- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - This year’s tally of young pheasants is a good sign bird numbers in the state are expected to increase a year after one of the lowest roadside counts in three decades, the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks said Tuesday.

The department released its annual brood count Tuesday, which found an average of 2.68 pheasants per mile, a 76 percent increase from 1.52 in 2013.

The report is welcome news to hunters who saw a 64 percent decline from 2012 to 2013 after months of persistent drought, poor winter and spring conditions and less bird habitat.

Below-average snowfall this winter and near-average rain levels this spring likely helped some of the population rebound and the young survive, according to the report.

The report is compiled every year in late August after officials survey more than a hundred 30-mile pheasant brood routes throughout the state from July 25 to Aug. 15. Officials use the data in addition to other reports to help predict hunter success and satisfaction for the coming season.

State officials said they’re happy with the numbers, but noted they’re still far below the state’s 10-year average of 5.75 pheasants per mile.

“Even with the substantial increase in 2014, statewide abundance is still half of the (10-year) average, but similar to 2002 when hunters harvested 1.26 million roosters,” game officials wrote in the report.

Pheasants Forever, a national conservation and hunting organization, also said the report was good news, but cautioned South Dakota hunter’s that there’s still more work to be done. The group said Tuesday that while weather plays a role in year-to-year populations in the state, long-term population decline still stems from habitat loss.

“We’re thrilled for this year’s bird hunters, but it’s not going to take us off target from what our long-term trends and needs are,” said Dave Nomsen, who recently opened the state’s first Pheasant Forever office in Brookings.

This year’s survey demonstrates how much pheasants can reproduce with the right habit and weather conditions, Nomsen said.

“In the areas of the state where we had good habitat and good weather, there is a virtual explosion of birds,” he said.

The majority of the pheasant routes - 78 percent - showed increased brood numbers over 2013.

The total number of roosters counted during the 2014 survey was similar to last year, but the number of hens increased 55 percent and the number broods increased 81 percent. The statewide brood size also increased to 5.96 from 5.5 young birds.

South Dakota’s traditional statewide pheasant hunting season opens on Saturday, Oct. 18, and runs through Jan. 4, 2015.

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