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16

 PIERRE, S.D. – The winter season of 09-10 has been one to remember, which leaves many pheasant hunters to wonder how the South Dakota pheasant population will survive.

A Christmas storm brought widespread blizzard conditions. Since then, subsequent blasts of snow, wind, and freezing rain have belted the state. Harsh conditions can lead to high mortality for pheasants and other wildlife, but providing critical winter habitat – such as woody cover and food plots – can boost winter survival.

“Fortunately, pheasants rarely starve to death even during the harshest winters because of available food plots and waste grain,” said South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks resource biologist Andy Gabbert of Sioux Falls. “Most winter mortality is due to predation, although exposure to severe weather can also cause mortalities.”

Large cattail sloughs provide excellent winter cover for pheasants during most winters. In extreme conditions, quality winter roosting habitat such as wide shelterbelts with low-growing shrubs and coniferous trees is critical, he said.

GFP annually maintains 11,000 acres of food plots and 8,500 acres of planted woody habitat on Game Production Areas. Additionally, GFP and Pheasants Forever shared the cost of about 25,000 acres of food plots on private land in 2009.

“Pheasants will travel several miles to find quality winter cover that is adjacent to a food source, such as a food plot or harvested grain fields, during harsh conditions,” Gabbert said.

GFP has received several requests in recent weeks to supplement feed for pheasants.

“In reality, feeding pheasants can attract birds into marginal habitat where they are more susceptible to harsh weather or predators,” said GFP upland game biologist Travis Runia of Huron. “Providing food plots and woody cover in close proximity on an annual basis are really the best ways to sustain pheasant populations in winters like this.”

Concerned citizens may start preparing for the next harsh winter by contacting GFP for technical and financial assistance on woody habitat and food plot programs. Visit http://www.sdgfp.info/Wildlife/privatelands/Index.htm to learn more about the available cost-share for establishing wildlife habitat on private lands.

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