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Governor's Column: Advancing Habitat

I’ve always loved being outside. Whether it was fishing with my dad, bow hunting with my daughters, or shooting birds with Booker, being under the South Dakota sky clears my head. I know many of you feel the same way. It’s part of our South Dakota way of life. 


Whether or not you take part in the sport, pheasant season is a major economic engine for South Dakota and a significant contributor to tourism, our second largest industry. Each year, 91,000 non-resident hunters flock to our state for hunting season and spend more than $310 million in our restaurants, gear shops, hotels, gift shops, and gas stations. That money makes a real difference for families and small businesses. 


If we’re committed to this heritage and want to preserve our outdoor culture, we need to proactively protect habitat. In recent years, pheasant numbers have dropped and habitat lands have diminished largely because of fewer CRP acres. Predators are impacting our bird populations as well. Having recently celebrated 100 years of pheasant hunting in South Dakota, we must now be intentional about sustaining our wildlands and grasslands to ensure the second century of pheasant hunting is just as successful as the first.


At the beginning of this year, I launched my Second Century Initiative – a strategy to increase resources for habitat management. As part of this plan, I proposed a $1 million state investment to expand habitat and pheasant hunting opportunities. In March, the legislature approved this bill, and I was proud to sign it into law. These dollars, along with additional funds from private donations and federal conservation programs, will help establish some real momentum in habitat advancement. 


And we’re already moving forward, putting practical ideas into action.


On April 1, we launched the nest predator bounty program that will focus on increasing trapping. Although this is a new program, trapping predators during nesting season has been practiced in South Dakota for decades. I’m excited to implement this plan to get our kids outside – away from the x-box and into the live box. This program will be extremely beneficial in enhancing duck and pheasant nest success. 


What’s more, my newly expanded Hunt for Habitat program taps into how we can help raise money to fund habitat efforts across South Dakota. This program will include an auction tag and raffle licenses. Right now, we’re looking at the possibility of expanding the area where the current bighorn sheep auction license is valid. This would be an incredible revenue source for habitat. 


These are just the start of our plans to expand habitat, and we know that the best ideas don’t have to come from Pierre. Since mid-February, we’ve been crowdsourcing for habitat solutions. This has sparked a conversation that has led to over 750 emails and an online dialogue that has over 300 group members thinking, talking, and exploring habitat solutions. 


As South Dakota’s Sportsman in Chief, I’m thrilled to see habitat making headlines and generating discussion around the dinner table. My Second Century Initiative is about families, introducing kids to the adventure of the outdoors, and preserving our culture for the next generation. Let’s advance habitat and work together to strengthen the next 100 years of our outdoor traditions.