Governor Kristi Noem had Game Fish and Parks spend money on a Virginia company to conduct a survey to determine the effectiveness of her Nest Predator Bounty Program, in which she gave out free traps and paid people $10 for every tail of a skunk, raccoon, red fox, opossum, or badger that they could bring in. But in another sign of the Snow Queen’s fixation on image over substance, the survey did not gauge the actual effectiveness of the program in its proclaimed purpose of boosting pheasant population… perhaps because we already have ample evidence that the program predictably failed in that regard. Instead, the survey measured South Dakotans’ perceptions of the program.
The Virginians got responses from 1,044 of the program’s 3,044 participants and another 418 randomly dialed South Dakotans. They found 91% of the participants and 83% of the general population approve of the Nest Predator Bounty Program. But that approval seems to continge largely on the assumption that the program achieves its primary goal of increasing the pheasant population:
Majorities of participants and the general population sample said they approve of the Nest Predator Bounty Program because they want to control predators and boost game bird populations. Only 14% of trappers and 1% of the general population said their approval was related to encouraging kids to get outside.
When the Governor realized she would never get science to back up her primary motivation for the program of boosting pheasant numbers, she tried to pivot to that marginal secondary “for the children” motivation. This survey indicates that trappers and non-tail-chopping South Dakotans alike look past that bluff and expect trapping to significantly reduce predators and give us more birds to shoot at.
The RM survey’s “full explanation” (given to everyone before asking the approval question, to address the fact that 62% of the general population sample said they had never heard of the tail bounty program prior to the survey) speaks solely of those primary goals but says nothing about the lack of scientific evidence that the program achieves them:
The South Dakota Nest Predator Bounty Program provides trapping opportunities for state residents while reducing predators that prey on the nests of pheasants and ducks during the nesting season. Program participants receive $10 per eligible predator that is harvested through trapping. Eligible species to trap for this program are raccoon, striped skunk, badger, opossum, and red fox [Responsive Management, “South Dakota Residents’ and Participants’ Perceptions of the South Dakota Nest Predator Bounty Program,” 2019].
RM itself says “the biological reasons,” for approval “far exceed human recreation reasons.” It would be interesting to find out how the positive perceptions RM reports might have changed if respondents learned that the program doesn’t achieve the biological reasons cited.
RM does try to give the Governor some faint whiff of rebuttal to science by asking participants if they think the program boosted bird populations. 70% say sure, they think trapping 50,000 varmints must have resulted in more pheasants and ducks. Even RM has to admit “Obviously, this is just a perception among participants; only a biological study could determine the Program’s effect on pheasant and duck populations.” But determined to give the dog her bone, RM adds, “Nonetheless, this anecdotal evidence may be an indication of the effect of the Program.”
Right. There’s just as much chance that this anecdotal evidence indicates the trappers’ desire to keep the beer money from Pierre flowing.
This survey does not measure the actual effectiveness of the Nest Predator Bounty Program in achieving its primary purpose of increasing the pheasant population. It only provides data for the Governor to use in tuning her messaging to make voters think her program was effective.