PIERRE | South Dakotans have trapped so many critters as part of the state's nest predator bounty program that the Game, Fish and Parks Department is closing the program weeks early.
The department announced Friday the program has maxed out, bringing in about 50,000 eligible predator tails since the April 1 opening day. The program was scheduled to run through Aug. 31, or until $500,000 in bounties were distributed. The final day to submit tails was Monday.
According to GF&P, the majority of tails submitted in the bounty program — about 37,700 — were of raccoons. Second most common were skunk tails, at about 5,500. Minnehaha County trappers submitted the greatest number of tails out of South Dakota's 66 counties, followed by Beadle, Yankton, Turner and Grant counties.
The program was part of Gov. Kristi Noem's initiative to preserve pheasant habitat — one of her first major pushes since taking over the Governor's Office in January.
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Noem said in a July column that the program is "about getting kids into nature, exposing folks to our incredible outdoor legacy and working together to improve habitat for the next generation."
Kristin Wileman, a spokesperson for Noem's office, said GF&P is currently conducting a brood survey report, which should help determine the impact the program has had on pheasant nesting in the coming weeks. But she added that it can take years to see substantial results, and this year's brutal winter and wet summer can "sway the numbers, too."
It's unclear whether Noem and GF&P will push for a bounty program next year. If they do, Wileman said, they will not need legislative approval to do so because of administrative rule changes made this year.
Legislators during the 2019 session battled over Senate Bill 176, Noem's bill to establish the Second Century Habitat Initiative, clashing over its $1 million price tag, then the constitutionality of a last-minute style and form veto. The bill was ultimately passed after seven votes and numerous amendments.