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Noem-Era Pheasant Count Down, So GF&P Proposes New Counting Method?

After the first big season of Governor Noem’s trap-o-rama and other pheasant-fostering initiatives, Game Fish and Parks counted 17% fewer pheasants around the state than last year.

Governor Noem’s GF&P chief responds by saying we need to change how we count pheasants:

“We’re trying to wean people out of this ’17 percent’,” Hepler said. “We’re trying to figure out a better way to translate this information for you.”

State conservation officers have driven the same set of routes each morning during the first 15 days of August for decades and count the roosters, hens and broods of chicks they see [Bob Mercer, “GFP Leader Says He’s Working on a New Way to Gauge South Dakota’s Pheasant Numbers,” KELO-TV, 2019.09.07].

I’ll grant that driving around and counting pheasants from the roadways may not give a complete picture of the state’s pheasant population. But it’s benchmark data that we’ve used for years. Implementing a new bird count method may have merit, but we’ll need to watch closely to see if any new method is superior or if it just provides GF&P an opportunity to tell our self-proclaimed Sportsman-in-Chief what she wants to hear.


  1. mike from iowa 2019-09-11 07:27

    Tell the snowflakes to count only white pheasants. They keep suppressing pheasants of color.

  2. Wayne Pauli 2019-09-11 07:52

    Reports state that pheasant numbers in hemp friendly North Dakota are up around 10%. Ironic?

  3. o 2019-09-11 08:10

    If this method undercounts the pheasants this year, wouldn’t it have also undercounted the pheasants from past years? The absolute count would be wrong, but the relative comparisons should still have some validity. Check my math on that one.

  4. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-09-11 08:13

    I’ll be back when I’ve checked o’s math.

  5. jerry 2019-09-11 08:40

    To me, interesting parallels between GNOem and Chubby hump. GNOem wants to lie about the numbers count of pheasants and Chubby wants to have negative interest to boost money count. Both are only to boost the lie that we have more than we have.

  6. o 2019-09-11 09:01

    To Jerry’s point, GFP could have taken pictures of pheasant populations, then “someone” could have drawn in more birds with black sharpie to increase the counts.

  7. MM_Dandy 2019-09-11 11:19

    What happens if/when the new method shows an even greater decline?

  8. Loren 2019-09-11 12:54

    My understanding is, if you present the numbers in Sharpie, you can use any numbers you wish!

  9. mike from iowa 2019-09-11 14:07

    Good one O. Just make sure it is a professional grade Sharpie for professional numbers crunchers.

  10. cibvet 2019-09-11 16:22

    My guess is that one on the road means there are 2 in the fence line.

  11. paul harens 2019-09-11 16:48

    Is this like POTUS’s counting his audience at his swearing in?

  12. Debbo 2019-09-11 20:43

    This is typical GOP. Don’t trust a word they say.

    In North Carolina the Democrats wanted to attend a 9/11 Memorial. The GOP wasn’t going but promised not to hold any votes while the Dems were gone.

    As soon as the Democrats left to pay their solemn respects for this critical day in our nation’s history, the slimy, lying, contemptible, loathsome, deplorable, worthless, despicable, dishonest, dishonorable, reprehensible, abhorrent, beyond the pale, heinous, disgusting, mean, indecent GOP voted to override a veto.

    They are not worth the effort to spit on them.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-12 06:32

    O hits the central point: even if the method isn’t perfect, it’s consistent. The number of birds seen in the ditches from a certain set of roads doesn’t tell us how many birds may be farther off in the wetlands, but it still gives us a useful snapshot of the population. The road count may result in greater error during wet years when ditches are filled with water and birds are driven farther from the roads and out of sight… but we should be able to check those numbers with whatever count we get from the hunters in the fall.

    One of my correspondents notes via e-mail that the road count would not capture the birds being raised in captivity. I don’t know much about that world, but are there a greater number of pheasants raised on farms now than in the past? How many of those birds are released into the wild to give better numbers during hunting season than a pre-release road count would indicate?

  14. mike from iowa 2019-09-12 07:40

    From iowa (aka civilized world)…. The extent of impact that a cold and snowy late winter and heavy rains and flooding in April and May had on pheasant nesting success will likely be seen when the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts its annual pheasant counts.

    The statewide survey takes place Aug. 1-15.

    The survey is conducted by Iowa DNR staff who drive 218, 30 mile routes on gravel roads at dawn on mornings with heavy dew. Hen pheasants will move their broods to the edge of the gravel road to dry off before they begin feeding, which makes them easier to count.

    “Conditions for the survey are important as the accuracy of the counts depend on the dew conditions when the routes are run,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa DNR.

  15. mike from iowa 2019-09-12 12:30

    Rumour has it Noem wanted to register all pheasants, but, they declined for fear of being deported.

  16. JW 2019-09-12 16:00

    Cory: To answer your question about pen-reared birds, the answer is an emphatic yes. All you have to do is compare the number of private shooting preserves from 25 years ago to today. All of them utilize pen-reared birds and most of those are imported from other states now as adult birds. There are obvious reasons for that.

    But, to the point………….. Look at all of the speculative comments about this development. Every last one of them identifies a variable in the survey. This survey provides an index……. That is all and that yearly index can not be assumed to be accurately relational to what is actually on the ground. You’re correct in assuming the survey provides consistency but the survey is not suppose to provide consistency in the process but consistency in the data collected. Granted, one leads to the other, but……….. more importantly, control of the variability decides the accuracy and consistency of the data. Let’s understand something. There is no consistency in observers, no consistency in brood routes from one year to the next due to all sorts of geophysical conditions, and no consistency in weather conditions. This whole notion of ditches being full of water that forces pheasant broods further out into fields where they are not observable is exactly backward. Birds come out onto county and township roads for gravel for their crop as well as drying off. It doesn’t bother the adults but it’s important for the poults. They are most observable on road edges in early August when the dew on vegetation is the heaviest. There isn’t a lot of recoverable gravel/grit in a muddy, weedy unplanted field.

    Hot and dry conditions are secondary and even tertiary count conditions. This August provided perhaps the best, most consistent from day to day conditions for counting broods that there has been in decades. The survey performed these past 10 -15 years isn’t consistent with the historical methodology and therefore can not be accurately compared to the historical trend. As a matter of fact, there are no surveys that the agency does anymore that are comparable to historical data just because protocols have been modified for ease, budget efficiency, manpower shortage and so on. Pheasant routes have changed as well as increased/decreased by area, as have observers and parameters. Count consistency and viability are highly variable based upon count conditions, and survey quality can not be controlled without training and experience. There is no such thing as consistency in monitoring any longer and don’t let anyone tell you there is. This survey is done for one reason and one reason only…… Non-resident recreational planning at the behest of Tourism interest. It is not done for any management purpose and hasn’t been for decades…… If you honestly looked at how we monitored pheasants 30 years ago versus today, you’d understand that not only has the protocol changed but so has the purpose. As you have noted, if a person is honestly interested in monitoring a population accurately and consistently, you carefully follow life cycle change during several seasons of the year. There use to be spring crow counts, brood counts, bag checks, winter sex ratio and concentration counts and even anecdotal quantification of residual vegetation vital to nesting. Today, there is only one protocol left and the technique has changed so much that it can’t produce data comparable to that of even 20 years ago. This is politics running wildlife management and it has to stop. There is not a politically inspired answer to a biological problem. And for the record, this nonsense of exceptional nesting habitat existing due to all the added moisture we’ve had is gross deception. Gallinaceous birds need abundant, connected residual cover in adequate density left over from the previous growing season for optimum nesting. New growth in all cases is insufficent in height/density by the end of May-early June for pheasants to nest successfully. The con job is disgusting.

    Lastly, survey repetition under optimum survey conditions is critical for count consistency. This year has been better than in any previous year in a very long time statewide to count pheasants. If you were out before sunrise on any given day, nearly anywhere in the state, you walked in heavy dew combined with pleasant weather without much wind. Perfect. There is nothing to suggest that hens and broods can’t move 1/2 to one mile away from the established route that is still within their home range and show up on a road or trail that isn’t driven. Yes, you can compensate for that by adding more routes (but that compromises consistency as well as the statistic). These survey routes are not random and they, therefore, can not take advantage of the statistical power of random. I’m sure you understand the principle of predictive modeling……. ALL MODELS ARE WRONG BUT SOME MODELS ARE USEFUL…. Hepler, nor anyone is going to develop a new protocol that is any more useful than the one presently used and if they do, they have no way to integrate the data into the historical trend data base for comparison.

  17. Debbo 2019-09-12 18:55

    In the 1950s-70s the pheasant count was carried out by rural mail carriers, at least in central SD. That is Hand, Spink, Beadle and Hyde counties. This method of counting may have begun before the 50s and continued past the 70s. It may have been done that way statewide too. I only know about what I stated in the first 2 sentences of this comment.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-13 12:47

    JW, that’s great background and scientific perspective.

    Curious: do we count any other wildlife? Do we do a duck census? Deer? Turkey?

  19. jerry 2019-09-19 14:48

    3 billion birds are missing in North America so it should not come as a shock to the over paid Gamer fish and Parks black hole studies in South Dakota. Maybe if they paid more attention to the environment and less to raising fees they could read studies. How many red winged black birds do you see? Yellow winged black birds? Meadowlarks? Used to see them by the many, now haven’t seen a yellow winged black bird for some time.

    “North America’s skies are lonelier and quieter as nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds soar in the air than in 1970, a comprehensive study shows.

    The new study focuses on the drop in sheer numbers of birds, not extinctions. The bird population in the United States and Canada was probably around 10.1 billion nearly half a century ago and has fallen 29% to about 7.2 billion birds, according to a study in Thursday’s journal Science .

    “People need to pay attention to the birds around them because they are slowly disappearing,” said study lead author Kenneth Rosenberg, a Cornell University conservation scientist. “One of the scary things about the results is that it is happening right under our eyes. We might not even notice it until it’s too late.” Rapid City Journal 09/19/19

    Hey, anyone ever thought it might be all the crap we drench the crops with? How about habitat reduction? Naw, couldn’t be that because that would mean we would have to get off our lazy behinds and do some damn work to fix the problem. Can’t have that as subsidies are to easy to come by.

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