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Pheasant Survey Counts Similar to 2003
PIERRE, S.D. - Despite drought, a cool and wet nesting period and strong summer storms South Dakota's 2004 pheasant numbers will be similar to those of 2003. "We are coming off near-record numbers from 2003, and we were not surprised to see a slight decline in the pheasant counts," said Ron Fowler, game management program administrator for the Department of Game, Fish and Parks. "The 2003 counts were the highest since 1963, and to only see a nine-percent drop holds great promise for the 2004 hunting season." Fowler credited the habitat produced through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as a key to the continued health of the South Dakota pheasant population.

"The benefits of the 1.4 million acres of prime wildlife habitat in our state from CRP continue to pay huge dividends for wildlife populations," Fowler said. "This is especially true with nesting habitat for pheasants. It is because of CRP that we continue to enjoy pheasant numbers at these high levels."

Game, Fish and Parks staff conducted surveys along 110 30-mile survey routes throughout eastern and central South Dakota. The count showed an overall decline of nine percent along these survey routes compared to the 2003 count. The 2004 count stands as the second highest on record since 1963.

According to local GF&P officer Mark Ohm, Lyman County routes are recorded in the Pierre and Winner reports. "The county routes were within 2 or 3 numbers of being the same count as last year," added Ohm. Currently two surveys are recorded on routes through the county. See graph on page 12.

"A mild winter and reasonably good summer of reproduction resulted in high numbers of birds being observed along survey routes," Fowler said. "As anticipated though, the cooler and wetter than average weather in June resulted in higher than average loss of pheasant chicks. The average number of chicks counted was 15 percent lower than last year and slightly below the 10-year average."

Pheasant survey routes sample population trends of very specific areas and have proven to be an accurate indicator of fall pheasant numbers. However, pheasant numbers may vary around the survey routes due to a variety of habitat and environmental conditions.

"While the 2004 numbers are once again some of the best observed in many years, hunters are reminded that routes showed quite a variation in bird numbers," Fowler said. "Various weather patterns, including some locally heavy rains in eastern South Dakota in late May and June and only spotty precipitation in more western counties, will result in some local declines in pheasant numbers."

Hunters should consider checking on their favorite hunting spots in person as the most accurate gauge for local pheasant numbers and hunting opportunities. Pheasant numbers can get a local boost from farm practices that enhance wildlife, good conditions on public lands and CRP acres, as well as cover provided by road ditches that were left unmowed through the early summer.

A complete breakdown of the pheasant brood count results can be found on the GFP website at .

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