SDFormer South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks secretary John Cooper said the basics of Gov. Kristi Noem’s Nest Predator Bounty Program, including a giveaway of approximately 16,500 live traps, were not discussed with GF&P commissioners or state sportsmen before the program began in March.
Cooper expressed the concerns of a number of South Dakota groups in a letter read to GF&P commissioners during the first of two days of meetings Thursday in Rapid City.
The live trap giveaway, which began March 1, is part of Noem’s Second Century initiative, which is aimed at improving pheasant habitat in the state.
Noem said decreasing the number of predators would improve nesting success for pheasants and other game birds.
Since the live-trap program began, approximately 16,500 traps have been reserved by a maximum of 5,500 households in the state at a cost of nearly $100,000.
“The issue here is the ability of the public to have comment on these large of expenditures,” Cooper told commissioners.
“It’s frankly disturbing that details of the program, which comes with a large price tag, were not disclosed to the very people, the commission, who have the responsibility for budget transparency and accountability in our state,” he said, reading from the letter.
Cooper cited examples of past issues, including the management of mountain lions as big-game animals and the control of prairie dogs as having plenty of discussion before proposals were ever made to the commission, he said.
A proposal implementing details of the Nest Predator Bounty Program had its first reading at the commission’s Feb. 28-March 1 meeting in Pierre and is one of a number of proposals expected to be finalized at this month’s meetings, which conclude Friday at the Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City.
Provisions of the program outline eligible species — raccoon, striped skunk, opossum, badger and red fox — to be trapped only by residents within the state’s borders along with regulations for the accuracy and submission of an electronic bounty form for participating trappers under the age of 18.
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Those speaking against the plan during a public forum Thursday spoke of trapping indigenous wildlife to make room for pheasants, which are not native to the state.
Others cited the extension of the program statewide, when the majority of pheasant nesting areas are in the central and eastern areas of the state.
Jamie Al-Haj of Rapid City said pheasants have been in decline since the 1960s because of modern farming practices, the use of chemical fertilizers, mowing road ditches and draining wetlands more than predation.
“Everything points to the habitat for the decline of the pheasant over and over,” she said. “It’s the habitat, or lack of it.”
Others praised the program for appearing to achieve another impetus, re-establishing the tradition of trapping in the state and getting youth involved in the outdoors.
“This bounty and trapping program, if you want to get young people out in the field and get new people exposed, it’s not perfect, but it’s a good start,” said Mark DeVries of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. “It’ll make them better hunters and sportsmen.”
Cooper said the program may have been legally implemented but was not adequately discussed among commissioners.
“Legal doesn’t make it right. If there had been an opportunity for the sportsman and other people to have some comment on this, we’d feel differently,” he said. “In this particular situation, that’s not what happened.”
A vote on finalization of the Nest Predator Bounty Program along with eight other proposals is expected during Friday’s meeting, which begins at 8 a.m. at the GF&P’s Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City.