SD’s pheasant predator bounties are wrong for Nebraska, experts say

By: - February 9, 2023 8:59 am
(Photo by Travel South Dakota)

(Photo by Travel South Dakota)

LINCOLN, Neb. — Pheasant hunting in South Dakota generates an estimated $220 million a year in retail spending and causes an annual flood of 120,000 orange-clad hunters into the state.

But a Nebraska state senator’s effort to try to replicate that kind of economic impact by increasing Nebraska’s shrinking pheasant population prompted opposition from biologists and groups that work to increase wildlife populations.

They testified Wednesday that State Sen. Tom Brewer’s proposal to pay a $10 bounty on predators that prey on pheasants — as is done in South Dakota — is the wrong solution to a complicated problem.

Parade of opposition

Opponents of Legislative Bill 400 included the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Pheasants Forever, the Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and famed National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.

They maintained that the loss of habitat for ring-necked pheasants and poor weather during nesting season are the primary forces that have reduced bird populations since their peak in the 1960s.

Alicia Hardin, a wildlife administrator with the Game and Parks Commission, said a number of studies have found that if the right kind of habitat is provided, and the weather isn’t too cold and wet or too dry after birds hatch, pheasants will increase.

Statewide bounties on predators, she said, are hard to sustain financially and don’t account for all the animals that prey on pheasants and their eggs.

Wildlife acres have declined

Nebraska, Hardin said, has lost about half of the grasslands preserved under the federal Conservation Reserve Program since its peak in the 1990s, which has contributed to the decline in pheasants. About 351,000 acres were enrolled in CRP in 2021.

She added that the Game and Parks Commission, in 2017, launched an initiative to increase pheasant populations, the Berggren Plan, that has impacted 300,000 acres of land. Investing funds in habitat is the best idea, Hardin said.

Increased prices for crops, others said, have contributed to an expansion of plowed fields and a decline in pheasant habitat. Others said modern farming practices, in which pesticides have rid fields of weeds and insects, are also to blame.

Supporters of LB 400, meanwhile, said that populations of coyotes, raccoons and other predators of pheasants appear to have increased, and with a drop in fur prices and trappers, there’s no way to control populations without an incentive.

They lamented the lack of opportunities for young hunters and the missed opportunity for spending on motels, food and hunting lodges that would come with more pheasants to pursue.

Brewer says he was ambushed

Brewer, at the conclusion of the public hearing on LB 400 before the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, expressed some anger that wildlife organizations had “ambushed” him in their opposition testimony, instead of working with him on amendments before the hearing.

He said that one idea suggested at the hearing — giving farmers a property tax break if they set aside acres for wildlife — had merit and that he remains committed to working on solutions.

The Natural Resources Committee took no action on LB 400 after its hearing Wednesday.

— This story was originally published by the Nebraska Examiner, which like South Dakota Searchlight is part of the States Newsroom network.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Paul Hammel is the senior reporter for the Nebraska Examiner. He has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and was named editor of the Papillion Times in 1982. He later worked as a sports enterprise reporter at the Lincoln Journal-Star. He joined the Omaha World-Herald in 1990, working as a legislative reporter, then roving state reporter and finally Lincoln bureau chief. Paul has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation and secretary of the Nebraska Hop Growers.