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'Pheasant capital of the world' sees major habitat decline

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Unfavorable weather and habitat loss in recent years caused a 64 percent drop in South Dakota's pheasant population, the lowest since the 1970s.

Thousands of people from all over the world flock to South Dakota each year for pheasant hunting season, which opens on Saturday at noon.

Pheasant numbers are about half of what they were five years ago, Mike Stephenson, a regional representative of Pheasants Forever, told KELO-TV.

Stephenson says the habitat loss is largely due to farmers putting back their Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage back into crop production.

Now, there a fewer than 1 million CRP acres in South Dakota, down from more than 1.5 million acres at one point.

"I’ve spent a lot of time on the prairie, 41 years, and I have never seen the conversion in the large scale landscape that has occurred in North and South Dakota,” John Cooper, retired Department of Game Fish and Parks official, told the Argus Leader.

The newspaper points out the summer-long drought in 2012 and the wet spring also hurt breeding.

If nothing is done to restore the populations, the state is at risk of losing a $223 million economic boost from tourism the season brings each year.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard will host a summit in December to discuss enhancing the state's pheasant habitat.

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