More acres open to public hunting

Pheasants Forever Community Based Habitat Access Program - It’s all about the Pheasanomics!

“All habitat is local” is an apt saying, especially when it comes to an exciting, new, pilot program encouraging community-driven habitat conservation and public access in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of South Dakota. With world class pheasant and waterfowl hunting opportunities, South Dakota communities are recognizing the economic engine that hunting can provide. Recent loss of habitat (between 2006 and 2012, South Dakota lost 1.2 million acres of grassland) has directly impacted the economy of South Dakota, and some folks in this part of the world explain the phenomena as “pheasanomics.” Simply put, pheasonomics is the relationship between habitat, hunters, and the economies of our communities. Fewer acres of habitat means fewer pheasant hunters; fewer pheasant hunters means fewer dollars coming back into our communities. More habitat means more pheasants, and in turn, more pheasant hunters and more dollars coming back into local communities.

In 2010, pheasant hunters pumped $17 million into the economy of Aberdeen, SD. In 2013, that amount dropped to $8.7 million, a 49% decrease. Considering the fact that each hunting dollar that comes into Aberdeen is rolled over three to seven times, the dollars from hunters are critical to its economy. In 2014, the Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition (APC) was formed - consisting of local businesses, sportsman’s clubs, local tourist industry organizations - all spearheaded by the Northern SD Pheasants Forever Chapter #77. APC raised just over $100,00.00 to provide a $25/acre sign-up incentive to farmers and landowners who enroll their acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and in the South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks (SDGFP) public hunting access program for the life of their CRP contracts (10-15 years). The overall goal of the program is to provide 4,000 acres of excellent wildlife habitat open to public hunting for the life of the CRP contract. In January 2016, the first APC contract was signed. At the time of this writing, 17 contracts have been completed, enrolling 2,017 acres into the APC program (1,775 CRP acres and 242 non-CRP acres within the APC sites), with additional contracts to be signed soon.

The program is a “win” all around. Farmers and landowners benefit while receiving increased financial benefits from the USDA’s CRP program, the SDGFP Walk-In-Access program and by the sign-up incentive from the APC. Hunters benefit from an increase of prime habitat open to public hunting. And the community of Aberdeen and its local businesses receive a tremendous boost from an increase in hunter dollars spent in the community.

With the experience and success of the pilot project in Aberdeen, the Pheasant Country chapter of Pheasants Forever in Mitchell, SD recently set aside $150,000 to match funds from local businesses to provide a $35/acre sign up incentive to landowners within a 40-mile radius of Mitchell. On February 16, 2018 at Pheasant Fest in Sioux Falls, SD, a seminar was given to mayors, city councils, tourism industry folks, and PF chapter members representing over 30 communities and three states to expand and improve the Community Based Habitat Access Program.

The benefits of wetland and grassland habitat are many. This emerging program highlights the economic benefits habitat provides to communities that value habitat, agriculture, and that open their doors to hunters and recreationists who come to enjoy the beauty and wildlife of the PPR.