Will the birds be back? South Dakota’s 2014 pheasant opener…

Pheasant o2008 Pheasant opener in South Dakotapener in South Dakota
2008 Pheasant opener in South Dakota

Will the birds be back? That’s the big questions thousands of hunters will be asking as they head  today for the opening of South Dakota’s 2014 pheasant hunting season.

Last year’s opener was a bust for a lot of people. Back-to-back years of poor rain and thousands of acres of loss CRP took their toll on gamebirds throughout the state. This raised concern across the state and throughout the country: Was South Dakota dying? It sure looked like it.

I hear much of SD has had plenty of rain this year, and early reports from the state say bird numbers are better (even though numbers are still way down from the 10-year average).

South Dakota used to be the best place in the world to hunt wild ringneck pheasants. I hope it regains that title this season — and holds onto it in the years to come.

BTW: If you’re heading out for the opener, please let me know how you do. Stay safe — and I hope you see a ton of birds.

The Dakotas are dying…

This tree line used to hold flocks of pheasants. I wonder if it's still there.
This tree line used to hold flocks of pheasants. I wonder if it’s still there.

My first trip to South Dakota was in 2000. I was stunned by the number of pheasants, grouse, and partridge I saw. In four hours of hunting we moved hundreds of wild birds – hundreds. I wonder if anyone will have a similar experience this fall.

Pheasant numbers are falling across South Dakota. While complex forces are behind this, the result is easy to understand: less habitat = less game. Across the upper mid west, thousands of acres of habitat are being dug up, dried out, and plowed under. Every time it happens, the future for wild gamebirds grows bleaker.

I’m not sure when The American Prospect published this piece, but I encourage you to click through and read all of it.

Plowed Under

By Jocelyn C. Zuckerman

Across the northern plains, native grassland is being turned into farmland at a rate not seen since the 1920s. The environmental consequences could be disastrous.

The Dakota's are Dying, quote from Plowed Under, The American Prospect
The Dakota’s are Dying, quote from Plowed Under, The American Prospect

“On a rainy Monday in mid-October, six middle-aged men in denim and camouflage sat bent over coffee mugs at the Java River Café, in Montevideo, Minnesota. With its home-baked muffins and free Wi-Fi, the Main Street establishment serves as communal living room for the town of 5,000, but the mood on that gray morning wasn’t particularly convivial. The state’s pheasant season had opened two days earlier, and the hunters gathered at the café for what should have been a brag fest were mostly shaking their heads. “You didn’t see anybody out there who was over the limit, did you?” a guy in a baseball cap asked with obvious sarcasm, to sad chuckles all around. The region’s game birds are in serious trouble.

The region’s game birds are in serious trouble. Driving across South Dakota the following afternoon with the radio on, I learned that Governor Dennis Daugaard had just announced an emergency pheasant-habitat summit. Last summer, the state’s Department of Game, Fish and Parks recorded a 64 percent decline in the number of pheasant broods from the already record low levels of 2012. Though a rainy nesting season and an early fall blizzard hadn’t helped matters, the region’s problems involve more than inclement weather—and extend far beyond the birds…”

Please read the entire piece now.

Read more about what’s going on in SD and across the upper midwest at these links:

South Dakota is Dying

You’re Killing off SD’s Pheasants. See how.

Habitat in crisis: Conservationists worry about factors driving grassland conversion