The Governor and Game Fish and Parks last week posted the final numbers for the Nest Predator Bounty Program. In our third year of offering cash for dead critter tails, 2,773 hardy outdoorspeople killed and detailed 53,642 furry mammals. 29% of the killers were kids, up from 16% in 2020. The victims included the following, in raw numbers (and percentage of kill):
- raccoons: 40,900 (76%)
- striped skunk: 7,100 (13%)
- opossum: 4,900 (9.1%)
- red fox: 438 (0.8%)
- badger: 417 (0.8%)
When science failed to support Governor Kristi Noem’s pheasant-boosting rationale for starting the trapping program in 2019, the state shifted to saying the primary objective of the Nest Predator Bounty Program is to encourage youth to engage in outdoor activities. But now Governor Kristi Noem claims, without elaboration, “The strong 2020 pheasant season proved the success of the program….” Game Fish and Parks figures that hunters shot 30% more state birds in the 2020 hunting season than they did in 2019. But GF&P also gave hunters much more time to pursue the wily ringneck. The 2019 pheasant season ran 83 days, including the three resident-only days in October. In 2020, GF&P stretched the season to 110 days. GF&P also moved the starting time for hunting during the first week from noon to 10 a.m., providing effectively two more days worth of time in the field. The 2020 pheasant season thus gave hunters 35% more time to bag their birds.
And even with all that extra time, the pheasant harvest was still lower than it was in 26 of the 39 seasons immediately preceding the Nest Predator Bounty Program:
Calling the 2020 pheasant harvest numbers “strong” takes a very narrow view of historical data. Saying those numbers “prove” the “success” of the Nest Predator Bounty Program ignores the extended season hunters enjoyed last fall and winter. That claim also ignores the fact that we counted and killed fewer pheasants in 2019 after the first run of the Nest Predator Bounty Program, then killed more pheasants in 2020 after the second year of the program with lower bounties per tail resulted in fewer raccoons and friends killed.
We have two years of data now on state-subsidized trapping and pheasant harvests. None of that data establishes a clear link between the former and the latter.