The news from South Dakota is grim: The pheasant population index there has fallen 64 percent, a precipitous drop blamed on a cold, wet spring and continued loss of habitat.
The 2013 August roadside report indicates an index of 1.52 pheasants per mile, down from 4.19 pheasants per mile last year.
South Dakota officials tried to put the best spin possible on the bleak numbers, saying the state will still offer the best pheasant hunting experience in the country, and that lower brood counts in 1992 and 1997 still resulted in almost 1 million birds being harvested those years. Last year, hunters harvested about 1.4 million roosters.
A closer look at the results shows some stunning numbers: In the Chamberlain area -- one of the top pheasant areas in the state – officials counted 2.66 pheasants per mile, down 75 percent from the 10.81 counted last year.
The pheasant indexes near Winner, Pierre and Mobridge was down 73 percent, 77 percent and 68 percent, respectively. The indexes for the Aberdeen, Huron and Mitchel areas all were down at least 50 percent.
"The birds have just crashed,'' said Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever. "It's a pretty drastic decline. Granted, I think there's still going to be some pretty good hunting in spots, but this clearly is not what we've come to expect from South Dakota.''
Nomsen said pheasants there were hurt by drought last summer, which caused a 50 percent mortality rate in some areas, and by the cold, wet spring and the loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands.
"Bingo, it's the perfect storm,'' he said.
The amount of grassland enrolled in CRP has fallen from around 1.7 million acres at the peak to about 800,000 acres, Nomsen said. Those grasslands have been plowed and planted to crops.
Added Nomsen: "This is further need for Congress to get their act together and pass a farm bill'' that includes conservation measures.
Meanwhile, South Dakota officials tried to put the best spin on the report. “Our numbers may be down from last year, but hunters will still be able to find birds," said Travis Runia, the state's lead pheasant biologist.
The results of Minnesota's August roadside pheasant survey will be released Sept. 9.
To read more about the South Dakota report, see http://www.startribune.com/a2467