The Aberdeen area is down 55 percent and Sisseton area is down 60 percent.
These results are coming on the heels of one of the lowest pheasant counts in the past 30 years. The bird population in South Dakota took a hard hit in 2013 due to a combination of weather conditions and declining habitat.
The pheasants-per-mile index rebounded strongly this year, however.
Yonke says the pheasant population in South Dakota has been taking a hit in recent years due primarily to declining habitat. With high commodity prices, the value of conservation restoration program lands have decreased and farmers have begun reverting those lands back to fields for crops. This takes away the state birds’ habitat, thus much of their ability to survive.
Excessive snowfall and wet, cold springs also play a large factor in the pheasants’ survival rate through the winter months.
“We’ll most likely never have the numbers again like we had five and six years ago,” Yonke stated.
Statewide pheasant population numbers have been declining since around 2007-08. The trend has the GFP worried. They are working with the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Work group, partner organizations, different agencies and landowners to provide improved future habitat in South Dakota.
Yonke says it is interesting to note that in the Aberdeen and Sisseton areas, the overall brood size (number of young in a clutch) only increased by about two percent whereas in other areas of the state – particularly in the western regions – the brood size average saw closer to a 17 percent increase. Statewide, the brood counts are up by eight percent.
Mobridge and Pierre areas saw the largest one-year increase with 147 and 142 percent more birds, respectively.
There were a total of 109, 30-mile routes surveyed across the state from July 25 to Aug. 15 to create an estimated pheasant production. This is not an exact population estimate, but compares the number of birds observed on the routes and establishes a trend.
South Dakota’s pheasant hunting season is Oct. 18-Jan. 4.

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