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Predator Bounty Program Continues In South Dakota

A state-sanctioned pheasant protection program that pays South Dakota youths and adults $10 for every raccoon, skunk and other predator they trap and kill will continue through 2026.

Known as the Nest Predator Bounty Program, the effort has led to the killing of more than 240,000 animals in the past five years with no scientific evidence that it is working to increase the state pheasant population.

The effort to boost pheasant and duck populations by paying youth and adult trappers to kill animals that eat the eggs and hatchlings of pheasants and ducks began in 2019. The program occurs for a few months during the spring pheasant nesting season.

Little common ground can be found in assessing the merits or methods of the program, which has been described as both a wildlife-management success and an inhumane, senseless killing of wild animals.

Some state officials, including Gov. Kristi Noem, who first implemented the program, and Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Kevin Robling, see the bounty program as an effective method to reduce predation on pheasants and encourage young people to get outside and take up trapping as a hobby.

Opponents argue the program is not based on science, needlessly kills animals and may upset the natural ecosystem, and improperly uses financial incentives for children and adults to trap and kill animals whose carcasses are discarded after the tails are turned in for a bounty.

In 2023, the program started in April and ended on June 29 when the limit on tail payments was reached. The 2023 program resulted in the killing of 50,800 animals – about 42,300 of them raccoons – by roughly 2,500 participants. The program set a record for youth participation rate with 46% of trappers aged 18 or under.

Robling acknowledges there is no data or concrete evidence to show that the bounty program has improved pheasant or duck numbers, but he believes the program is working and supports its continuation next spring and into 2025 and 2026.


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