- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota saw an increase in pheasant hunters last year, but they didn’t kill as many birds as state biologists expected.

About 65,000 resident hunters and 85,000 nonresident hunters killed about 1.2 million pheasants in 2015. That was lower than expected given an estimated pheasant population increase of 42 percent from 2014, to as many as 8 million birds, according to Game, Fish and Parks senior upland game biologist Travis Runia.

“It was a bit surprising,” he said.

Weather likely was a big reason for the lower-than-expected harvest estimate. Temperatures were around 90 degrees during the residents-only season, and hot weather is tough on hunters and their dogs.

“These aren’t exactly premium conditions, (and) a lot of these really warm days seemed to align with the weekends,” Runia said.

Loss of grassland habitat also means there are fewer areas to hunt. Only 101 new acres of South Dakota land was enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program this year, according to the Capital Journal (http://bit.ly/1TaAj8T ).

CRP pays landowners to take environmentally sensitive land out of farming production to guard against erosion, but “these are also the hunt-able blocks of grass that everyone thinks of when they think of South Dakota pheasant hunting,” said Dave Nomsen, who heads the Pheasants Forever South Dakota regional office.

The state currently has about 954,000 acres in CRP.

“We’re on pace to have half the CRP acres that we did in 2007,” Runia said.

Because of that, “I think that 2 million (pheasant) harvest is out of reach,” he said.

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, http://www.capjournal.com

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