Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias The ringnecked pheasant wasn't named South Dakota's state bird for nothing.

Each fall, as the state's landscape is desperately trying to hold on to life following the first hard freeze of the season, new activity springs forth in shelterbelts, CRP acres and ripened cornfields.

The state is reborn (some will say invaded) by thousands of hunters.

No one can deny that this is a good thing for a state like South Dakota, which has to make the most out of every one of its limited resources.

Pheasant hunting is the source of more than just a good time here in the Great Plains. It's also a money-maker. The ring-necked birds are big business for everyone from guides and resorts to restaurants and motels.

But as we sit here, having to deal with another "normal" South Dakota winter (we just experienced approximately a month-long run of constant sub-freezing temperatures) it's easy to understand how some South Dakota hunters may not be entirely happy when the opening day of pheasant season arrives.

It's rather ironic. Many of the state's sportsmen are people who work the land, and struggle year to year with some of the lousiest farm prices in recent memory. But they are finding it more and more difficult to protect their hunting turf each fall, as more and more out-of-state hunters flock to South Dakota each fall.

That's why the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department should seriously consider formulating rules that would give state residents preference over the growing number of out-of-state sportsmen.

There's a reason we put up with cold weather and low wages here in South Dakota. The state's residents know that despite those two negatives, there are many, many positive quality of life issues that make it hard to leave.

Some hunters may feel that quality of life is slipping away, however, as they experience more and more pressure from out-of-state sportsmen.

State Rep. Ron Volesky, D-Huron, plans to introduce a bill this legislative session that will permit an early pheasant season for resident hunters only.

The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission decided in September not to set such a season. And the United Sportsmen for South Dakotans also opposes Volesky's idea.

They fear that the early hunt will lead to more crowding on public ground and deny landowners a chance for early hunting on their property.

The South Dakota Wildlife Federation, a statewide conservation and sporting group, plans to support Volesky's idea.

Volesky said there is wide support for his idea. He had not decided whether to propose the season for the weekend before the regular opener or sometime during that week.

Resident hunters have said increased numbers of nonresident hunters are squeezing local people out of good hunting spots.

In 1999, nearly 72,000 nonresidents hunted pheasants in South Dakota, compared with 84,000 residents. Numbers for the 2000 season are not yet completed.

Annoyance among resident hunters led to a petition drive to force a statewide vote on a proposal to ban nonresident hunters from public hunting grounds the first weekend of the pheasant season. The petition drive continues.

The Game, Fish and Parks Commission voted 8-0 to propose a three-day early pheasant season for resident hunters on public land. The season would have opened Oct. 14, a week before the regular season opener, and run through Oct. 16.

But when the commission met in September to take final action on the proposal, it fell on a 4-2 vote. It needed support from the five members of the eight-person board.

It's ironic that the commission flip-flopped on this proposal last fall, shortly before the start of one of the coldest winters we've had in the past four years.

The snow and cold are having a negative impact on pheasant numbers. And it appears that the commission is having a negative impact on pheasant hunters.

That's why we support Volesky's plans.

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