For more than a century, South Dakotans have eagerly anticipated the annual pheasant season. As the date approaches, we dust off our blaze orange, ready our shotguns, and induct a new generation of South Dakotans into our great state tradition.
I’ve looked forward to the start of pheasant season for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Murdo, in the heart of pheasant country, my dad instilled this heritage in us from a young age, teaching us the skills we needed to bag a rooster and more than a few life lessons along the way. From crisp mornings spent in our great outdoors to nights gathered ‘round with friends and family for a communal meal that hopefully includes pheasant, the hunting season encompasses much of what I love about life in South Dakota.
It’s no wonder that pheasant season draws hunters from around the country who have made our state’s tradition part of their own family traditions. An estimated 100,000 non-resident hunters are expected to join 76,000 South Dakotans hunting ringnecks this season. As hunters of all stripes descend on South Dakota, they visit our small businesses and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to our local economies. More than that, they prove that South Dakota is, in fact, the unrivaled Pheasant Capital of the World.
It goes without saying that hunters come to South Dakota because this is where the pheasants are. But in order for the populations to be strong in the fall, the conditions need to be right during the spring nesting season when quality habitat is essential for pheasants to hide their nests and protect their young chicks. For almost 40 years, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has played an important role in maintaining and improving these wildlife habitats in South Dakota.
CRP was created to take environmentally sensitive land out of production and provide an economical alternative to using expensive seed, fertilizer, and chemicals that would otherwise be used on high-risk marginal lands. Today, more than 22 million acres of land nationwide and 1.7 million acres in South Dakota are enrolled in this program, protecting against soil erosion, improving water quality, and increasing wildlife habitats.
As a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have been a strong supporter of CRP. As we look forward to another farm bill next year, I am also working to improve the program by making grazing more accessible, providing more enrollment options to producers, and addressing implementation issues from the 2018 farm bill. These changes will help ensure CRP remains an effective option for producers and landowners and continues to protect South Dakota land, water, and wildlife for years to come.
As we begin pheasant season, I am grateful for the landowners whose conservation practices are critical to keeping our pheasant hunting tradition strong for future generations. Whether it’s your first hunt or your fiftieth, I wish all hunters across South Dakota a safe and successful hunting season.