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Pheasants Doing Well After Winter Storm

PIERRE, S.D. – Game, Fish and Parks officials say that some pheasant losses were documented from the recent blizzard and subsequent 10 days in the deep freeze; however, the loss of birds appears to be minimal.

“Areas with marginal habitat became inundated with snow from the storm, and any pheasant that did not move to better cover most likely perished,” said GFP Wildlife Program Administrator Tony Leif of Pierre.

Leif noted that since the storm, people have been seeing large flocks of pheasants wherever good habitat remains, and this indicates that most pheasants moved to or were already using the better habitat, like large wetlands, Conservation Reserve Program fields and shelterbelts, to escape the elements.

“All in all, South Dakota is really fortunate to still have 1.5 million acres enrolled in the CRP,” he said. “A year or two from now, we may not be so fortunate. Those CRP acres are providing essential winter habitat to pheasants right now, and regardless of how the rest of this winter plays out, CRP fields will again make a significant contribution to pheasant reproduction next summer.”

On top of CRP, GFP has made annual investments in winter habitat (averaging almost $500,000 since 1990) through incentive payments to landowners for planting shelterbelts and food plots. “While recent expenditures for shelterbelts are not likely helping much, those from 5, 10 and 15 years ago are paying dividends right now,” Leif said.

Leif noted that it is easy to draw an analogy of this storm with the winter of 1996-97. “Although this storm was three weeks later than the election-day storm of 1996, it certainly packed quite a punch,” he said. “But the story that remains to be told is what is to come in the next three months. In 1996-97, the first storm of the winter was the start of nearly five months of winter weather, and a repeat of that scenario would result in a significant reduction in the breeding population of pheasants come spring.”

All in all, wildlife officials are hoping that the weekend warm up is the start of a new weather trend for the winter of 2005-06.

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