Brood count shows numbers are up

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-By Katie Zerr and the South Dakota Dept. of Game, Fish and Parks 

The Mobridge area has experienced some improvement in the pheasant numbers as this year’s brood count shows, but not as much as other parts of the state.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) has completed the annual pheasant brood survey and the results show a 76 percent increase in the statewide pheasants-per-mile index from 2013. (See accompanying chart page 3)

From late July through mid-August, GFP surveyed 109, 30- mile routes across the state to estimate pheasant production and calculate the pheasants-per-mile index. The survey is not a population estimate, but rather compares the number of pheasants observed on the routes and establishes trend information. Survey routes are grouped into 13 areas, based on a local city, and the index value of each local city area is then compared to index values of the previous year and the 10-year average.

“With favorable weather conditions this past winter and spring, along with the availability of quality nesting habitat across the state, we are going to see an increase in this year’s pheasant population,” stated Jeff Vonk, GFP Secretary. “Survey results show pheasant numbers rebounded the strongest in central South Dakota, especially in the Pierre, Chamberlain, Mobridge and Winner areas. Results also indicate that pheasant numbers are substantially higher than 2013 throughout much of eastern South Dakota.”

The 2014 statewide pheasants-per-mile index of 2.68 is up from 1.52 in 2013. The statewide pheasant-per-mile index is similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters.

In addition to favorable weather conditions, central South Dakota has more nesting habitat than regions to the east, which may partially explain the stronger increase. In particular, the central part of the state has more non-CRP grassland and winter wheat than eastern South Dakota. While weather can have a significant impact on annual changes in pheasant abundance, habitat quantity and quality ultimately dictates population potential and long- term average abundance. Nesting cover, primarily undisturbed grassland, is considered the most important limiting factor for population potential. Pheasants select for and are very successful nesting in undisturbed grasslands such as land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Acreage of this premier nesting cover has declined from 1.56 million acres in 2007 to 0.93 million in 2014, a period when pheasant abundance declined by 58 percent. The density of current CRP acres is highest within the primary pheasant belt of central and eastern South Dakota, but this region has also been the epicenter of CRP loss.

“Habitat is at the forefront of the conversation right now and is a crucial factor in pheasant numbers,” stated Vonk. “Bird numbers are higher this year due to excellent reproduction in parts of the state where quality habitat conditions still exist, primarily on grasslands including those enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program as well as fields of cereal crops such as winter wheat. We continue to work in cooperation with the Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Workgroup, partner organizations and agencies, and landowners to provide an improved future for habitat in our state.”

Mobridge City Administrator and avid hunter Steve Gasser said the increase in numbers is good news for Mobridge.

“As a hunter, I am excited about the numbers. The increase in our area is especially good news,” he said. “I can hardly wait to get out there and get some hunting in.”

Public hunting opportunities are abundant in South Dakota. More than one million acres of publicly owned and private land leased through GFP’s Walk-In Area Program and the James River Watershed Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is available in the primary pheasant range of South Dakota. The 2014 public hunting atlas and a web-based interactive map of public lands and private lands leased for public hunting can be found online at http://gfp.sd.gov/hunting/areas.

“The results of this survey are highly anticipated by many who have a strong interest in South Dakota’s hunting heritage. The availability of pheasants and pheasant hunting opportunities in our state this fall should serve to enhance that heritage,” concluded Vonk.

South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, Oct. 18, and runs through Jan. 4, 2015.

– Katie Zerr and the South Dakota Dept. of Game, Fish and Parks –

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