Dakota Country Magazine October 2016 Edition - Page 15

observed in 2008. On the surface, the numbers in the report seem pretty black and white, but Travis Runia, GFP senior upland game biologist and author of the report, allows for some gray area when discussing the role of Mother Nature on this year’s survey. Year-to-year variances in the PPM index are highly influenced by weather, a point Runia went to new lengths to explain in his summary. Included among the various charts in the report are weather models that analyzed those weather factors most influential on the PPM index, namely winter and spring precipitation totals, as well as the average temperature during nesting season. From these figures, Runia and his staff projected the extent to which the weather would impact the brood survey in different areas. Impressively, the predictions largely held true. Where weather conditions warranted a change -- both positive and negative -- the pheasant index responded in kind, with the exception being a collection of 13 counties in the northeast corner of the state that experienced weather conditions favorable for pheasant survival and reproduction but saw a sizable decline. While it’s easy -- and somewhat convenient -- to accept the role that weather plays in the ups and downs of the pheasant population, I have a little harder time swallowing the fact that the 2016 PPM index continues a downward trend in South Dakota’s pheasant population -- a trend that has moved in lockstep with declining acres of habitat across the state. To this end, the GFP report does underscore the role that quality habitat plays in shaping the long-term health of South Dakota’s pheasant population, noting specifically the decade-long decline in the amount of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and how the pheasant brood survey has reflected this decreasing acreage of cover. “There is a clear correlation between the availability of undisturbed grassland nesting habitat and pheasant abundance dating all the way back to 1950,” the report reads. “Future pheasant population expectations should be tempered by the reality of declining habitat quantity.” According to the report, the amount of CRP in South Dakota could be less than half the 2007 acreage by 2020. I was fortunate enough to cut my teeth as a pheasant hunter during the hey-days of CRP. Even before I was old enough to carry a gun, I walked with my father and his friends through some of the first fields enrolled in CRP near my home. Not surprisingly, my first pheasant was shot in a field of CRP. Really, anyone who has hunted pheasants in South Dakota the past 25 years has experienced first-hand the connection between cover found in fields of CRP and other forms of grassland, cattail and wooded habitats. We all have witnessed the role these vital forms of habitat have played in the resurgence of pheasants in the Dakotas. We all know how important it is that we keep habitat on the ground. If there is anything that comes from the pheasant brood survey report that we all can and should agree on, it’s just that: Habitat = pheasants. No skepticism or opinion needed. That’s just a cold, hard fact. • GAS ‘N GOODIES Gettysburg, South Dakota • POP • BEER • ICE • BAIT • LICENSES • POWERBALL • VIDEO LOTTERY • THERMOS COFFEE • SHOTGUN SHELLS TOUCHLESS AUTOMATIC CAR WASH! PUMP 24 HOURS VISIT THE BEER CAVE 605-765-2761 www.dakotacountrymagazine.com Dakota Country, October 2016, Page 15