Pheasant hunting season is a major economic engine for South Dakota and a significant contributor to tourism, our second largest industry. Each year, 81,000 non-resident hunters flock to our state for hunting season and spend more than $156 million in our restaurants, hotels, gift shops, and gas stations. That money makes a real difference for families and small businesses.
If we’re committed to this heritage and want to conserve our outdoor culture, we need to proactively protect habitat. In recent years, pheasant numbers have dropped, and habitat lands have diminished largely because of fewer CRP acres and increased predator populations. Having recently celebrated 100 years of pheasant hunting in South Dakota, we must now be intentional about sustaining our wildlands and grasslands to ensure the second century of pheasant hunting is just as successful as the first.
My Second Century Initiative is a strategy to increase resources for habitat management. As part of this plan, I proposed a $1 million state investment to expand habitat and pheasant hunting opportunities. The Legislature approved this bill, and I was proud to sign it into law. These dollars will be used to leverage additional funds from private donations and federal conservation programs, which will help establish some real momentum for habitat.
And we’re already moving forward, putting practical ideas into action.
On April 1, 2019, we launched the nest predator bounty program that will focus on increasing trapping. While the nest predator bounty program is a new program, trapping predators during nesting season has been practiced in South Dakota for decades. My grandmother taught me that trapping is central to wildlife management, conservation, and maintaining our outdoor traditions for the next generation. I’m excited to implement this plan to get our kids outside - away from the x-box and out with the live box. This program will enhance duck and pheasant nest success.
What’s more, my newly expanded Hunt for Habitat program taps into how we can help raise money to fund habitat efforts across South Dakota. This program will include an auction tag and raffle licenses.
This is just the start of our plans to expand habitat, and we know that the best ideas don’t necessarily come from state office buildings in Pierre. A crowdsourcing effort for habitat solutions launched in February and has sparked a conversation that has led to over 750 emails and an online dialogue that has over 300 group members thinking, talking, and exploring habitat solutions.
As South Dakota’s Sportsman in Chief, I’m thrilled to see habitat making headlines and generating discussion around the dinner table. My Second Century Initiative is about families, introducing kids to the adventure of the outdoors, and conserving our outdoor culture for the next generation. Let’s enhance habitat and work together to strengthen the next 100 years of our outdoor traditions.