May 25, 2011
Jeff Vonk, Secretary
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks
523 E. Capitol
Pierre, SD 57501
Flood Impacts on Oahe and Sharpe Fisheries
Many rainbow smelt, the primary food for many Lake Oahe sport fish, were swept downstream during
the Missouri River flood of 2011. Initial estimates suggest between 40% and 80% of the population was lost
during this event. The rainbow smelt spawning run on Lake Oahe is annually monitored in an attempt to
determine relative spawning success. Comparing catches in 2012 to the last ten years suggests that the 2012
spawn was in the lower third in terms of the length of the spawning season. Environmental and water level
fluctuations will also affect spawning success; however, the effects of these factors will not be known until
later in the summer when SDGFP staff can estimate rainbow smelt numbers using hydro-acoustic sonar.
In an effort to buffer the effects of reduced rainbow smelt abundance in Lake Oahe, SDGFP staff is
attempting to bolster prey fish numbers through experimental stockings of pre-spawn adult gizzard shad. The
objective is for these fish to spawn in Lake Oahe providing sport fish with young gizzard shad as a food
resource in localized areas. Past studies have revealed that when abundant, shad are readily consumed by
walleye and other Lake Oahe fishes. Gizzard shad in western tributary reservoirs traveled downstream during
periods of high water levels in the late 1990’s, effectively stocking Oahe with shad. Gizzard shad did well in
Oahe for about a decade before two consecutive severe winters reduced abundance sharply. SDGFP staff
reached their goal of stocking approximately 1,700 shad early in May. As with rainbow smelt monitoring,
SDGFP staff will use various tools to monitor the success of the gizzard shad stocking project. Hopefully,
this stocking will help kick-start the shad population, supplying an alternative food source for walleyes and
other predators for the next few years.
High flood waters also negatively affected prey fish populations in Lake Sharpe. Water intake
structures for Oahe Dam are deep below the surface, therefore, during the 2011 flood, water released into
Lake Sharpe was very cold. In fact, water temperatures last year were10-16oF below normal during summer
months. These cool water conditions delayed gizzard shad spawning in 2011. Thus, fewer shad were available
as food for sport fish through the winter, spring and early summer.
The effects of low gizzard shad reproduction in 2011 should be short lived. SDGFP staff has spent
time on Lake Sharpe looking for evidence of gizzard shad spawning, with much success. Initial sampling
efforts indicate a strong gizzard shad spawn. With a successful gizzard shad spawn on Lake Sharpe, it is likely
these fish will become available as food for sport fish by late June.
Standard Fish Sampling Gear Comparison
A statewide fisheries database has been identified as a need by the Aquatics Section of the Division of
Wildlife. An initial component of establishing a database will be the standardization of fish sampling
methodology. Current SDGFP standard gill and fyke net configurations differ from those suggested as the
North American standards. Because of the current long-term data sets that SDGFP has developed, there has
rightfully been reluctance by fisheries managers and biologists to change to the North American standards.
Development of correction factors will allow continued use of historic data sets and should reduce the
reluctance to change. Adoption of the North American standards will also allow for easier comparisons
across large regions and encourage data sharing.
A study will be conducted during June through August of 2013 and 2014 to compare the North
American standard gill and fyke net configurations to current SDGFP standard nets. Eastern South Dakota
lakes and the Missouri River reservoirs will be sampled in conjunction with SDGFP standard fisheries
surveys. The objectives of the project will be to (1) compare catch rates, size structure and species
composition of fishes collected in North American standard gill and fyke nets to SDGFP standard gill and
fyke nets; and (2) develop conversions for commonly collected species that will allow historic gill and fyke
net data to be converted to North American standards.
Paddlefish Snagging Season Returns to Lake Francis Case
Nearly thirty years ago, paddlefish snagging on Lake Francis Case ceased due to declining population
abundance. This decline was attributed to sport harvest coupled with a lack of natural recruitment related to
impoundment of the Missouri River. Sporadic stocking efforts began in the early 1970’s with an annual
stocking schedule implemented in the early 1990’s. One objective of the artificial propagation program was
to restore the paddlefish population to a level where a limited sport fishery could be implemented, with annual
stockings still maintaining the population. This objective was realized in May of 2012. A total of 400 tags
were issued by lottery drawing. The state of South Dakota issued 350 tags and the Lower Brule and Crow
Creek Sioux tribes each issued 25 tags.
As expected with a limited-entry fishery, anglers have enjoyed virtually no crowding and most are
reporting a positive snagging experience. Thus far, nearly 50 paddlefish have been harvested with an average
length and weight of 1095 mm and 51 pounds, respectively. Harvested females have averaged 1159 mm and
61 pounds while males have averaged 993 mm and 39 pounds. Average snagging per day has been 4.3 hours.
Snaggers have spent an average of 6.9 hours snagging before choosing to harvest a paddlefish.
A postcard creel survey will occur upon the completion of the snagging season at the end of May,
2012. Information will be analyzed and summarized. Results will help dictate future management of the
Lake Francis Case paddlefish snagging season.
Spearing Survey near Completion
Spearing of game fish is allowed in South Dakota with some restrictions. Underwater spearing on the
Missouri River, Lake Oahe in particular, is very popular. With South Dakota’s Lake Oahe offering excellent
diving conditions due to its water clarity along with an excellent population of walleye, it has become a
destination spear fishery for many divers.
Conflicts between traditional anglers and spearfishers have developed over time. Divers would also
like to see the current list of waters open to spearing of game fish across the state expanded. Due to the small
proportion spearers compose of all anglers anglers, little information has been collected on this segment of the
fishing public. In an effort to learn more about the use of these fisheries with these methods, a survey was
designed and is currently in progress. Along with under water spearfishing, the survey was designed to
capture information on bowfishing and winter ice spearing.
A game fish spearing and archery fishing permit was required beginning in 2011for people using a
bow or spear to harvest game fish. Anyone attempting to take game fish with a legal spear, legal spear gun or
legal bow and arrow are now required to purchase the $5 permit in addition to a fishing license. Anglers
purchasing the spearing permit were surveyed along with a sub sample of fishing license purchasers who did
not purchase the game fish spearing and archery fishing permit.
Information gathered from this survey will be used to determine participation, catch and harvest,
demographic information, and angler attitudes towards these methods of take. Results will be used to aid in
future management and conflict resolution for non traditional angling methods.
2011 Walk-In Area Program for Hunter Access
A record level of over 1.3 million acres of private land was enrolled in the Walk-In Area (WIA)
program for the 2011 hunting season. SDGFP was also awarded a $1.5 million grant from the USDA Farm
Service Agency Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program in September of 2010 to offer a one-
time up front signing bonus to landowners who place CRP and WRP lands in the WIA program. In 2011,
$621,000 of this grant added 26,667 acres to the WIA for an average length of 8 years.
In 2008, GFP implemented the Controlled Hunting Access Program (CHAP) which provides
additional flexibility for the landowner and more control of the number of hunters using the area. Twelve
CHAP areas totaling 18,137 acres were enrolled statewide in 2011.
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
In November of 2009, the SD James River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
received final approval and sign-ups began. This initiative is to enroll 100,000 acres within the watershed to
address environmental issues and establish wildlife habitat. Along with the habitat established, landowners
receive an annual payment from the state complimenting the federal CRP payment which allows public access
for hunting and fishing. All acres enrolled within the CREP program must include the access component.
As of May 1st 2012, over 69,000 acres are either under contract or in progress of being approved at an
annual cost to Game, Fish, and Parks of approximately $2.4 million. Of the acres under contract, average
enrolled acreage size is 106 and 83% are 10-year contracts. Enrollment has been most popular in the
northeast part of the James River Watershed, however enrollments on the south end of the watershed will
provide needed habitat and access within one hour of the states largest populous area. CREP has also opened
over 17,000 additional acres of private land to public hunting through the WIA program. These lands are not
eligible for CREP, but round out a CREP area or provide access to land enrolled in CREP.
Aerial Predator Control
South Dakota’s predator control program is cooperatively run between South Dakota Game, Fish and
Parks (SDGFP) and USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services (WS). Each agency administers and operates different
components of this program, with SDGFP providing predator control primarily with ground methods (traps,
snares, calling, shooting, and poisoning) and limited aerial activity while WS provides predator control via
aerial control. The aerial component of the program experienced significant changes in 2011, with WS
eliminating several staff in South Dakota and moving the supervision of the South Dakota program under
North Dakota due to reductions in funding. Currently, WS has a full-time pilot, gunner, and airplane stationed
in western South Dakota. SDGFP also funded a contract pilot during the spring of 2012 in eastern South
Dakota to help facilitate more efficient responses to livestock losses in the immediate areas. In 2011, GFP
responded to nearly 950 coyote complaints (i.e. loss of livestock or potential loss) and removed approximately
2,500 coyotes by ground control methods.
Several areas of South Dakota have predator control districts, which are statutorily established
livestock producer groups that impose taxes upon themselves to generate money to hire private pilots and
gunners to conduct aerial predator control. In 2011 and 2012, SDGFP worked directly with these groups to
match funds (nearly $25,000) raised by livestock producers to cooperatively fund private pilots for additional
aerial predator control which is coordinated by SDGFP staff. In the end, South Dakota’s cooperative predator
control program is working well, but with high livestock prices and low producer tolerance, as well as an
increasing coyote population, the demand for predator control services has been significant this past year.
Pheasant Population Status
South Dakota again offered phenomenal pheasant hunting during the 2011-2012 season, although the
estimated population and harvest declined from the previous year. The estimated pre-hunt population of
6,600,000 birds was a 33% decline from the previous year, but on par with the 20-year average.
Approximately 69,000 resident and 95,000 non-resident hunters bagged nearly 1,550,000 roosters during the
79 day season, a 15% decline from the previous year. The 2011-2012 season pheasant harvest was similar to
the 20-year average. The decline in population and harvest was attributed to high winter loss during the
previous winter and continued loss of important production habitats, particularly CRP and native grasslands.
Winter Impact on Wildlife & Wildlife Damage Update
South Dakota experienced a mild, open winter in 2011-12. Most areas of the state experienced little
snow accumulation and above normal temperatures throughout the winter. Although deep snow was avoided
this past winter, several areas still had white-tailed deer and mule deer congregated into large herds. Reports
of herds numbering between 50 to 300 animals were common. However, because of the mild temperatures
and lack of snow these herds were able to find adequate food and shelter away from farmyards. SDGFP
responded to less than 50 deer complaints (i.e. damage to hay and stored feed supplies) statewide, with most
of these complaints coming from the central part of the state where deer numbers are still above management
objectives. These complaints were handled primarily with protective fencing and the utilization of hazing
techniques. In contrast, during the winter of 2010-2011 SDGFP responded to nearly 250 deer complaints.
Elk herds in the Black Hills came through the winter in good condition as well. Wildlife Damage
Specialists responded to only six elk complaints and provided minimal amounts of hay at traditional winter
feeding locations. Pronghorn antelope populations also fared well with the mild winter conditions but
continue to remain below management objectives.
Overall, big game species statewide came through the winter in good shape and moving into the
spring/summer of 2012 wildlife managers are expecting to see increased recruitment rates compared to the
previous two years and population growth.
Canada Goose Depredation and August Management Take (AMT)
In 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that over 227,000 breeding resident Canada geese
occurred in South Dakota. This population continues to exceed management objectives and when combined
with favorable nesting conditions, row crop expansion, high commodity prices, and low landowner tolerances
resulted in another record year of Canada goose complaints to growing crops. GFP responded to over 840
complaint sites and worked with nearly 490 landowners to reduce or alleviate crop damage. A diversity of
wildlife damage abatement techniques are utilized and include: supplemental feeding sites, fencing, food-
plots, vegetative buffer strips, hazing and the use of decoys and other deterrents as well as lethal control and
egg addling techniques. Staff and cooperating landowners agree that the utilization of these techniques is
successful at reducing the amount of crop depredation that is experienced. SDGFP also implemented a new
pilot program which provides incentives to landowners to seed permanent vegetative buffer strips (i.e. native
grass seedings) along wetland edges to deter geese from entering crop fields because of the visual barrier.
There were seven locations in eastern South Dakota where these new buffer strips will be utilized and
evaluated for the next several years.
South Dakota implemented its second “August Management Take” in 2011. The take “season” ran
from August 13-28 in an 18 county area on the eastern tier of the state. Daily bag was 8 Canada geese with
no restriction on possession limit. Over 3,200 hunters harvested an estimated 30,300 Canada geese.
In addition, SDGFP worked closely with USFWS and the South Dakota Sportsmen’s Against Hunger
to allow interested commercial meat processors to obtain a special permit from the USFWS to process
donated hunter-harvested geese that were ultimately distributed to local food pantries. As a result of this
cooperative effort, 15 commercial meat processors participated, 2,044 Canada geese were donated, and 2,279
packages of ground meat were made available to local food pantries.
Tile Draining Expansion in Eastern SD
While grassland loss in the northern Great Plains states has been a topic of much discussion for the
wildlife community for the last 10 years, agricultural pressure on the remaining wetland resource has assumed
a co-equal status threat on the landscape. This pressure is being driven by double digit annual increases in
land values, high commodity prices, and to a certain extent, federal farm programs such as subsidized crop
insurance. The installation of plastic drain tile to enhance row crop agriculture has become very popular with
producers in eastern SD. High density pattern tile drainage like that used in Corn Belt states further east is
also becoming more common.
In order to deal with a backlog of thousands of tiling and/or drainage maintenance requests from
producers, NRCS recently announced efforts to streamline Swampbuster oversight processes by adopting
consistent wetland mapping protocols for all Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) states, as well as a producer self-
certification process for drainage maintenance activities. The wildlife community is concerned about both
announcements and GF&P staff is working closely with USFWS staff and others to urge NRCS to use the
“Dakotas wetland mapping convention” adopted last year as the model protocol. This protocol was subject to
rigorous technical evaluation by NRCS and USFWS technical staff, and a complete NEPA review with public
comment. It is technically sound, but also serves to decrease NRCS workload related to Swampbuster
provisions of the Farm Bill. Evaluation of the self-certification of drainage maintenance is ongoing.
A priority issue related to increased tile drainage of agricultural lands is the fate of the current Farm
Bill discussion regarding re-coupling all conservation compliance provisions with federally subsidized crop
insurances. Without re-coupling compliance and crop insurance, the result will be unprecedented wetland
losses in the Dakotas. Estimates from USFWS HAPET office staff indicate that Swampbuster is the only
protection afforded to nearly 70% of high-risk wetlands in agricultural landscapes in the U.S. PPR. Further
quantifying what wetlands might be at risk should be a priority for the wildlife community so that relevant
information and strategies can be developed to guide discussions on this topic as the Farm Bill debate occurs
in coming months.
Mountain Lion Season Summary
South Dakota held the seventh regulated hunting season on mountain lions in 2012 since mountain
lion hunting began in 2005. The season dates were January 1 – March 31, 2012. The statewide harvest limit
was set at 70 total lions with a sub-limit of 50 female lions. The season lasted for 61 days and a total of 73
lions (27 males and 46 females) were harvested. Four lions were checked in the last day of the season
bringing the total harvest three over the harvest limit. Harvested lions ranged in age from 4 months to 11
Mountain lion hunting was also held in Custer State Park (CSP) in the Black Hills; the second
regulated hunting opportunity for mountain lions within CSP. There were six hunting intervals within CSP
and 15 Access Permits issued per hunting interval (90 total); each interval was 15 days in length and included
two weekends. Access Permits were issued through a random drawing process. Four of the total 73 lions
harvested in the statewide season were from CSP. All 4 lions were females and ages ranged from 3 to 7 years
The Outdoor Campus-West
Game, Fish and Parks’ newest outdoor learning facility, The Outdoor Campus-West in Rapid City,
officially opened its doors on September 29, 2011 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Governor Dennis
Since then, the facility has been extremely popular with drop-in visitors exploring the 17,000 square
foot education facility and the 32-acre grounds. In March 2012, daily door counts averaged over 300 visitors
per day, with counts between 700 and 1,000 individuals on Saturdays.
The building houses wildlife and fisheries dioramas, including a 4,600 gallon aquarium, that provide a
backdrop for educational classes and visitors. The building serves as a gateway to the outdoors where visitors
can enjoy classes, hikes and play.
The Outdoor Campus provides outdoor education programming centering on hunting, fishing and
many other outdoor recreation pursuits, as well as environmental lessons. The Outdoor Campus has built a
team of just over 100 volunteers from the community and surrounding area that assist with programs,
reception duties and other projects.
Local schools, community groups and families have also taken advantage of the free programs in
hunting, fishing, outdoor skills and outdoor education. Total program counts to date in 2012 are:
Group programs (for example, Scout troops): 63 programs for 811 participants
School programs: 72 programs for 1,309 participants
Community programs (individual sign-ups for advertised programs): 135 programs for 3,850
The facility has also been utilized extensively by local partner organizations as a place to hold their
meetings and trainings. When not otherwise in use, classrooms are made available to these groups for use at