South Dakota’s Pheasants Depend On It
By Sen. John Thune
Particularly to locals, “South Dakota” and “pheasant hunting” are nearly synonymous. And for hunting enthusiasts around the country and the world, spending the third weekend in October in the pheasant capital of the world can be something dreams are made of. As important as pheasant hunting is to South Dakota’s traditions, it’s just as important – if not more – to the state’s economy. And while there’s an undeniable tie between South Dakota’s vast landscape and the bounty it offers, so too is there a critical link between the survival of the state’s pheasant population and the availability of adequate habitat for them to reproduce, grow, and thrive.
According to the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department, pheasant hunting accounted for a $170.1 million infusion into the state’s economy last year alone. That includes obvious purchases like hunting licenses, shotgun shells, and hunting vests, but it also includes residual expenses like hotel rooms, meals at cafes and restaurants, and last-minute items purchased from local sporting goods or hardware stores.
While $170.1 million is an impressive figure on its own, what’s more impressive is that 82 percent of that revenue came from non-resident hunters. That means 82 cents of every dollar spent statewide on pheasant hunting-related purchases in 2015 were spent by someone with a non-South Dakota zip code. If you take Tripp County alone as an example, the county in which the most pheasant hunting-related money was spent, that figure jumps to 93 cents on the dollar.
It’s with that in mind that we must continue to make South Dakota a lucrative place for hunters to travel and spend their hard-earned money. There are a lot of factors that go into keeping our state one of the world’s top hunting destinations, and South Dakotans go above and beyond to make sure that happens year after year. But without the pheasants, there’s no pheasant hunting, so here enters the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
I’ve been a frequent and vocal supporter of CRP because of the opportunities it creates for landowners and hunters alike. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a frequent pheasant hunter myself, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits this program creates for the pheasant population here in South Dakota. That’s why I was so disappointed to learn that during the most recent general CRP sign-up, just two out of the 727 general CRP applications in South Dakota were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). To put it another way, of the 42,000 acres that were applied for, less than one-quarter of one percent were approved.
After learning about these disappointing results, I led the South Dakota congressional delegation, including Sen. Mike Rounds and Rep. Kristi Noem, in writing to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to reevaluate the selection process for the general CRP sign-up, because what happened in South Dakota this year shouldn’t happen again. We also requested that absent new general CRP sign-ups in South Dakota, continuous CRP acres – which are just as important, but have different qualifications – be allocated in a timely manner.
Conservation is an investment in the future, which means we should be focused on pheasants and their habitat in the off season just as much as we are ahead of opening weekend in October. I will continue to fight for CRP and encourage our farmers, ranchers, and other landowners to take advantage of this unique opportunity to literally help lay the groundwork for the future of pheasant hunting in South Dakota.