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The pheasant hunting season has just started and the lower than average pheasant harvest from hunters, has led some non-residents to have concerns for pheasant populations beyond what was expected from the roadside surveys.

South Dakota has been blessed for many years with significant acres of prime pheasant habitat and near-perfect weather, so much so that the state is the envy of other pheasant states. When it comes to the pheasant opening weekend and throughout the state, tens of thousands of nonresident pheasant hunters flood to the state.

“Welcome hunters” is proudly displayed in many local businesses throughout the state as hunters, dressed in their blaze orange, can be seen in motels, groceries, taverns and restaurants. There is no doubt why pheasant hunters are so popular in the state. Last fall, it was estimated that hunting boosted the economy by $154 million.

But this won’t last long if pheasant hunting opening weekends and seasons continue to be disappointing. The concerns lie with dramatic loss of suitable habitat for the popular quarry. The state lost 1.8 million acres of grassland between 2006 and 2012, thanks to reduction in the lands put out of production through the government’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Since funding has reduced, crop prices have risen meaning it is more profitable for farmers to plant those fields.

The results saw a dramatic drop in pheasant populations.

Yet Aberdeen in the north of the state is fighting back. The Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition, a group of local businesses and organizations, is raising money to pay farmers to enroll their lands back into the CRP. Farmers who sign-up will get $25 per acre they enroll into the scheme.

Their main goal is to add 4,000 acres of nesting cover and brood-rearing habitat into the local area. The idea is credited to Emmett Lenihan, a Pheasants Forever biologist. So far the group has raised $75,000 of their goal.

Pheasant hunting is big business in Brown County where Aberdeen is. In 2010, pheasant hunters brought $17 million to the state; this dropped to $10.6 million last year as pheasant numbers for resident and nonresident hunters all declined.

“As South Dakotans, we’re spoiled; we’ve always had it very good for pheasants,” Lenihan recently stated. “People naturally think we’ll have pheasants all the time. And that’s not true. We can lose our pheasants.”

Would you support the Aberdeen initiative? What are your opinions on funding for the CRP?

Let us know in the comments below.

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