An annual count of young pheasants in South Dakota shows a substantial decline from last year, and we're concerned.
Pheasant hunting is not only prominent recreation for thousands of South Dakotans, but an industry that attracts huge numbers of out-of-state hunters and associated spending with them.
The brood estimates aren't perfect -- being based on visual sitings and extrapolations -- but a dramatic drop clearly means there has been a change. Observers believe last year's drought, plus a cold spring this year caused the decline.
Others believe that changes in agriculture are contributing factors. Improvements in hybrids are allowing more acres to be planted with row crops, rather than maintained with grass for grazing, which provides cover for pheasants.
Moreover, the lack of a new Farm Bill has prevented reauthorization of the Conservation Reserve Program which pays farmers not to farm part of their land and plant it to grass or other good habitat for birds.
We're not in panic mode yet. Lower brood counts don't often equate with a bad hunting season, but continued low numbers may start to have a permanent effect. For now, we're still looking forward to a good season starting Oct. 19.