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GF&P: Grassland Important For Pheasant Habitat

Matthew Grunig, SD GF&P

South Dakota’s Revised Pheasant Management Plan is ready for implementation. It guides pheasant management over the next five years. The plan focuses on habitat, especially on private land.

Pheasant hunters spent more than $170 million in the state last year. Officials with the Department of Game Fish and Parks say a successful pheasant season can’t happen without ample habitat. Most of South Dakota’s land is privately owned, so the department has partnerships and programs to assist landowners in creating habitat. Travis Runia is the senior upland game bird biologist with the Game Fish and Parks Department. He says the best habitat is a mix of grass and wildflowers that bloom throughout the summer.
“When young pheasant chicks are hatched, they’re smaller than a tennis ball. And they have to grow all the way to the size of an adult pheasant by fall,” Runia says. “And that really requires a very high protein diet, which means insects. So we look at a field like this that has lots of wildflowers, it produces a high amount of insects for those pheasant chicks to eat. And we see grasslands that don’t have a lot of wildflowers they don’t produce as many insects and it’s not quite as good of habitat for pheasants. And a field like this that’s going to have blooming flowers through the entire life cycle of the pheasant reproduction cycle is critically important.”  
Runia says the new management plan also calls for more CRP acres in South Dakota. He says the federal program puts grassland on areas that would otherwise be cropland, and it makes a difference in the pheasant population. He says due to limited acres and a ranking system that gives priority to other states, CRP acres in South Dakota are on the decline.
“Our pheasant population is still decent right now,” Runia says. “Last year we harvested still over 1.2 million pheasants. But we can see in the future that the future of the Conservation Reserve Program is in jeopardy with expirations far exceeding the new enrollments. So there’s definitely reason to be concerned about the future of the pheasant population in the state.”
Runia says he expects a louder voice from agricultural producers and sportsmen advocating for more CRP acres in the next Farm Bill.