- Associated Press - Monday, August 28, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department survey has determined that this summer’s drought influenced the state’s declining pheasant population.

The department’s annual survey released Friday shows a 45 percent decline statewide in the number of pheasants per mile compared to 2016. The survey also shows that 2017 is the second-lowest pheasants-per-mile index since 1979.

“We have to remember that over 80 percent of South Dakota experienced some level of drought by mid-July,” said Kelly Hepler, department secretary. “During very severe drought conditions, pheasant nesting success and chick survival can be reduced due to less cover and a reduction in insects for chicks to feed on.”

Senior game biologist Travis Runia said some areas were expected to see a decline due to the severe drought conditions. But he said he’s surprised that eastern South Dakota saw a significant decline in bird numbers.

“It’s not unusual to have drought in South Dakota and many times when we’ve had it, it’s not a major factor,” Runia said. “One thing that did happen this year was the drought started very early, as early as April and May.”

Runia said the biggest drought-related factor in the decline is habitat loss, which has made life more difficult for pheasants.

Pheasant hunting season for the state begins Oct. 21 and runs through Jan. 7. Runia expects the population decline to impact the number of nonresident hunters traveling to the state this year.

“We have seen when numbers are down our hunters respond pretty quickly and immediately,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if hunter numbers are lower.”

Runia said hunters should remember that some of the state’s public lands won’t be ideal for finding birds this year. Several acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program are opened for emergency haying or grazing because of the drought.

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Information from: The Daily Republic, https://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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