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Trapping Nest Predators Bolsters Pheasant Populations & More

Courtesy Photo
Olson with son (left) + Holum with friend, Stehly (right)

A quick read of South Dakota history tells you that trappers were among the first settlers in South Dakota. Since 2019, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Nest Predator Bounty Program has been underway to boost pheasant populations while at the same time encourage the next generation of South Dakota trappers.

It’s 4:30 on a February morning when Douglas Holum, and black labs Lily and Ava head out to check box traps on more than 600 acres of Conservation Reserve Program grassland near Mitchell.

“I keep out 20 to 40 traps at any one time continuously, and that yields about 80 animals a year,” Holum says.

Daily checks of his trapline takes about an hour. Douglas checks to see if the bait attracted any skunks or racoons into the live traps. He then disposes of any caught predators, re-baits and resets traps. Douglas says he and his dogs look forward to this daily adventure outdoors.

“This is my exercise. You see the different seasons; you see the different migrations. The geese are coming over, the crocuses are blooming on my farm. You’re hunting shed antlers. You are scouting for deer for the next season. It basically keeps you in touch with agriculture, keeps me in touch with the outdoors,” Holum says.

Curbing nest predator populations on his land, along with other conservation efforts, provides positive results during pheasant season.

“On my farm, I’ve never had a down year. You know, everybody else is complaining, there’s not pheasants around, no pheasants. And I’m sitting there, you know, kind of quietly enjoying a tremendous pheasant season,” Holum says.

Although Holum traps as an excuse to get outdoors and to benefit his own farm’s eco-system, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks understands that it may take monetary motivation to encourage more South Dakotans to engage in trapping these predators. In 2019 the department launched the Nest Predator Bounty Program as part of Governor Noem’s Second Century Initiative, explains Keith Fisk, Administrator for South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.

“A raccoon or skunk goes out at night and walks through a pasture or CRP field, oftentimes there’s an abundance of nests in those areas and it makes for a real easy meal, night after night. And obviously this can have a pretty significant impact on those nesting birds that nest on the ground like waterfowl and ring neck pheasant,” Fisk says.

Paying for each nest predator tail turned in, the bounty programs of 2019 and 2020 not only encouraged more trapping of nest predators, but they incentivized the next generation of trappers.

“Over the two years that we’ve been utilizing the program, we’ve doubled the number of children that are participating. So, that’s a great success story for us as far as I’m concerned,” Russell Olson says.

Russell Olson is an outdoorsman and Governor appointed chair of the Game, Fish & Parks Commission. He says while the 2021 bounty program has yet to be authorized, he is optimistic that the Commission will vote to approve it during their March meeting.

“We're gonna hear a lot of public comments, but I anticipate, based on what I heard from commissioners at the last meeting, that, uh, the 2021 proposal should pass unanimously,” Olson says.

As a father, Russell is eager for the 2021 Bounty Program to begin.

“In this day and age, everybody’s so busy with our lives, its so easy to let you know, Fortnight and Xbox be the people that our kids are spending most of their time with just because its there. It’s convenient. I wanna hopefully break that cycle up a little bit and get my son off the couch. You know it’s a requirement that you have to check the traps within 48-hour period, so we will be getting in, if not every day or every other day, driving over in the truck. And we’re gonna set up a trapping route and then keep track of which traps caught what. And then, you know for his labor, Gordon’s gonna get to receive the bounty. I mean if you’re an 11-year-old kid and you end up getting 10 coons out of this deal, that’s 100 bucks,” Olson says.

The Nest Predator Bounty Program is capped at $500,000. It is funded primarily through sportsman’s dollars, Keith Fisk explains.

“There’s virtually no general fund or tax revenue that is used to fund the Wildlife Division within Game, Fish & Parks. And each and every year the budget managers at Game, Fish & Parks has to take a look at the money that is coming in, the revenue and determine the appropriate uses and where that money is best spent and what the priorities are for the department….we are not looking at we are going to have to take money away from this program to be able to fund the bounty program. We are able to the program in with our current budgeting process to be able to make it work,” Fisk says.

The overall budget for the Wildlife Division of Game, Fish & Parks is $50 million. Keith Fisk adds that due to the prolific nature of nest predators and the densities at which they occur across South Dakota’s landscape, increased interest in trapping will not be detrimental to nest predator populations.

Game, Fish & Parks Outdoor Campuses in Sioux Falls and Rapid City offer trapping classes and to learn more about these and the Nest Predator Bounty Program, visit SDPB.org.

Link to Nest Predator Bounty Program website: https://gfp.sd.gov/bounty-program/.

Link to Outdoor Campuses: https://gfp.sd.gov/toc-east/ and https://gfp.sd.gov/toc-west/