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A former South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks leader with vast experience in wildlife management disagrees with current leadership on whether a state predator bounty program protects young pheasants or is the right way to get youth involved in outdoor activities. 


In an online panel discussion hosted by South Dakota News Watch on Sept. 15, former Game, Fish and Parks secretary and commissioner John Cooper said the Nest Predator Bounty Program enacted by Governor Kristi Noem in 2019 and continued since then does not belong in South Dakota.


South Dakota’s Nest Predator Bounty Program was created for political purposes rather than the health of the state’s habitat and wildlife, Cooper said during the discussion. The program, which has cost $2.4 million so far, gives $10 for each animal tail submitted by adults and children who trap and kill raccoons and other animals that eat the eggs and hatchlings of pheasants and ducks.


Some state wildlife officials, including GFP Secretary Kevin Robling, say the program is working to protect pheasants and has shown a steady increase in youths involved in trapping.  They acknowledge there is no scientific research in place to track whether removal of predator animals is actually leading to higher pheasant populations, but they say anecdotal evidence indicates the program is working.


Cooper said the program was “foisted” onto South Dakota without input from longtime trappers or hunters. He pointed to recent studies that suggest wide-scale, long-term, lightly monitored bounty programs, such as South Dakota’s, often don’t protect the intended species.  Robling defended the program during the panel discussion, saying it is key for creating future generations of hunters and trappers and keeping predators out of pheasant and other bird nests.