With pheasant hunting season now underway, South Dakota Republicans U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds highlighted the world-class pheasant hunting in their home state and the important source of revenue it generates for small businesses.

Lifelong South Dakotans, Noem and Rounds reminisced in their weekly columns about how hunting has been a tradition in their families for generations.

Hunting is also a major source of income for the hotels, restaurants and myriad other small businesses that support South Dakota’s tourism industry. Outdoor activities support an estimated 18,000 full- and part-time jobs in South Dakota, generating more than $500 million of income, Noem said.

Given the importance of hunting on South Dakota’s economy and family dynamics, Noem added, she has worked to protect the state’s pheasant natural habitats.

“In the 2014 Farm Bill, for instance, I made sure we included critical protections for our region’s native grasslands in the final legislative language,” Noem said. “We’ve seen this ‘sodsaver’ program work, and I’m now working to expand the idea nationwide.”

Hunting plays a large role in land conservation, as well, Rounds said. He wrote that one of his top priorities when negotiating the upcoming Farm Bill will be to raise the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program, one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States.

“One of the best things we can do as sportsmen and women is continue to promote the use of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres,” Rounds said. “It’s a good program for farmers, because it provides them with an additional source of income and it’s good for hunters because it creates excellent habitat for deer, pheasant and waterfowl to nest.”

Tough winter conditions followed by a severe drought has taken a toll on pheasant populations this season, the lawmakers said. As pheasant season opened, South Dakota’s pheasant counts were about 65 percent below the 10-year average, which amounted to about 1.68 pheasants per mile.

“It’s an issue I heard a lot about throughout the summer, but especially during a recent stop in Mobridge — a community in prime South Dakota hunting territory that was hit particularly hard by the dry conditions,” Noem said.

Rounds expressed optimism about the prospects for this year’s pheasant hunting season.

“We’ve had a tough year in South Dakota with this summer’s drought, and there will be fewer birds out there, but I’m confident hunters will still be able to have a successful season – both South Dakotans and nonresidents alike,” Rounds said.

Noem echoed that sentiment, noting that South Dakota Department of Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen said the pheasant harvest could still approach a million birds.

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