CRP Conversion Alone Isn't To Blame For Pheasant Decline

Inside Dakota Ag

Last year's drought and this year cool spring reduced pheasant population, too.

Published on: September 5, 2013

South Dakota pheasant numbers are down, but farmers aren’t completely to blame.

That’s what I conclude from reports about South Dakota Game Fish and Game Parks Department's annual roadside survey of pheasants.

GF&P cited the decline in habitat -- the conversion of CRP and grassland to cropland -- as one of the reasons behind the drop in the index of pheasants per mile from 4.19 last year to 1.52 this year.

But the GF&P says “months of persistent drought in 2012” and a “cold, wet spring in 2013” also impacted brood counts.

South Dakota will still offer the best pheasant hunting experience in the country, GF&P says, with more than 1.1 million acres of public land available for pursuing birds within the state's main pheasant range.

Pheasants found on a township road are counted in the annual South Dakota brood survey. Photo: Game Fish and Parks
Pheasants found on a township road are counted in the annual South Dakota brood survey. Photo: Game Fish and Parks

The department annually counts the number of pheasants per mile as a means to track pheasant numbers over time. The actual population size is estimated after the pheasant hunting season ends, with additional information gathered from hunter surveys and a winter rooster-to-hen ratio survey.

"The annual brood count provides us with a year-over-year analysis tool," says Travis Runia, GFP's lead pheasant biologist. "Our numbers may be down from last year, but hunters will still be able to find birds."

GFP conducts the brood route survey each year on select stretches of roads around the state. All pheasants are counted along each route, with particular attention to the number of broods.

"Much of the northern Great Plains experienced the same weather and habitat factors that impacted our brood counts," Runia says.

Runia says that lower brood counts in 1992 and 1997 still resulted in almost 1 million pheasants harvested in South Dakota in each of those years. Since 1992, the state has added 350,000 acres of public access within the main pheasant range, expanding hunting opportunities.

2013 Pheasant Brood Survey Results by Area

 

Pheasants per mile (PPM)

Difference of 2013 PPM with

Local Area

2013 Survey

2012 Survey

10-yr. ave.

2012 Survey

10-yr. ave.

Chamberlain

2.66

10.81

15.93

-75%

-83%

Winner

2.00

7.35

7.84

-73%

-74%

Pierre

2.15

9.53

9.51

-77%

-77%

Mobridge

2.12

6.71

7.11

-68%

-70%

Aberdeen

1.70

3.74

6.76

-55%

-75%

Huron

2.04

4.10

8.03

-50%

-75%

Mitchell

1.77

3.91

6.23

-55%

-72%

Yankton

0.68

0.62

1.51

10%

-55%

Sioux Falls

0.88

1.12

2.34

-21%

-62%

Brookings

0.77

1.93

4.33

-60%

-82%

Watertown

0.77

2.55

5.02

-70%

-85%

Sisseton

0.47

0.82

2.04

-43%

-77%

Western SD

1.01

2.24

2.80

-55%

-64%

STATEWIDE

1.52

4.19 

6.23

-64%

-76 %

NOTE: Comparisons are valid only between years within each local area.

Source: Game Fish and Parks Department