South Dakota’s grisly predator bounty program has already claimed 15,000 animal lives this spring, and counting
In the last month, South Dakota residents have trapped and killed more than 15,000 raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes and badgers, cut off their tails, and submitted them to the state’s wildlife management agency for a $10-per-tail reward, all as part of South Dakota’s new Nest Predator Bounty Program.
The intended goal of this grisly exercise, introduced by Gov. Kristi Noem, is to increase the state’s pheasant population for hunters. To incentivize the killing, the taxpayer-funded agency has already given away more than 16,000 traps to residents and paid out $150,000 in bounties.
The program claims to promote awareness and education while training a new generation in conservation and wildlife management. But instead it is training residents, especially children, to kill needlessly. The state has issued traps to children as young as three years old, and the agency’s social media page features photos of grinning kids holding up the lifeless animals they helped trap.
Wildlife managers have long known such predator bounties to be ineffective. Mass killing of predators often causes surviving animals to reproduce at higher rates and bounce back in greater numbers. Also, when these species of predators are culled, others like crows, magpies, snakes, coyotes and feral dogs move in.
There is no scientific evidence that killing the animals the program targets will result in more pheasants. The survival and health of pheasant populations depends primarily on weather and suitable habitat. Despite this, Gov. Noem worked with Secretary Kelly Hepler of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks agency to force the program through regulatory approval.
There is also no clear support among a majority of the state’s residents for this program. In fact, according to the Argus Leader, only a dozen or so South Dakota residents submitted comments in support of it ahead of the public hearing, while nearly 100 residents opposed it.
Participants in the program are not required to complete any trapping education course; they don’t even have to obtain a trapping license. The wildlife agency gives no guidance on how to humanely kill trapped animals or deal with domestic pets captured in the traps. Trapped animals can die slowly from shock, dehydration, starvation or exposure. The creatures who do survive long enough for the trapper to return are often killed inhumanely, by drowning, chest compression, asphyxiation or strangulation.
Mass trapping in the spring is especially cruel to young animals who are orphaned when their mothers are killed. These newborns often die of starvation.
There’s absolutely nothing about this program that South Dakotans can feel good about: it’s expensive, gruesome and unproductive, and it causes untold suffering to animals. If you live in South Dakota, please call or email Governor Noem at 605.773.3212 or GovernorNoem@state.sd.us, and Secretary Hepler at 605.773.3718 or Kelly.Hepler@state.sd.us. Ask them, politely, to cease their cruel Nest Predator Bounty Program.