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SD Approach to Pheasants: Less Science, More Advertising!

South Dakota has counted pheasants each year since the 1940s, providing consistent data to measure how well our wildlife conservation efforts are working. But decreasing counts can be bad for tourism, so the state is canceling those counts:

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kelly Hepler recommended that the brood surveys be dropped. Hepler said the results haven’t led to changes in the pheasant season, and in years when the pheasants per mile index was down, the news hurt marketing, even though South Dakota still was “head and shoulders” better than other states.

“Then the question becomes, what is the purpose of it?” Hepler said.

…[C]ommissioner Russ Olson of Wentworth… said 2020 is “the perfect year to stop doing it.”

“We’re running a business here. You have to remember that,” Olson said. “It (the index) hurts us more than it helps us. It’s time to move on,” Olson said [Bob Mercer, “State Government Plans to Pay to Promote S.D. Pheasant Hunting, Will Halt Brood-Route Counts,” KELO-TV, 2020.06.04].

Russ and Kelly plan to trade hard data for fluffy advertising, $700,000 worth to convince hunters to come back to South Dakota:

Paid advertising that starts in mid-June will cover 16 states and run through November….

The state Tourism Department will run the advertising campaign for the state Game, Fish and Parks Department. Each department is contributing $350,000.

…The campaign will use advertising agencies Lawrence and Schiller of Sioux Falls and MMGY Global of Kansas City, Missouri.

The ads will target traditionalists who want to keep hunting alive, lapsed-use hunters whose circumstances haven’t allowed them to stay in the field, and adventure hunters, according to Mike Gussiaas, another Tourism Department official.

The theme: “Hunt the greatest” [Mercer, 2020.06.04].

Once again, South Dakota chooses marketing mirages over real data. Pheasants? Shutting down data collection and doling out more marketing cash makes it sound  like a better state bird would be the ostrich.


  1. Debbo 2020-06-05

    And in even more bad news for rural people, Numlock News by Walt Hickey posted this:

    Several shipments of livestock feed from the United States to China were cancelled, particularly orders that stemmed from a January 2020 trade pact. China’s state importers cancelled 15,000 to 20,000 metric tons of U.S. pork shipments — 10 days worth of imports — and held back shipments of corn and cotton, and put off 23 soybean cargoes. China’s a big player in those commodities, on average buying 55 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans, 80 percent of its sorghum, 16 percent of cotton and 5 percent of pork.

    Costas Paris, The Wall Street Journal

  2. Donald Pay 2020-06-05

    This is typical South Dakota attitude toward data, since looking at life through a reality lens tends to blow away the myths marketers create.

    I could care less about the population dynamics of pheasants from just a single species point of few. I’d be fine if they go extinct in South Dakota since they are a non-native species. Yes, I’m nativist when it comes to ecology. Still, the data do serve as an indicator of sorts, mostly of the kind of habitat available for nesting and cover in a much altered environment. Hepler must be an idiot. That’s important data to have. Also, the long stretch of data collection also provides an indicator of how the environment changes over the years. Just for that reason, it is valuable.

    There’s been discussion over the years about birds/mile as a proper indicator of bird population. It’s not perfect, but you can’t tramp through a randomized transect through cornfields. It would take too long and farmers wouldn’t allow it.

    The problem I see with what’s happened to hunting and fishing is that it has been taken over by the suits more interested in dollars than an outdoor experience. That’s not to say the hook and bullet crowd isn’t sometimes a bit myopic, but I can’t think of anything dumber than not taking data on pheasant populations if you want to be able to manage them better.

  3. Debbo 2020-06-05

    Reminds me of Mathematical Meathead saying he doesn’t want to count all the C19 cases because it makes him look bad.

    There’s so much that makes him look bad. Whack-a-mole.

  4. jerry 2020-06-05

    Tell out of state hunters that NOem is “on it”, just like meth, and can prove that they will fill many times over, when they get here. The advertisement should say that because of the quick action NOem did with the traps to catch and subdue all of the predators, there is now so damn many pheasants we can’t even count them. We are “head and shoulders’ taller here than our pheasant populated competitive states because we had that vision. Moreover, we have the scalps and tails of those pheasant killers hanging from the belts of success to prove it…. Then add in some pictures of some fat bald white guys with orange outfits on, sitting on the back of a pickup with some of those buzzards all dead like and hanging over the edge. Always a winner from the past, also show some skin there as well, Russian gal pals loves to hunt. Gwwaad, who could resist it. BYOH though

  5. mike from iowa 2020-06-05

    iowa pheasants are far superior to South Dakota’s puny clay pigeons. Ours are 100% au naturel, corn fed and aren’t poisoned by Grudzilla’s mouth foaming rants about outsiders.

    Be interested in how the numbers of hunters gets figured into advertising bucks. Maybe they should do away with bag limits as those might hurt outside hunter’s feelers that they aren’t getting enough bang for bucks.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-06-05

    Just don’t tell visitors that we have fewer pheasants. Let them come here with false hopes of bagging samples of a dying species. Next up, we’ll stop recording daily hi and low temperatures in winter, so potential new residents don’t hear how darn cold it is until they move here and are trapped in a mortgage.

  7. John 2020-06-05

    Typical of the SD GFP – their mismanagement is about license sales and tourism, not caring for the resource. If one lacks metrics on that resource then one has no idea what or how to manage that resource. Pheasants were one of the few species the SD GFP bothered to try doing a census, here a 80-year long brood survey. They also survey elk. And that’s about it, other than the fisheries branch maintaining far superior scientific management than the wildlife branch. No wonder the wildlife resources are vibrant in Wyoming and Montana contrast to South Dakota. Hepler’s trumpian misinformation forgets the years the brood surveys shortened, or lengthened the seasons, and changed daily limits.

    It’s a worthwhile admission that now the SD GFP constructively works for the SD Tourism Department. Donald and Debbo are spot on in that this mismanagement is a sell-out.

  8. JW 2020-06-06

    This is the final curtain in what has been a decade’s long comedy of scientific sleight of hand and pathetically bad acting. Over the life span of pheasant management that saw it’s heyday during the soil bank era of the late 50’s and early 60’s, sincere and highly dedicated wildlife managers/ecologists developed and implemented 4 different yet integrated monitoring protocols to track trends in brood production and survival, age class distribution in the harvest, winter concentration,survival and sex ratios, and breeding timing, activity, and nest initiation in the spring. The data sets were both consistent and extensive over more than 30 years. That is better information than any modeling effort can produce. In the l990’s, all that began to fall apart. Field staff complained about devoting time and effort to a process that wasn’t used for anything and most certainly wasn’t used to establish hunting seasons. According to all the political wisdom, budget money could be better spent elsewhere even though the vast majority of the effort was paid for with Federal PR money. By 2000, all that was left was the brood survey and that was being continually altered or compromised by administrations plagued by political priorities rather than statutory responsibilities. Landowner uprisings all across the state incited by all sorts of fictional “landowner rights” issues culminated with the “Betty Olson” movement challenging the Open Fields Doctrine. That foolishness completely changed the wildlife monitoring dynamic in SD and elsewhere and essentially, forced changes in all wildlife surveys and tracking. In the interim, survey protocols were constantly being adjusted or rearranged to accommodate all the political interference. It didn’t take long for things like the Pheasant Brood Survey to become completely disassociated with both the historic methodology as well as the voluminous database. A close correlation between historic and current data could not be done and as a result, administrators demanded tinkering with stat analysis to try and mathematically restore a correlation. That just made matters worse. What was reasonably sound trend data from the 1960’s through the early 1990’s became nearly irrelevant. Predictions of fall harvest based on brood survey analysis haven’t had either spatial or temporal relativity for a very long time and if anyone recalled, Hepler called for the complete overhaul of the survey process last year to make it more meaningful and accurate…. Obviously, he discovered that trying to energize a failed scientific process to improve a superficial; non-mission oriented recreational promotion wasn’t possible so now he, Olson and a bunch of other political nere do wells just declare the statutory responsibility to track and responsibly manage wildlife populations for the benefit of the people as well as the resources themselves is unnecessary and inconvenient. This same thing has occurred with all sorts of wildlife species in this state that will eventually encourage localized populations to blink out without anyone being the wizer. Population monitoring and tracking is the single most important and statutory responsibility of the agency in charge of wildlife stewardship in this or any other state and to abandon any effort, no matter how problematic or expensive, is professional dereliction. Apparently, there are more than a few bio-political shallow thinkers in this state that think it’s more important to promote tourism than the resources that drive it. There ought to be “truth in advertising” laws for Russell Olson’s business fakery….. Come to South Dakota, spend your money on gas, shotgun shells, booze and motel beds or spend your leisure in the artificial venue of a shooting preserve and you’ll have a blast even though you might not fire a shot. And it’s a cinch you won’t experience any of that long-standing cultural family tradition and Hunting Heritage that Noem flaps her jaws about. Bill Janklow faced this conflict between tourism badgering and good wildlife science on a couple of different occasions. After a meeting of the minds and a rather difficult discussion, Janklow’s message to tourism remains as valid today as it was back then….. Butt out and let wildlife management perform it’s statutory mission without subservience to business pandering.
    This announcement follows the same Noem/Hepler failures as the Nest Predator nonsense and the screw ball landowner elk season proposal…….Anybody else notice that Sanford is abandoning the Hydroxychloroquine Trial Study……… Just another unconscious attempt to make a silk purse out of a sows ear….. This administration is full of them but we’ll never run out of swine as long as we have CAFO’s and a seemingly endless supply of civically inconsiderate, self serving and thoughtless political hacks in positions of responsibility.

  9. Paul 2020-06-07

    After JW wrote “There ought to be “truth in advertising” laws for Russell Olson’s business fakery….. Come to South Dakota, spend your money on gas, shotgun shells, booze and motel beds or spend your leisure in the artificial venue of a shooting preserve and you’ll have a blast even though you might not fire a shot.”

    You forgot the drink pouring and `massage’ ladies. The dudes that can afford this stuff, can afford all the stuff.

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