South Dakota’s nest predator bounty program isn’t going to have a direct, measurable impact on the state’s upland bird populations.
Anyone who has looked at the science surrounding predator trapping programs could tell you that. Those same folks could tell you that the program won’t cause any harm to populations of the four species — striped skunk, raccoon, opossum and red fox — the program targets either.
This is a big state and even if 50,000 nest predators get trapped — that’s the maximum number allowed by the $500,000 cap placed on the bounty program’s payout — there will still be plenty of skunks, foxes, raccoons and opossums to go around. The bounty program pays $10 for each tail properly submitted to the Game, Fish and Parks Department, which created and pays for the program, with an affidavit affirming that the tail came from an animal trapped in South Dakota. There’s an additional $590 per-household cap on bounty payouts.
Actually, you can track exactly how many tails from each of the four species have been submitted to GFP for payment under the bounty program on the GFP website. As of 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17, 3,784 tails had been submitted.
Aside from the way in which the bounty program was created, the GFP has been pretty open about the program’s mechanics. But it is the way the program, which in addition to the $500,000 for bounties also includes around $900,000 for a live trap giveaway, was created that has caused the most concern. Both the live trap giveaway and the bounty program were created without seeking any input at all from the public. At least, not through official GFP channels.
In other words, the people who are paying for the program didn’t get a chance to voice their concerns or, for that matter, appreciation of the program before being saddled with the expense. This sort of arbitrary decision making is, frankly, a step backward both for GFP and Gov. Kristi Noem.
She conceived of and pushed for the trap and bounty programs as part of her Second Century Initiative to improve pheasant hunting in the state.
But despite her stated commitment to being open and transparent in government, she allowed this program to be created without the benefit of public comment. Some $1.4 million worth hunter license fees could be used to pay for these two programs, hunters should have at least been given a chance to provide some input.
There are, after all, some grave concerns associated with the bounty program. Not the least of these is the ammunition it provides to anti-hunters and those opposed to trapping. As silly and anti-science as anti-hunting groups are, they have no compunction against twisting anything they can into a weapon against law-abiding hunters. In a world where hunter numbers are shrinking, we ignore antis at our peril.
All that being said, the bounty program and live trap giveaway may well do some good. If nothing else, it provides a precedent for future hunter and angler recruitment programs, something South Dakota needs more of. Through this month and into May a dozen “Trapping 101” classes have been scheduled to teach the basics to anyone interested in learning how to trap. There’s also been a lot of effort and a fair bit of money put into promoting the bounty program as a way to get families outdoors more often. These are great things.
If GFP can put all this effort into promoting trapping, it should be a simple matter to do something similar for hunting. If Gov. Noem wants to make a difference for pheasants, creating more hunters and more hunting families is the way to go. More hunters means more money for wildlife conservation, for one thing. It means more people developing a deeper, more personal connection to South Dakota’s wildlife, for another.