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Dave Nilsen, of Dakota Hunting Retriever Club in Sioux Falls, feeds his dog, Axl, during the 2018 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic on Saturday in Sioux Falls. (Luke Hagen / Republic)

SD governor hopefuls battle for birds: Noem, Jackley share five-point plans to boost SD’s pheasant population

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — It's a Republican rooster battle.

South Dakota gubernatorial candidates Marty Jackley and Kristi Noem revealed over the weekend detailed initiatives to enhance the state's pheasant population while campaigning at the 2018 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic.

Both acknowledged the importance of pheasant hunting as an economic driver for South Dakota and used the gathering as a platform to discuss their respective five-step programs.

As bird numbers have declined in recent years in South Dakota, officials with Pheasants Forever were happy to see Noem and Jackley committed to improving habitat conditions and keeping the state the top pheasant destination in the nation.

"Both of these candidates are talking pheasants, and that's huge," said Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever's vice president of governmental affairs. "We absolutely have to do more."

Noem and Jackley each issued their plans on Friday, the first day of National Pheasant Fest, which was held for the first time in South Dakota.

Pheasants Forever, the event's organizer, said 28,868 people checked out the hundreds of booths and dozens of seminars throughout the Premier Center and Sioux Falls Convention Center floor during the three-day event.

"The fact that they announced these platforms the day that Pheasant Fest starts ... it demonstrates how important this culture — hunting and habitat — is to this state," said Bob St. Pierre, Pheasants Forever's vice president of marketing.

Noem and Jackley on Saturday, Feb. 17, spoke pheasants to the event's attendees, detailing their plans, if elected, to revitalize the bird population. The two Republican candidates will square off in the June 5 primary to move on to the November general election. Jackley is South Dakota's attorney general, while Noem is a U.S. Representative for South Dakota.

Nomsen acknowledged both plans have positives, including Noem's focus on the farm bill and Jackley's promotion of next generation youth hunting.

Noem outlined her plan and took questions from attendees at Pheasants Forever's South Dakota State Chapter Meeting on Saturday and said she was disappointed that only 101 acres were accepted from South Dakota in the Conservation Reserve Program in 2016.

"This is so important to our state's economy," Noem told reporters Saturday afternoon. "The initiatives I put out focus on habitat and predator control."

Jackley said Saturday that, while on the campaign trail, he's hearing South Dakota residents bring up the declining pheasant population. A pillar of his plan is to create a volunteer habitat stamp and a sportsman license plate. Jackley said private business owners have told him they will partner with him "if you put skin in the game."

"This is a plan that will work," Jackley said, "because it has a funding source, a voluntary funding source, from both sportsmen and women buying the habitat stamp, to the private business owners and landowners that will invest."

Nomsen also pointed to one area in each of Jackley and Noem's plans that he believes ineffective to sustaining long-term pheasant populations. Jackley's plan talks of having a pheasant release program, while Noem's will explore a bounty on pheasant predators.

"Science tells us how minimally effective both of those areas can be to raise populations of birds," Nomsen said. "We absolutely know that if we have the habitat base that we need, predator control becomes less of an issue.

"And we absolutely know as scientists that pen-raised bird releases with a goal of propagation to the population is extremely ineffective, at best. So when you have limited dollars, put them in the ground."

Noem's Second Century Initiative

  • Increase resources for habitat management — without raising taxes
  • Crowdsource habitat solutions
  • Target predators, while inspiring the next generation of South Dakota hunters
  • Maintain habitat management as a national priority
  • Serve as sportsman in chief for South Dakota pheasant hunting

Jackley's Pheasant Hunting Initiative

  • Create a pheasant restoration blue ribbon commission
  • Build public-private partnerships for habitat
  • Implement pheasant release program
  • Create volunteer habitat stamp and sportsmen license plate
  • Promote next generation youth hunting