In the past three years, a state-sanctioned pheasant protection program that pays South Dakota adolescents and adults $10 for every raccoon, skunk, or other predators they catch has resulted in the death of more than 134,000 animals, despite no scientific proof that the program is effective.
The Nest Predator Bounty Program, which began in 2019 and is now in its third year, aims to improve pheasant and duck populations by paying trappers to kill creatures that devour the eggs and hatchlings of pheasants and ducks. The program runs for a few months during the spring pheasant nesting season and has been extended until 2022.
There is little common ground to be found in evaluating the program's benefits or tactics, which have been regarded as both a wildlife-management success and a cruel, mindless killing of wild creatures.
A "Practical Approach"
Some state officials, like Gov. Kristi Noem, who initiated the program, and new Game, Fish & Parks Secretary Kevin Robling, view the reward program as a practical approach to minimize pheasant predation while encouraging young people to switch from video games to trapping as a pastime. The profitable but gradually diminishing pheasant shooting business in South Dakota produced over $300 million in direct spending in 2016, with non-resident hunters accounting for most of it.
According to Noem, Robling, and a majority of members of the state Game, Fish & Parks Commission, the initiative should be continued, which sets policy for state wildlife management.
Youth involvement in the bounty program has recently increased, according to Robling.
"When it comes to promoting our trapping traditions and outdoor history, it's truly a success story," he added.
Although there is no data or solid proof that the bounty program has increased pheasant or duck numbers or increased successful nesting rates, Robling is sure that it does.
Opponents of the program, including some influential members of the South Dakota wildlife management community, are skeptical that paying children and adults to kill five different kinds of animals is the best approach to increase pheasant and duck populations.
Gary Jensen, a lawyer from Rapid City, just finished his term on the GFP Commission. He was the Commission's chair most recently, and he voted against the proposal to continue the reward program.
Jensen stated, "There is no research that supports that." "The department has no proof that the bounty program is raising pheasant populations, and it has no methodology in place to evaluate if it is increasing pheasant numbers."
Noem launched the reward program in 2019 as part of her Second Century Initiative, which aims to conserve and grow pheasant habitats and populations in the state.
The program, supported by hunting, fishing, and trapping license fees, has cost the state roughly $2.4 million.
Around $1.2 million, half of the expenditures were covered by bounties awarded to program participants (payouts were $10 per animal in 2019 and 2021 and $5 per animal in 2020). In the first year, $960,000 was spent on a scheme to give away 16,500 free traps to approximately 5,000 persons who requested them. Personnel costs totaled about $217,000 over the first two years.
Half of the expenditures, roughly $1.2 million, were paid to program participants in bounties (payments were $10 per animal in 2019 and 2021; they were $5 per animal in 2020). Another $960,000 was spent on a program that gave away 16,500 free traps to roughly 5,000 persons who requested them in the first year. Over the first two years, personnel costs amounted to over $217,000 altogether.
Raccoons are the most commonly hunted animals, but skunks, opossums, red foxes, and badgers are common targets. The animals' carcasses, which are unfit for consumption, are dumped, but some may have their pelts removed beforehand. The state encourages participants to bury the bodies, but it is not required, according to Robling.
Fifty-four thousand four hundred seventy-one animals were killed in 2019, the first year of the bounty scheme; 26,390 animals were murdered in 2020, and 53,728 animals were killed in 2021. Raccoons account for over 80% of the 134,600 animals killed so far under the program.
The East River region of South Dakota, where pheasants are most abundant, accounted for over 91 percent of the bounties given. Minnehaha County program participants have consistently been the top bounty recipients.
Over time, public resistance to the program has risen. According to a poll conducted by the state early in the program, after questioners explained its purpose, 78 percent of approximately 400 random respondents strongly or moderately approved of it. However, 62% of those polled indicated they had no prior knowledge of the initiative before contact.
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