January 04, 2012
The End of an Era: South Dakota Bird Hunting is Changing
Are hunters in our top pheasant hunting state witnessing the end of an era? Maybe so, according to this excellent story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
In the nearly half-century he's lived in South Dakota, John Cooper has seen countless beautiful prairie sunsets. But none perhaps prettier than one on a recent late afternoon that arched wild hues of orange, red, yellow and crimson across a darkening sky. "I never get tired of that,'' Cooper said, nodding toward the colorful horizon, a 12 gauge double-gun slung over one shoulder and his Labrador retriever walking ahead. However barren in appearance, South Dakota prairies pulse with life.
Eagles, hawks, prairie dogs, pheasants, ducks, geese and sharp-tailed grouse thrive here. So do coyotes, a pack of which yipped their singsong appreciation for the coming night as Cooper sleeved his scattergun following a long afternoon's pheasant hunt. The retired director of South Dakota's Game, Fish and Parks Department, serving 12 years under two governors, Cooper also has been a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
So when he says change is occurring to the South Dakota landscape at a rate never seen before, with far-reaching implications for wildlife and people, he speaks with a perspective few share. "What has happened here in the past four years is unprecedented,'' Cooper said as he and I climbed into my pickup and rumbled over a dirt two-track. "Anyone who thinks South Dakota can continue to produce the pheasants, ducks and other wildlife it has in the past just doesn't know what's going on here.
You're quite possibly witnessing the end of an era. Some of the nation's last, best prairies and potholes are going away.'' Responsible for the changes is what farmer, rancher and hunting outfitter Steve Halverson of Kennebec, S.D., calls a "perfect storm'' of high commodity prices, rising land values, breakthroughs in crop engineering, a seemingly feverish desire by some eastern South Dakota farmers to drain their lands of water, and relatively paltry federal farm bill conservation incentives.
The rest of the story is well worth the read. Is the same thing happening in your state? Thoughts?